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Bent on dissent: On the strange phenomenon of editorial political endorsements

| October 17, 2015
Bent on dissent: On the strange phenomenon of editorial political endorsements

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Political news junkies were given one more reason to scratch their heads (a lot) on Friday, when the Globe and Mail published their editorial endorsement for this election.

We like the Conservatives' handling of things, the paper's editorial board opined, but we don't like their leader, Stephen Harper, insinuating it was time for him to go. A really unusual take, given that most people intimate with the Conservative Party -- including the Globe's own reporters -- agree that the Party is Stephen Harper.

Reading the endorsement brought up some strange feelings (as well as some of my breakfast) but it also brought back some powerful memories. It was in 2011 that I was so exasperated by the Globe's endorsement of the Conservatives prior to the election that I convinced their editor to allow me to write a "dissenting endorsement" in their op ed pages: a first for the paper, but one that seemed fair, given how divisive a politician Harper had proven.

I took some time to re-read what I wrote. And wow -- it's always fun to think of new things to do, and now I can add fortune teller to my list of accomplishments. Because some of what I wrote in that April 30, 2011 column is downright eerie.

At the time, I took issue with the Globe's proclamation that the Conservatives had provided "successful stewardship of the economy." I pointed out that much of the reason we were cushioned against what was happening globally had little to do with the Conservatives, but with the Liberals' managing of deficits and debt load prior to the Cons ever getting into power. Again, I'd take issue with the idea that the Conservatives should get high marks for our economy. Our unemployment inched up to 7.1% during this campaign -- surely one of the most obvious indicators of how well our economy is faring -- and that stands in contrast to the 5% unemployment rate in the US.

In another bizarre remark, the Globe editorial praised Harper for his "bullheadedness" and "strength of character." I chose to differ, pointing out that "Harper displays a downright dishonest streak." In their current endorsement, the Globe editorial board appears to have come around to my way of thinking, acknowledging that he is a leader without moral compass who does more harm than good.

Finally, I pointed to all of the things that the Globe's endorsement had conveniently left out of their endorsement column: lies, lies and more lies. Lies on the need for more prisons, lies about the long-form census, lies that add up to a "dishonesty that transcends the kind of white lies that people expect of politicians; it suggests a hostility towards the truth. Indeed, in some of the government's stranger moments, the Conservatives appear to have lost touch with reality altogether, blinded by ideology while caught in its own spin cycle."

Speaking of people who've lost touch with reality, it seems the editorial endorsements have very little connection to the reporters and editors who work at Canadian newspapers. I still recall reading the Globe's 2011 endorsement of the Conservatives, and it made so little sense I got the feeling that it had been written by an editorial board who had been told precisely who to endorse and, as a form of rebellion, had written something so nonsensical it effectively undermined itself. The 2015 endorsement feels much the same way.

Added to my morning reading were editorials in the Ottawa Citizen, Edmonton Journal and other Postmedia papers, all repeating that the Conservatives were the Party to lead Canada forward. Forward to what, precisely, was never quite clear in these editorials. They were full of vague, keep-on-track, fear-the-unknown, better-the-devil-we-know-than-don't type lines of reasoning. On social media, they have invited epic scorn -- especially the Globe's bipolar up-with-Cons-but-down-with-Harper edict. As a number of people noted, many of these newspapers have been producing solid articles that have at times been quite critical of the ruling party -- in particular the Globe and the Ottawa Citizen.

Over the past decade, I've asked friends from other countries not to judge Canada by the actions of Harper and the Conservative Party. Perhaps it's also time we don't judge papers by their editorial endorsements during election campaigns. Whatever the papers' official lines may be, these endorsements don't seem to be very reflective of the editorial staff of the papers.
Matthew Hays is a Montreal-based journalist whose work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, The Guardian, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Vice, The Walrus and The Daily Beast. He teaches courses in film studies and journalism at Marianopolis College and Concordia University

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