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The Role of Media in the Election Deserves Scrutiny


The analysis of the 2021 Canadian federal election has been going on for a couple of weeks. Most of that analysis has been to the effect that it was a somewhat useless event, an unnecessary election that simply reproduced the previous parliament. Some analysis is devoted to the role of Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party, some to the flip flopping of Erin O’Toole’s on the banning of certain guns, and his ambiguous position on vaccine mandates, and of course, some to the staying power that anger about an unnecessary election played. This is not an exhaustive summary.

Elections are complicated events.

But the one factor that doesn’t receive much, if any attention by the media is the role of the media itself. In this respect I am thinking in particular about two media influences, although doubtless there are others.

The first is the calling of the election itself. Without making excuses for Trudeau, who was ultimately responsible, I believe that the uncritical hyping of a possible election in the months leading up to it, created an environment in which Trudeau was more likely to think he could get away with it. Instead of salivating about a possible election, there should have been a lot more coverage of the way such an election call violated the spirit if not the letter of the fixed date election, and the difficult spot that Trudeau was putting the new Governor - General in. Noting more often that he was emulating Stephen Harper in 2008 would have been in order. Both blamed allegedly toxic parliaments on the opposition, when their MPs were instructed to create such a condition. 

The second is the role that the media staged English language debate played in reversing the decline of the Bloc Québécois in Quebec. The arguably ill advised question to the Bloc leader , about discriminatory legislation in Quebec enabled the Bloc leader to play the Quebec bashing card, and from there on the Bloc decline began to abate. Without that question, and the way it played out, it is conceivable, perhaps even likely, that the Liberals, Tories, and the NDP would have won those seats that they narrowly lost to the Bloc. Not only that, but to the extent that the Bloc reversal of fortune after the debate made things dicier for the Liberals in Quebec, it also affected the national narrative in a way that enabled fear mongering by the Liberals about a Tory victory, and the poaching of progressive votes from the NDP. 

Though the new parliament may be almost identical to the last one, it was not necessarily so. The role the media played, among other things, in facilitating the election call, and in facilitating a game changing question, is an aspect of the 2021 federal election that needs more analysis.

Bill Blaikie is a former MLA and MP from Winnipeg and is a board member of the Broadbent Institute.