Monday, February 18, 2008

Facts don't sell

The campaign is now at the half-way point and I must sound off on the two groups who have most dissapointed me thus far: The Liberals (Official Opposition) and the Media (Unofficial Opposition).

I'll be the first to admit that the PC campaign certainly hasn't lit many voters on fire yet, but nor has anyone else's. What we've seen coming from the Premier over the last two weeks is pretty well what I expected: a man who understands the importance of a plan talking about sensible and realistic goals for things like the environment, for improving quality of life, and for cracking down on crime.

Meanwhile, Kevin Taft gets little or no traction from the public when he talks about his party's plans to put thousands of Albertans out of work or to introduce irreversible socialist insurance.

And even though they claim to be setting the agenda, I think they know that what they propose is not what Albertans are looking for. Given this, we've seen them descend down the low road of sensationalist mud-slinging.

You'd think that it wouldn't matter much, though. If no one was paying attention when they were talking about actual issues, who'll listen as they wind down the path of irrelevance?

Enter the Alberta media.

Don't get me wrong, i'm not painting them all with the same brush... but a lot of them don't have much understanding of the Alberta electorate and mudslinging makes the job of selling "news" so much easier. When it comes to "news", facts don't sell.

Take the supposed controversy surrounding Alberta's local Returning Officers. Nevermind the fact that not a single one of them have been accused of any impropriety. Nevermind that, if fully quoted in the media, Albertans would know that Chief Electoral Officer Lorne Gibson has interviewed each and every one of those returning officers, was aware of their backgrounds, and is pleased with the work they're doing. Facts don't sell.

There's also the attack from the big labour bosses on Ed Stelmach and the PCs, a relatively new phenomenon in Alberta. Nevermind that most union members like being employed and, in Alberta, don't follow the traditional labour voting patterns. Nevermind that those same union members have no say in their dues being used to attack a party that many (if not most) of them support. Nevermind that Kevin Taft and the Liberals propose to enact legislation that will boost the power of the big union bosses but strip rights from average workers. And nevermind that, coincidentially, organized labour donated almost 3 times as much to the Alberta Liberals as they did to the NDP in the 2004 election. Facts don't sell.

We could also take a look at the media's visits to my hometown of Fort McMurray last week. The Global/Journal/Herald election bus rolled north last Monday (4 days before the Premier was visiting) and filed a series of largely irrelevant stories that drew the ire of some local residents. Later that week, the media van followed the Premier's bus north to the Oilsands City... well except the CBC, of course, who chose to spend our tax dollars flying up and then complained about the weather and their accomodations. Again, the stories filed from Fort McMurray were pretty irrelevant and didn't seem to put much effort into talking to the incumbent MLA or members of his rather sizeable campaign team. They did manage to come up with an anonymous quote supposedly coming from a bureaucrat in Guy's department, though. To be fair, the only candidate who got any face time in the media (Liberal Ross Jacobs) didn't exactly get exposure on the important things like his background or what his issues are. All in all it was the standard drive-by reportage that McMurrayites have come to expect from the out-of-town media. As usual, facts don't sell.

Even at the beginning of the campaign, we got a taste that this was probably coming. On the very day the writ was dropped, a couple of Liberal candidates told a reporter that their Tory opponents (both incumbents) had suggested to them that "This is not your time [in politics]. The men added that the women's time might be better spent at home with their school-aged children." I brought it up on this very blog and identified the semi-anonymous Liberals as Aman Gill and Nancy Cavanaugh (they're the only two Liberal women in Edmonton running against PC incumbents). No follow up on the story, of course. Perhaps a bit of friendly help in tarnishing the reputations of Messrs. Zwozdesky and Hancock, or Tories in general? I know its completely unrealistic to think that the Mother Corp. would be colluding with Liberals. And yet no pursuit of this supposed story. I suspect the facts were more likely to embarass the Liberal accusers, but facts don't sell.

In the absence of substantive debate (and even sometimes in spite of it), it is sensationalist drivel that the media will report and they're lapping up everything coming from the Liberals like thirsty dogs in front of a bowl of water.

So where am I going with all this?

I'm saying that, although the media complains that this election has been pretty boring, I think they probably know why.

They probably know that Albertans are looking for change, but not radical and irresponsible change.

They probably know that Albertans don't appreciate being talked to like idiots who should listen to what the President of the Faculty Club has to say.

They probably know that Albertans don't believe, nor do they appreciate the insinuation, that the democracy that they have participated in all their lives is akin to a third-world banana republic.

Those are facts. But, as we know, facts don't sell.

There is a fact that will sell, though:

Albertans know that the team of 83 people running for PC Alberta is the most diverse and most experienced group to lead this province forward.

From small business owners to municipal leaders, from young professionals to retired educators, from internationally renowned human rights advocates to labour leaders, from doctors to family farmers to environmental activists, PC candidates deliver the most broad and accurate reflection of everyday Alberta.

They aren't afraid to back out of a debate on short hours notice like Liberal Craig "Changed My Mind" Cheffins in Calgary Elbow.

And they damn sure aren't going to run in a constituency they've never even been to, unlike the recently withdrawn Liberal nominee for Peace River.

Sensationalist non-stories aside, most Albertans still believe the PCs present the best option to represent their local and provincial interests in the Legislature.

It may not be a fact that sells with the media or the Liberals, but its a fact that I think most Albertans will be sold on come March 3rd.


  1. "Sensible and realistic goals" - It's sad that these are the best words you can find to describe the Tories' platform. You might as well just say "visionless and unambitious."

    Bring on four more years of aspiring to nothing more than raising our oil output primarily for the benefit of major corporate shareholders (most of whom don't live in Alberta, or even Canada).

  2. Great post! The media can bleat "change" all they want to, but Albertans are too smart to change to Liberals. Why take the risk of "change" just for changes sake?

    Too bad my Edmonton riding is spouting red signs, even the stripper house (we aren't supposed to know about it, but we all do.) has a Liberal sign up. What does that say about Liberals?

  3. AlbertaTory; Ed Stelmach's Jason Cherinak.

  4. I wonder, when will Ed Stelmach live up to the example of Stephen Harper and commit to cutting greenhouse gases by 20% from 2005 levels by 2020?

  5. "Given that, I have come to the decision that I will terminate this blog after the conclusion of the Alberta PC Leadership Race. " - Alberta Tory

    Flip Flopper! That is what you are!

  6. Blake, I long for the days of Neil Waugh and quality, independent journalism.....

    In other news, heard you were coming out to Alberta sometime soon through the grapevine. Give your favourite Liberal in Alberta a call when you are coming out....

  7. Sometimes the media relationship with politics & business is a little... shall we say... cozy?

    Jim MacDonald (Canadian Press) is apparently married to a Liberal staffer. Keep that in mind when you read his stuff.

    When companies sell items on TV or via newspaper, they include a disclaimer. When investment professionals tout stocks on TV, they must state their ownership of same. When will be be able to see similar disclosures from the media? There are reporters and columnists whose spouses are oilfield execs and partners in energy investment banking enterprises in this province, yet Joe and Jane Average would have no way of knowing this.

  8. Yes, the left wing bias of the Alberta media has been known for a long time...

  9. You know your campaign is in trouble when you start blaming the media...

  10. Or when you start blaming administrative returning officers for losing the election...

  11. The unstoppable Stelmach machine is world renowned after all.

  12. "Ed is gaining momentum no matter what everybody says."

    Tories are starting to remind of me of that one part in 1984 where the protagonist is being tortured and his torturer teaches him that discourse, in their world, is reality.

    I guess it doesn't matter that to any mildly objective observer the PCs are running their worst campaign in, well, ever; as long as Tories keep telling themselves things are going well, they'll keep believing things are going well -- despite what "everyone" says.