Tag Archives: news media

Where does the Green party go from here?

About 250 federal Green party members gathered in Pictou, Nova Scotia over the weekend for a policy convention. I was not there, and have instead been trying to follow along via media reports, including these ones:

Green Party at a political crossroads [The Star]
Practising what they preach [The Chronicle Herald]
Liberals will run in all ridings, including the one where May lost; Ignatieff [CP, via Metro]
Ignatieff will run Liberal candidate against May [CTV]
Go west, young woman [Rick Anderson, The Globe and Mail]
May says Obama’s success among Canadians can help Greens in next election [CP, via Metro]
May: Greens not wilting [The Chronicle Herald]
Elizabeth May’s 2009 Convention Speech [Green Party, YouTube]
They’re working on a Green dream [The Chronicle Herald]
Greens mull Quebec ‘mystery’ [The Star]
Greens more united than ever, standing behind leadership: May [CP, via Metro]
Elizabeth May to tilt at Central Nova windmill again. [Not an Official Green Party Canada Site]

I’m glad to read that the people who attended the convention are, for the most part, feeling energized and motivated. That being said—and I mean this constructively—I do think there are a few key things that the federal Green party must do if is is to have a future beyond the next election.

Of the above links, Rick Anderson’s analysis is probably the most worth reading for anyone trying to understand where the party’s at, and where it needs to be. He points out that on the one hand, the Green party has a great set of policies that should appeal to a wide group of Canadians:

I had long thought, and still mostly do, that the Greens have a winning formula in their unique combination of practical environmentalism, fiscal responsibility and democratic reform. Those are three potent appeals, each worthy in itself, and rarely found in combination.

Arguably, all the other parties are less credible on all three of those topics than ever before.

On the other hand, he notes that what the party stands for is pretty much a mystery to most Canadians:

[The Greens have] welcome changes you could come to believe in… if you knew they were available. I don’t know about you, but I had to visit the Green website to read about [their economic stimulus plan].

Anderson is generous to blame this mostly on “the media’s preoccupation with political games and manoeuvring and tactics and day-to-day process stories” at the expense of “substantive issues of relevance to voters.” However, while that criticism of the news media is well placed, it would be foolish for Greens to get distracted by it. The Green party must earn attention and support in spite of the obstacles facing it, not use those obstacles as excuses.

The three biggest challenges as I see them are as follows (and are discussed prominently in the above articles).

First is the need for elected Green MPs. The Toronto Star reports that Elizabeth May “[admitted] that she did not view winning her riding as a priority in the last election.” She wasn’t the only one. Those of us who were advocating for a focus on electing MPs in the last general election sometimes felt like we were banging our heads against the wall. The party must realize and act on the importance of electing members under the current voting system (even while we work for change to that system). Otherwise the party’s credibility will be increasingly questioned.

Second is the widely held belief that Elizabeth advocated that Canadians vote for other parties in the last election. (I say “belief,” because Elizabeth denies that she did this. Either way, the perception is what’s important.) This needs to be repudiated in the strongest terms. There is a time and a role for partisanship, and it is the primary role of all party leaders and candidates to advocate for their party’s platform and for their own election, especially during election campaign periods. To send mixed signals to the contrary distorts election results even more than they already are distorted by our antiquated voting system.

Finally, the party must get serious about messaging and marketing. Too many Canadians still don’t know or believe that the Green party has policies on all major issues, and that those policies are often consistent not only with what various experts think (on environment, economy, crime, etc), but are also consistent with what most Canadians think and value. Ultimately only the party itself is accountable for how they’re perceived, which means that a lot of work needs to be done to communicate Green policies in compelling, inspiring, and easy to grasp ways.

In all three of these areas the party is now playing catchup. I’m not yet prepared to say it’s a lost cause as some others have, but no one should underestimate the enormity of the challenge. Before the last general election I had said privately to a few people how critical I thought an electoral breakthrough was in order for the party to maintain credibility and momentum. Since that breakthrough didn’t happen federal Greens now have to hope for a rare second chance, but it will require addressing the above three issues (among others) quickly and aggressively.

Bad news

I’m hearing the same message from many friends: it’s awful out there. With the economy going from bad to worse, we’re all focused on keeping our heads down and doing our jobs. Some of us have taken on more than one title at the same company in the hopes that it will make us less disposable. For the first time members of my generation know what it’s like to have their job security threatened en masse. We know that if we don’t do our jobs, someone else gladly will.

My current business, newspapers, is no exception. In the United States, Tribune Co. (owner of the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, and other daily newspapers) has filed for bankruptcy and the New York Times looked to mortgage their building to generate funds. Here in Canada, Sun Media cut 600 jobs in December, and in back-to-back announcements this month the Globe and Mail eliminated 90 positions and The Chronicle Herald cut 24 reporters, or almost a full quarter of their newsroom. Meanwhile Canwest, which owns daily local papers across the country as well as the National Post, has seen their stock plummet to less than a dollar a share and is desperately attempting to sell assets while having their borrowing ability curtailed. In other words, the newspaper business is in serious trouble.

John Honderich, former publisher of The Toronto Star, recently argued in said publication that the decline of newspapers “should concern us all:”

For me, it relates directly to the very quality of our democracy. In order for all of us to live meaningfully and participate in our community, we must be appropriately informed.

In this regard, the quality of public debate, if not the very quality of life in any community, is a direct function of the quality of media that serve it. Indeed, the functioning of a healthy democracy is predicated on a well-informed populace.

By that measure we must deem the news media in recent years to be a complete failure.

The “quality of public debate” has not been lower in living memory. Politicians fuel their campaigns entirety on spin, void of substance, never fearing that anyone will call them on it. Once elected, even Parliamentarians in the highest offices can be counted on to sink to the lowest levels of discourse. Members of the government recently went so far as to describe actions of the opposition as “treason” and a “coup d’état” when they were, in fact, operating well within the rules of our Parliamentary democracy.

Enter the “well-informed populace,” which, not knowing any better, believed the government’s blatant lies. A survey conducted by Ipsos Reid for the Dominion Institute shortly after the coalition debacle revealed that the majority of Canadians lack an understanding of some of the most basic elements of how their democracy functions.

And what of that “healthy, functioning” democracy? Far better than the countries that have none to be sure, but a far cry from where it should be too. We remain one of the last parliamentary democracies on Earth to use an antiquated voting system that delivers results we did not ask for. This, despite the fact that when citizens have studied the issue, they have chosen change. Of those entrenched institutions standing in the way of democratically-driven voting reform, few have been as staunch as newspapers (including Honderich’s).

By these measures, the news media is not doing its job, and that should indeed concern us all. It should also concern the media, because if you don’t do your job, someone else gladly will. And right now, even a comedian from Newfoundland with a standard definition TV and a one dollar pointer is giving you a run for your money.

What I’ve been up to

When I’m not playing politician or blogging, I have a very demanding “real” job. (That may seem like a profoundly obvious statement, but you’d be surprised how many people assume otherwise.)

My primary career so far has been in interactive media, first at Astral Television Networks producing sites like family.ca and themovienetwork.ca, then at Corus producing ytv.com. In late 2007 I moved to Metro Canada newspapers as their interactive Content Manager with a mandate, along with the director of the department, to completely relaunch Metro’s websites and essentially help build a new interactive business for the company.

Our first site redesign launched March 31st 2007 2008. It was a dramatic improvement over the previous iteration, but still not quite where we needed to be. So since then we’ve been working on major improvements, and earlier this month made another round of significant changes.

There’s a lot I’m very proud of with the new site, and I’d love for you to check it out. Metro Canada publishes in English in six cities (Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa, and Halifax) and en français à Montréal. (It is, in fact, the only Canadian daily newspaper publishing in both official languages, among other claims to fame.)