Misrepresented by the media: Layton meets Harper

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The NDP leader met with Stephen Harper last week. Pertinently, Jack Layton laid out to the prime minister four measures he wants to see from the government in the March 22 federal budget before his party decides whether to vote for it -- or not.

This was a political meeting, both sides hoped to look good coming out of it. Harper wanted to show he was consulting with the NDP, before blaming them for the election he is almost certain to trigger by presenting a budget that will be unacceptable to all three opposition parties. Layton wanted to show he had a reasonable alternative that he can contrast with the American-style spending spree adopted by Harper: a prison building boom, locking up more inmates for longer terms, and new massively expensive projects for the military budget. Moreover Jack had to counter the argument that the NDP wants to provoke an unwanted election (before voting against the budget and bringing it on) by getting on record what he wants to see from a minority parliament: parties working out differences, which is what Canadians expect.

Layton's idea was to show how governments can make life better for Canadians, even transform their economic situation, He wants to build in voters mind the idea of how the NDP contrast with the Conservatives, who want to blame government for economic problems. In many riding across the country the NDP will be going head to head with Conservative incumbents in the election.

The NDP wants to alleviate senior poverty and improve later life quality: through increasing the Guaranteed Income Supplement and improving the CPP. Experts say poverty suffered by seniors could be eliminated by adding about $1 billion in new spending to the GIS to bring every senior up to the poverty line. CPP improvements would necessitate increased employer premiums. So, the NDP expect business to pay its fair share of taxes to help improve economic security for seniors. Higher CPP benefits would flow back into the economy as Harper knows full well, offsetting the higher business costs.

Layton wants the government that is committing Canada to build more and bigger prisons, buy F-35 fighters, and contract for expensive military ships to commit to ensuring there is a family doctor for every Canadian, which is a top priority for young and old alike, as is healthcare overall.

On the environment, the NDP wants to fund more retrofitting to conserve energy, lower consumption, and reduce global warming; and it wants to see the HST reduced on heating fuel to bring immediate relief for families meeting major increases in home heating costs.

Unfortunately, the Layton-Harper meeting was not televised. So, we had to rely on what the press reported in order to know what was said. The Globe and Mail and The National Post took the same slant: the NDP backed down on corporate tax cuts. Instead of reporting what the NDP said, what its ideas entailed and contrasting it with what the Conservatives said about the NDP four points, we got a journalistic "take" on the meaning of Layton meets Harper.

The slanted journalism proved to be erroneous as well. In fact Layton and Harper had spent one-third of the meeting discussing corporate tax cuts, as was later confirmed in two reports from CTV, and one from the Globe.

The Conservative plan to phase in reductions to the corporate income tax rate so that it falls to 12.3 per cent in 2015 (from over 20 per cent four years ago). It has been fought by Layton and the NDP every year, as the mischief-making journalists know full well. This year the rate is slated to fall from 16.5 per cent to 15 per cent. The Liberals, who initiated corporate tax reductions in 2000, now want the Conservatives to maintain the status quo rate of 16.5 per cent, and say they will vote against the budget if their position is not adopted.

The Harper Conservatives "frame" the issue this way: corporate tax cuts create jobs. Oppose tax cuts and you are anti-jobs. Layton is too sophisticated to insert himself into the Conservative frame, which is what the journalists wanted him to do. And, there was certainly no reason for Layton to make the only Liberal talking point on the budget, one of his four points. But the journalists knew they could make him uncomfortable by doing a "gotcha," so they misrepresented his position.

The Liberals want corporate taxes to stay the same; the NDP want business taxes to go up. To pay for CPP improvements, business premiums must increase. That was one of the NDP four points but it did not stop journalists from writing the opposite because they knew it would cause Layton trouble within his own ranks.

Outside the actual news services like Canadian Press and Postmedia News, the news pages in the Globe and the National Post abound in comment with an attitude. The NDP gets slagged regularly. For those of us who rely on newspapers for the truth, the mix of opinion, bias, and slant that has replaced the honorable profession of reporting the news feels more like a betrayal than a professional failing. No wonder newspaper circulation is down: almost nobody trusts the corporate media.

Before meeting with Harper, Layton had been traveling Canada holding town hall meetings to talk about job creation and the economic outlook. What he heard in talking to communities helped the party caucus shape its agenda for the spring session of parliament. This is the democratic practice countries in the Middle East and North Africa are clamoring for, and something Canadians are not seeing from the Harper government.

These meetings were not well covered by the national media.

Duncan Cameron writes weekly on politics and is president of rabble.ca.

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