MEDIA WATCH

The vain search for a campaign of ideas

George Bain April 25 1983
MEDIA WATCH

The vain search for a campaign of ideas

George Bain April 25 1983

The vain search for a campaign of ideas

MEDIA WATCH

George Bain

I have been suffering from a feeling of being somehow below the horizon. I know there’s a Tory war on because they decided in Winnipeg to have one and because I hear the roar of distant guns. But I can’t see who is firing what at whom. At first it seemed that perhaps I was the victim of a topographical accident which was responsible for bad communications. But a survey of 35 issues of seven major newspapers—Halifax Chronicle-Herald, The Globe and Mail, Montreal Gazette, Ottawa Citizen, The Toronto Star, The Vancouver Sun, Edmonton Journal— has put that to rest. Bad communications I am getting, heaven knows, but my placement has nothing much to do with it. Nowhere, it appears, are Canadians getting from their newspapers very much about what political campaigns are supposed ideally to be fought with—ideas.

The Toronto Star in an April 2 editorial, headed DIRTY TRICKS IN TORY CAMPAIGN, said: “The process is insulting. The issue is not simply how Tories go about choosing a leader; with the federal Liberals disappearing in the Gallup polls, the Tories may very well be choosing our next prime minister____Canadians deserve much better----”

They do, too, from their newspapers, and for the same reason. Of the 10 candidates, at least six qualify to be called “serious,” which means they have at least the ghost of a chance. Accepting the Star's premise, one of them by June 11 will be prime-minister-in-waiting. As matters stand, Canadians will know next to nothing about what that leader believes in, or says he believes in, and what he would do, or says he would do, with power if given it—and that includes Joe Clark, who has already held the job.

What does Brian Mulroney stand for? According to an Ottawa Citizen story, April 7, he is “personally” for the prolife side of the abortion issue but he “recognizes that in some cases in a pluralistic society abortion should be provided in recognized institutions by competent personnel.” Metrication, another issue on which the national well-being turns? He doesn’t think a butcher should be trundled off to jail for selling meat by the pound. Selling off moneylosing Crown corporations? “Sure

there’s a need for it, but the much greater and urgent need is to instil a sense of discipline and a requirement for accountability.”

That’s all? It seems unlikely. Michael Wilson, as reported in The Toronto Star, April 2, would cut the Privy Council Office in half, would put Air Canada, Canadian National Railways, Teleglobe Canada Inc. and Eldorado Nuclear Ltd. on the block and would see that other Crown companies—Crown companies in total constituting “a secret inner economy”—were made to adhere to guidelines set by the auditor general of Canada. Peter Blaikie, who may or may not qualify as a serious candidate, was reported in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, April 8, as urging the Conservative party to “become more involved in policy debate”—on, presumably among other things, defence, economic nationalism, government spending and federal-provincial relations. No further lines in the story said on which side of any of these issues Blaikie might be expected to be found in any subsequent debate. Peter Pocklington, whose views have been exposed at length in reverse proportions to his standing, was encouraged by Lawrence Martin in The Globe and Mail, April 1, to eviscerate himself on all manner of subjects. And that takes in fairly well all the reporting that this random search through the papers produced on what candidates have said.

That is not to say there has been no coverage. There has been voluminous coverage of the dirty tricks in the choosing of delegates, of the real or imagined influence of Amway (PC RIDING PRESIDENT FAINTS AS AMWAY DELEGATES PICKED—The Gazette, April 7), of the amounts of money candidates will spend, of interpretations of polls, of the political mechanics of the campaign. But of the things on which people perhaps will be helped to make up their minds between one candidate and another, because what the one says on this issue strikes them as sounder or otherwise more attractive than what the other says, there has been next to none. This is stupid of the newspapers and of print generally, because the advantage print has over television, which deals in images and action, is that of being able to convey the substance of an issue, which means ideas, which means words people can look at.