05.12.2011 06:44 AM

Habit-forming politics

I was chatting with a couple folks in the Canadian publishing industry last night, and we were (like everyone else) dissecting last week’s election results.  And, particularly, the results as they related to the Liberal Party of Canada.

The continued preoccupation with the Liberals fascinated me.  The party has been reduced to a wispy shadow of its former self in every part of the country – but here we are, I said, still talking about them.  They have less than three dozen MPs, little fundraising strength, and even less organizational depth.  They have no leader, and no unity. But the media were still decamped outside the Liberal caucus meeting space, yesterday afternoon, waiting patiently for someone to come out and talk to them.

As I say, this fascinates me, and you can see ongoing preoccupation with the Grits here and here and here and here and here and here.  In fact, seven out of seven of the main stories promoted on the influential National Newswatch site are about the Liberals.

If you’re Jack Layton, this has to drive you bananas.  (If you’re Stephen Harper, you’re delighted, because you would prefer the media didn’t exist, or at least never wrote about you.)  Why, Layton might say, are the media still so focussed on a political party that has been reduced to a third-place rump?  Who cares what they do, and who their leader is?

They’re fair questions.  My hunch: the media continue to write about the Liberal Party of Canada out of habit. They grew up with the party; it’s been a fixture in their professional and personal lives.  They haven’t yet processed the huge change we all witnessed last Monday night.

What’s your view?  Am I right?  Comments are open.

44 Comments

  1. I’ve been wondering the same thing. The endless cycle of election speculation for the past five years has been replaced by Liberal leadership speculation. If anything, those in the Conservative camp will find this to be proof of pro-Liberal bias in the mainstream media, though lately, some Liberal bloggers are saying there’s now a pro-Conservative bias in the media which is just plain dumb. By and large, our national media is pretty even in their coverage of political parties.

  2. Bill M. says:

    I’ll use the analogy of the NHL playoffs here. When one round ends (the election) and we’re waiting for the next round to start, we dissect what happened in the previous round. Once the next round starts (new parliament), the media should be doing its job of holding government, and opposition, to account.

    Here in Montreal this morning on CJAD, the news headlines carry the story of Layton’s call for better pensions but oddly no mention of the CPC backing away from their balanced budget a year earlier than spouted on the campaign. In their political analysis segments though, Jean “never got it right once” Lapierre is all about the LPC infighting for interim leader.

    But I doubt that even once the House sits again that the focus will change much since too many in the Canadian media are lazy and find it’s safer to flog a dead horse than get on the wrong side of a majority.

    But if everyone wants to obsess over the LPC,well thanks for the free advertising I guess.

  3. Cath says:

    The media types who are still hanging on to the LPOC are trying to keep the party in the news…and relevant when perhaps it’s not deserving? One would think that with the new SunTV option that the usual suspects who continued to float Iggy’s boat even when it was clear he was sinking would want to hang on to the audience they have instead of turning them off, and away?

    I think the your party needs to be left alone before it can heal – I get the impression reading about the caucus meeting of a sense of urgency to regroup the party when what everyone needs is time.

  4. Transplanted Doerite says:

    Some of the media even ARE liberals (Terry Milewski comes to mind). That would explain it too, no? Or is this what you mean, in part, by “habit?”

    • TofKW says:

      That’s funny, because when Terry Milewski was grilling Jean Chretien about Shawinigate and Sponsorship, or Paul Martin about his flip/flops, politicizing the softwood lumber dispute (making it worse really) and, well, sponsorship …well let’s just say you could’ve fooled me that he was a liberal sympathizer.

      Milewski is just doing his job in keeping our elected officials in check, and in fact one of the few we have left. In other words, you’re full of it Transplanted Doerite!

  5. Dan F says:

    Maybe the media knows the party isn’t dead, and will be back in the same way it bounced back after winning only 40 seats against Mulroney.

    According to The Hill Times this morning, about 200 people per day are joining the party: http://www.thehilltimes.ca/dailyupdate/view/liberal_party_getting_almost_200_new_members_a_day_leadership_race_could_be_starting_05-11-2011

    There might still be a bright future for the Liberal Party of Canada.

    By the way, if you want to join the party, you can do it online here: https://action.liberal.ca/en/membership

  6. eattv says:

    I dunno, I counted 5 NDP stories on the National Newswatch page, albeit further down.

  7. does scott reid have a brain says:

    Libs get coverage because (i) like a traffic accident people slow down and have a look, and (ii) they still have a formidable, if hibernating voter base. As a non-Lib Calgarian (Apps just stopped reading), I see the road back as follows: Dominic Leblanc as leader building base starting east and moving west. If BQ vacates federal politics then NDP will implode in Québec on their own contradictions or lose left votes in English Canada for Québec nationalist pandering. Libs still have the Toronto Star and CBC for free publicity. Libs should note that Harper won majority WITHOUT writing an HST cheque to Québec or building a hockey arena there either. Charest is being very quiet (humble??) now. Like it or not, Libs need seats in the west to govern and they will need a leader to have an authentic ‘Nixon to China’ experience with Alberta and disavow job killing policies in the energy sector. For some strange reason, voters get very sensitive about political parties and policies that threaten their jobs and standard of living and this makes them VERY motivated. Just some free advice. And Warren, where can I find your 50 cent cup of coffee – you sound like Bush Sr talking about the price of milk in a grocery store (you limousine Liberal). 😉

  8. Kevin says:

    Very simple answer, Warren, and it’s as old as newsprint: people are fascinated by train wrecks, rubber necking etc… Just look at Charlie Sheen, Lohan ad nauseum, the public cant get enough of the sensational, no matter how unsavory. Simple as dat!

    • does scott reid have a brain says:

      Charlie Sheen and the Libs are both ‘WINNING’. Get some of his tiger blood.

    • JH says:

      Absolutely right Kevin! The lame stream media have prostituted themselves for headlines and scandal for so long now, that most wouldn’t know what good journalism is. That’s why the public generally ignores them, especially when it comes to politics. It is also why there are so few quality media types that are respected today. The news consumer isn’t stupid – they see when the pile-ons start and I’m sure they also notice when the Dandy-Lions of Parliament Hill suddenly end up in a Minister’s office, or as a cushy government press attache or working for a lobbying firm associated with one party or another. And I don’t associate this with the pundits or columnists – they are paid to have opinions, but the so-called unbiased reporters? – Whores for the cheap shot, all of them!

  9. Jeremy says:

    This doesn’t surprise me. The NDP surge is a big story, but it seems it was largely the result of a repudiation of the Liberals and of the Bloc in Quebec, and not the embrace by the electorate of a substantially different ideological or policy outlook. Unlike 1993, which saw two regional parties with very distinct political agendas elected in large numbers, the NDP sold itself during this election on the basis of a centrist platform and the image of its leader. The rejection of the Liberal Party is for the moment the more interesting story. It remains to be seen, of course, whether the rise of the NDP is of greater long-term significance, either by remaining the default opposition, or by showing its social democratic roots.

  10. Chris P says:

    Habit or not we have the media’s attention and we must use that attention to turn it on the Conservatives. Who from the Liberal Party is there to speak to this right NOW:

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/tories-back-off-campaign-pledge-to-show-a-surplus-by-2014-15/article2018983/

    Stuff like this is too good to be true.

    • Africon says:

      Nope, the public could care less, imo.
      This story ( as disappointing as it is ) MAY become relevant in 3 or 4 yrs from now when we get to see actual deficit/debt numbers.

      • Tybalt says:

        Anyone who understands economics and fiscal policy could have told you that the government was blatantly lying in its projections in the last four budgets. Now they are admitting that they lied (although the full admission will be some time in coming). If that is not a story – play-pretend budgets – we may as well give up now and all go home and await the apocalypse.

    • Ed says:

      Its not too good to be true. While its a bold-faced lie, its not something many Canadians care about (see: all the Cons lying before the election) and its the right thing to do. Britain tried to cut too quickly and now they are hurting. If anything, the Libs should stay quiet because this is probably what our position would have been.

      There’ll be plenty time to call these Cons on their record. Lets not get too heated up for now.

      • Chris P says:

        When would be the right time? say an election! 102 Billion in debt so far and there was little to no sustained and comprehensive mention of it by the Liberals before or duing the election – John McCallum while he was the finance critic was MIA BIG time. Lets contrast WWCD (what would the conservatives do) if things were reversed. They would: 1. ensure all MP’s were on message regarding the deficit/debt, 2. Would increase the rhetoric to apocolyptic levels 3. Would spend every waking moment in the house of commons or in the media to bash the Liberals spending, recklessness etc. 4. They would organize rally’s, marches etc. 5. they would create a liberal debt clock (fyi. I think this is something the Liberals should do). In other words the would ‘own’ this issue, put the government on it’s heals and ensure that thier message sipped into the consciousness of the average voter over period of time. Does anyone believe that the public doesn’t care because we didn’t care? Conservatives have learned something Liberals have not that the real election happens in-between elections not during them. You can’t combat 4ys worth of issues in 36 days. START NOW.

    • Take Dead Aim says:

      whether its balancing the books later than promised, or not scraping the GST as promised, the canadian public isn’t going to care, and even if it does, it won’t matter much for some time.

      the political obsessed readers will have to replace their minority government analysis goggles and dust off their Chretien era majority government analysis goggles.

      the cons have 4 years to make this stuff not matter.

  11. does scott reid have a brain says:

    For the conspiracy theorists, Charest to run for federal Lib leadership in 2 years and try to vacuum up all those franco votes and Joey Clark Red Tories? Libs, your search for messiah is over!!!! It would be too funny to watch a Mulroney protege take over the federal Libs.

    http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/Plan+Nord+Charest+swan+song/4768398/story.html

  12. BillD says:

    They care. The want to the party to rebuild, reflect and refocus. They want to support a Canadian ideal, but will not support the Liberal Party until it reflects that ideal. Just Society…..

  13. Lipman says:

    Or, the NDP wave in Quebec and marginal growth of support in Ontario is an aberration. I know, I know, unlikely- but possible considering that they were moribund in the polls on the eve of the debate.

    D

  14. Dr.J says:

    The PPG will continue to write about the Liberals because I think as a whole the media are their friends. I also expect the Ottawa media to cover the party even when they move over to the other building away from the action for caucus. Rosie O’Malley from the CBC (as I like to call them because they are interchangable)are in bed with the Libs, as is the Star with Delacourt leading the way. Read their “tweets” sometime if you need proof. I also know that the Ottawa media are in the bubble and do not have a clue about the public thoughts are, the election results were proof of that. In my opinion the Ottawa media were nothing more than cheerleaders for the Liberals throughout the election, proof of this was when Iggy resigned “members” of the media (more than one as stated by Delacourt) were in tears!! Is that reaction professional or reacting to a friend? However, I still think that main and most important issue with the Liberal party will be funding. Once the taps are shut off and the party will only depend on donations for survival we will get a true understanding to where they are going. Until that sober funding reality hits, one way or the other, I fully expect the PPG to give the Liberals the same attention as before, you know helping a friend in need.

  15. DR says:

    The thing you’re wrong about is Layton. He’s gotta love having some of the heat taken off the new caucus. As for everyone else? Slowing down to get a good look at a gruesome car accident. People are morbid like that.

  16. fritz says:

    “Several were crying at ignatieffs presser (there’s no crying in journalism!!)”

    Wow, I missed that. You got any names Gord?

    • Brine says:

      Chief among them was Susan Delacourt form the Toronto Star, although she confirmed that several others were crying as well. Here’s a link: http://www.sunnewsnetwork.ca/video/tears-for-iggy/934350509001

      Futher confirmation of the PPG and MSM’s devoted love of the Liberals. Can you even imagine them shedding a tear when Kim Campbell’s PCs were reduced to two seats… or if Harper lost his seat?

      What is even more unbelievable is what Delacourt wrote in Sept. 2010, when she accused Sun TV of feeding questions to reporters to ask Iggy. She stated “What is forbidden, however, is to create news for the purpose of writing about it, or worse, to promote a cause.” Link: http://thestar.blogs.com/politics/2010/09/journalism-petitions-and-activism.html

      It was blatant throughout the election campaign that Terry Milewski, Susan Delacourt and ‘reporters’ like them were doing just that – promoting the Liberal party. How completely unprofessional.

  17. fritz says:

    I wonder if the liberal brain-trust is not being too cute in setting a bunch of rules that don’t allow the new interim leader to run for the full time job.

    Suppose, for the sake of argument, the new interim leader is surprisingly really good at the job; great in QP, increases LPC memberships, raises a lot of money etc. What would the LPC do in 18-24 months time when they want to hold a leadership race and their best candidate can’t run. Do they change the rules again or do they just hope the new permanent guy is as good as the interim one.

    I realize this is a long shot but stranger things have happened. Who predicted Jack Layton would be the second coming in the election just held?

    I’m just sayin’.

  18. Gord, we are in for at least 4 years of unchecked environmental degradation, zero-action on climate change, expanding government debt and nut bar crime-fighting policies that will do nothing to reduce crime in the future. The MSM newspapers overwhelmingly endorsed the CPC. The CPC will defeat the CPC. But keep up the entertaining spin. We would all miss you if you became an extinct supernova

  19. Jim Hanna says:

    Its probably more like the car wreck; there is a pretty good sense that yesterday’s caucus meeting was, um, vigorous. Conflict means stories. The NDP caucus, because of their newness, is probably keeping quiet until they all figure it out. Give them about 6 months and Im sure there will be some fun stories there, too- and I think Layton is enjoying this focus on the Liberals, because the more the story is how much we’re at each others throats, the better he looks and the less heat he has to face, until he sorts out his side.

  20. The ongoing coverage of the train wreck is partly because survivors are still being plucked from the wreckage and emergency officials are working on a plan. There is in fact still some ‘news’ in the saga. That said I’d agree that some will cover the story out of habit, and habits are often routines people fall into because they are easy. Some political journos are going to have to stretch and develop new muscles if they are going to be relevant. They’ve got new contacts to develop and a different culture to learn and report on. Gee, that sounds like… work.

    Human nature being what it is, some folks prefer the known because it is easier over the challenging and interesting unknown.

  21. TofKW says:

    #1 – I think you’re right on this part. Up until May 3rd the Liberals were the only party that was considered a potential government in waiting. That is obviously no longer true.

    – – –

    #2 – Dead wrong. The media are overwhelmingly supportive of the Harper Government.

    Exhibit A – out of the 31 top daily’s and mags – 31 endorsed the Harper government, 2 endorsed the NDP, and 1 endorsed the Bloc. No one endorsed the Liberals.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newspaper_endorsements_in_the_Canadian_federal_election,_2011

    Exhibit B – Harper received an overwhelming advantage on 2011 election coverage, as detailed by McGill University. This is nothing new, Harper received more positive coverage in the 2008, 2006 and even the 2004 elections as well.
    http://www2.macleans.ca/2011/04/08/taking-his-word-for-it/

    Exhibit C – 80% of the media in this country are owned by just a few media families, all supportive of the CPC and the Harper government.
    http://www.crtc.gc.ca/ownership/cht156.pdf quebecor
    http://www.crtc.gc.ca/ownership/cht32h.pdf shaw
    http://www.crtc.gc.ca/ownership/cht32h.pdf CTV

    This flies in the face of the Conservative supporters who constantly spew “Liberal-biased media” doesn’t it? I’m sure there was a time back in the late-90’s when that was true, but it sure is not the case currently.

    – – –

    #3 – Again I think you’re wrong Gord. From 34 seats held now, there is no flippin’ way the Liberals can get to that magic 155 in the next election. How exactly are the Liberals the most likely to defeat the Conservatives in 2015? At this point they are in survival mode.

    – – –

    #4 – I fully agree with you on the state of the NDP, and they will not win either.

    My point here and in #3 above is at the present state of politics in the country, the worst Harper can do in 2015 is to win another minority. Even if his becomes the most corrupt government ever, I can’t see him not winning a plurality of ridings. That is unless Alberta creates another right-wing populist protest party. I think this is why Warren is solidly behind a united centre-left merged party, he seen the writing on the wall long ago.

    – – –

    #5 – Absolutely, whole-heartedly, 100% in agreement here.

    – – –

    #6 – Actually we are in for 4 years of peaceful and stable government filled with incompetence, corruption, secrecy and 100% media compliance. In other words very similar to the Chretien years. Unlike you, I am not looking through rose-coloured partisan glasses, I look at the most likely scenario when a PM has absolute power, a supportive media, and faces a weak & divided opposition. Nothing good ever comes out of granting someone absolute power; blue, red or orange.

  22. Ed says:

    Many jounros cried at Strahl and Day’s final day a few days ago, including Kady O’Malley from the CBC. Its funny that when she tweeted this, ezra tweeted that she must be a stockaholic too. This is not “a league of their own” Gord and journalism isn’t baseball. They cried. get over it.

  23. Phil in London says:

    I agree totally with Warren, it is out of habit that they are following the daily trials. I think the habit is more in keeping with the hopes that the next coming of Pierre Trudeau will arrive. Let’s face it since Mike Pearson with the exception of Stephane Dion, there has not been one Liberal leader in waiting who wasn’t portrayed as the charismatic messiah.

    Anyone remember the excitement of John Turner’s return? The former Trudeau finance minister who was going to extend the Trudeau legacy? He may have been the best prime minister to never win election but two majorities for Mulroney put old Chick on the trash heap.

    While everyone can see the three majorities, the little hood from Shawinigate never really did anything to build a legacy beyond being the father of today’s divisive political forum. Another messiah who though successful at the polls did not have that Trudeau magic.

    Next you see the miseries of Paul Martin, Dion and Ingatieff. both the shipping magnate and the Harvard professor were to take the country by storm and proved lesser than Jean Chretien in their ability to motivate the nation to support them.

    If you look at the Tories they are simply not interested in charisma and the Dippers have previously never been so close to power to be considered charismatic as opposed to psychotic.

    The media is trying to, and has been trying to manufacturer a story for a very long time. I think it’s more about selling newspapers and tv space than any substance. It’s like a slow day on CNN without Wolfe Blitzer covering the dramatics of an overturned school bus in rural Iowa.

    I think they get bored once an interim leader is appointed and parliament gets sitting.

  24. cgh says:

    Warren, I think you are right. It’s largely habit, and people are sometimes stunned when a political earthquake has occurred. This is a particular disease for the Ottawa Press Gallery, as they are usually too close to the day to day trivia of federal political doings to understand the larger changes that are going on in the nation as a whole. The earthquake here is not the NDP takeover in Quebec. Rather it’s the fact that for the first time in decades a majority government has been formed WITHOUT Quebec. As one wag commented, Western Canada now starts on the Ottawa River.

    But there may be worse to come. It remains to be seen over the next several years whether or not the Liberal Party of Canada follows the history of the British Liberal Party in the 1920s. Certainly it will be more difficult given the likely termination of taxpayer subsidy for political parties.

  25. The Doctor says:

    I think people are rightly fascinated (no pun intended) by the travails and fate of the Liberal Party because of the huge historical significance of it, the fact that a party that dominated Canada for so long could conceivably be on the road to eventual extinction or at least considerably diminished relevance. Too early to tell, of course. And this is part of some very fundamental realignment that has been going on, however gradually, in Canada for decades now. There are a lot of different takes on it, but personally I think Michael Bliss’s “New Canada versus Old Canada” is one of the most accurate descriptions of the underlying causes of this realignment. If you look at the results of this last federal election, the CPC dominates in Bliss’s “New Canada” (Alberta, BC, Ontario), and the NDP dominated in the largest province comprising Bliss’s “Old Canada”.

  26. JT says:

    If it bleeds it leads. Nothing like a good train wreck to pique the interest of viewers or readers.

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