There are only a few days left until all of the votes are tallied in Canada and we find out what kind of government we will be moving forward with as a country. A lot of us, myself included, are feeling campaign fatigue after this historically long campaign period. I'm ready to know, I'm sick of attack ads, and if you haven't looked at party platforms or engaged with the political dialogue, it' unlikely you will now.
But there is one more huge piece of influence that could sway the undecided voter --- Newspaper endorsements.
To end the week Postmedia, which controls the largest share of the Canadian newspaper market, has seen its outlets put themselves behind the Conservatives.
On Friday, the Globe & Mail put out their editorial endorsement of the Conservatives (sans Prime Minister Harper) and then Editor-in-Chief David Walmsley did a Facebook Q&A.
To start with we need to look at how the Globe decided to endorse the Conservative's and whether they justified that endorsements properly.
"Canada needs a change. It also needs the maintenance of many aspects of the economic status quo. What Canada needs, then, is a Conservative government that is no longer the Harper government," the editorial reads.
"It is not time for the Conservatives to go. But it is time for Mr. Harper to take his leave. He can look back on parts of his record with pride, but he has undone himself and his party with a narrowness of vision and a meanness of spirit on a host of issues, from voting rights to crime and punishment to respect for science to respect for the courts. The topper has been how this election campaign was sidetracked into an artificial, American-style, culture war over niqabs and “barbaric cultural practices.” The spectacle of a prime minister seemingly willing to say anything, or demonize anyone, in an attempt to get re-elected has demeaned our politics. And while it may have firmed up the old Reform base, it also solidified the Harper Conservative Party as a party of, by and for that base."
The Globe focused on economic platforms and dismissed completely any stance on social issues. That was something that was picked up by readers who voiced their concerns during the Facebook Q&A.
One poster, Devyn Noonan commented " Mr. Walmsley: the Conservative Party has presented a platform based on fear-mongering and racism that this endorsement condemns. And no, contrary to assertions in this article, that platform does not solely reflect the opinions of Stephen Harper -- indeed, many Tory candidates have spoken out in favour of it. So let there be no mistake: your paper has chosen to endorse the Conservative Party, full stop, because Stephen Harper's policies and values nicely reflect (and in some cases are even more progressive than) those of other Tories. My question is this. How can the Globe and Mail endorse a party that has run such an embarrassing, fundamentally un-Canadian campaign when there are two viable other options? What crime could the other parties have committed that was so vile to your board that you decided to endorse the most racist major party in our country's recent history?"
To which the Globe responded "As our editorial said, Mr Harper has undone himself and his party with a meanness of spirit on a host of issues. The Conservatives should return to being a big tent".
An unsatisfactory answer for most. But the Globe was not alone in its endorsement and its reasoning (check out a list of their endorsements of the past few decades). The Ottawa Citizen, Edmonton Journal, Toronto Sun, The Province, the Saskatoon StarPhoenix and at least five other publications also threw their weight behind the Conservatives.
Where did that endorsement come from? Well Edmonton Journal writer Paula Simons tweeted "And yes. Before you ask, this was a decision made by the owners of the paper. As is their traditional prerogative."
In a pretty revealing article from the National Observer titled "Postmedia's oily Harper endorsement" it connects the media company to the oil industry, which also has a pretty cozy relationship with the Harper government.
"Postmedia's endorsement should come as no surprise then, given the network's relationship with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), Canada's largest official advocate for the oil and gas industry," the article states.
It goes on to show some shady relations between Post Media and foreign investment.
So what does this mean? It's certainly not the first political endorsement in media, let alone Canadian media.
In 2011, most newspapers (who did endorsements) swayed to the Conservatives with really only the Toronto Star going NDP, although they endorsed the Liberals in close Liberal-Conservative ridings and made their feelings known that Harper didn't deserve another mandate. Look to 2008 and once again you see papers putting their influence behind the Conservatives with the Toronto Star being the oddity pushing for the Liberals and the Ottawa Citizen endorsing multiple parties. In 2006 the NDP weren't even on the radar with most papers endorsing the Conservatives and once again the Liberals are endorsed by the Toronto Star.
In this list one other thing that stands out is just how many of those endorsements --- meaning newspapers --- are owned by Post Media. To those in the media industry it's not surprising but outside it might shock people to find out that it's a very serious majority (especially after acquiring the Sun Media chain). Just check out their Wikipedia page and especially think about larger urban markets where they own ALL of the big reads people go to.
Although I'd put my money on the majority of the people working for these papers being well-meaning journalists, Post Media still needs its money and its connections to survive. Just this past January the Star posted an article which stated "Canada’s free press and the citizens it serves are paying a heavy price to satisfy the short-term profit-seeking of U.S. financiers who now control many of the leading originators of news in Canada’s largest communities." The article is certainly worth a read if you want to be concerned about who owns and controls the news we are getting.
So are you still surprised by the endorsement? Enraged? I am not. But I am discouraged. I am especially discouraged because many people today go to these newspapers or websites - instead of blogs or Buzzfeed - to get the "real" news. I don't particularly think everyone understands that there is a difference between the news articles and the opinion pieces. So when the newspapers endorse a candidate - even in an editorial - to a lot of Canadians that is either support that they are voting for the right party, a betrayal (which might mean lost readership), or a sway to vote for a particular party without actually understanding platform.
Will newspaper endorsements go away? Probably not. There is a larger trend of Newspapers opting out of endorsements but it's still an accepted policy, especially in a climate where the majority of your papers have one owner, calling the shots. The bigger question is about the future of the newspaper industry. As a journalist - who works in print - I hope that it continues on and forever but especially in Canada you cannot alienate a large portion of your readers to possibly appease foreign investors or a specific sector of the economy, you just can't. If that's the plan, then maybe like the Globe's endorsement Canada needs the news - but not Post Media.
Kelly Geraldine Malone is a freelance journalist, podcaster, and radio producer based out of Manitoba, Canada