rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Alberta Diary

djclimenhaga's picture
David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. His 1995 book, A Poke in the Public Eye, explores the relationships among Canadian journalists, public relations people and politicians. He left journalism after the strike at the Calgary Herald in 1999 and 2000 to work for the trade union movement. Alberta Diary focuses on Alberta politics and social issues.

Shift happens, but not this fast -- getting a handle on Alberta's wonky polls

| April 25, 2012
Alberta Premier Alison Redford

Whatever went wrong with those notorious pre-election Alberta public opinion polls, it's not, as many pollsters now appear to be trying to persuade us, the fault of voters for changing their minds too quickly for our serious and scientific opinion trackers to keep up.

For weeks they told us with unshakeable confidence the far-right Wildrose Party was a deadbolt cinch to win a huge majority in Tuesday's Alberta election and bring the 41-year-old Conservative government to a humiliating end. In the event, the Tories under Premier Alison Redford did quite nicely, thank you very much.

We'll probably never know the full extent of what happened because, with one or two honourable exceptions like Janet Brown and Brian Singh, both quoted in a useful Globe and Mail story on what went so spectacularly wrong, most pollsters seem to be determined to make excuses or blame respondents for lying to them.

Said poll commentator Eric Grenier of ThreeHundredEight.com: "Wildrose's support simply cratered, and to an extent that no model or method could have anticipated."

Well, it's true, shift happens. But not this fast. And it's poppycock to suggest these shifts couldn't have been predicted if pollsters had been paying attention.

A number of factors contributed to this debacle, but the key one is that Albertans were never as dumb as the pollsters, media commentators and Wildrose strategists gave them credit for being.

For more than two years, the mainstream media in Alberta and elsewhere in Canada have been spinning a yarn about the "upstart right-wing party" led by Danielle Smith, a plucky little scribbler from Calgary, and how it was "soaring the polls." This cliché started back when there was only one poll in which it soared.

This story always came to the marketplace of ideas complete with an agenda -- pushed by right-wing journalists from right-wing media and encouraged by right-wing think tanks and right-wing Astroturf groups to boost the right-wing agenda of the Harperites in Ottawa and their fellow travellers in the Alberta business community.

It was a compelling tale, cleverly marketed: the (justified) sense change was needed and desired by a lot of voters, added to Thatcherite fear-mongering There Is No Alternative, but leavened by the appealing personality of Smith. She gave the impression that no matter how necessary the harsh medicine the right was about to administer to the rest of us, it wouldn't taste that horrible.

Lots of us -- not just pollsters -- were persuaded to swallow this ideologically distilled codswollop, even if we didn't accept the premises on which it was based. It is said here many honourable pollsters were among those who bought into this manufactured wisdom, and that it began to affect the assumptions that underlay their research.

In addition, however, there were a few pollsters whose intentions were not so honourable, and who purposely devised push polls designed to move public opinion in the direction they wanted it to go -- toward the Wildrose Party.

These polls were not just treated with undeserved credibility by the media, they were used along with more legitimate polls by analysts like Grenier who aggregate the results of numerous surveys done by others to produce seat estimates. This added to the sense a Wildrose victory was unstoppable.

Then there was poll fatigue -- especially with pollsters using methodologically questionable push-button telephone polls, which had handsets jumping off their stands all across Alberta. After you'd received three or more of these things in a day, as happened in many households, serious resistance to answering calls from strangers began to set in.

Who bothers to stick around to answer questions delivered in such a format? Only the politically committed, ideologically driven and deeply unsatisfied, which included significant numbers of far-right Wildrose supporters, had the patience to answer all the questions.

Ordinary voters -- who in Alberta tend to vote Conservative -- didn't even bother to pick up.

There may also have been a spousal factor -- and this may be a bigger contributor in Alberta than many of us would like to admit. Face it, when your spouse has a bee in his bonnet (or hers, I suppose) about property rights, gun registration or kooky religious doctrines, who needs the argument that's inevitable if you're overheard telling a pollster you’re not planning to vote Wildrose?

That's why we have secret ballots in this country, and it's said here that on April 23 plenty of Albertans wisely took advantage of that fact.

Then there's this key fact: It was obvious early -- despite the best efforts of the media to ignore it -- that the Wildrose Party advocated policies and held attitudes that defied the broad consensus of Canadian society, and that includes Alberta society.

This was true even before it was apparent the Wildrose Party offered a safe and uncritical haven to racists and homophobes or that its leader didn't believe in climate change, attitudes that are not shared by the majority of Canadians no matter how many times you angrily repeat the opposite on right-wing talk radio.

Public opinion polls showed Albertans wanted to preserve public health care. The Wildrose Party was triumphally open about its plans to privatize and commercialize the health care system, notwithstanding its mendacious insistence it believed in publicly funded health care.

Public opinion polls also showed Albertans support public education. The Wildrose Party's plans for education were also well known.

The desire of Canadian women for reproductive choice may often be softly spoken, but it is clear enough. Notwithstanding Smith's attempt to have it both ways and claim she personally was pro-choice, it was pretty clear where the party was going with this.

Never mind "conscience rights" and "Dani Dollars," there were plenty of areas where Wildrose policies past and present were well known, despite the party's efforts to soft-pedal them in the election run-up. Among them, opting out of the Canada Pension Plan, dumping the RCMP, shutting down the Human Rights Commission, setting up "firewalls" around Alberta.

So it turns out that Albertans were paying attention. 

If nothing else, it should have been a warning to pollsters that Albertans' attitudes on topics like these were at odds with their supposed support for the Wildrose Party. But pollsters too appear to have been carried away by the suspenseful tale being spun by the media to have noticed the obvious.

This is not to detract from the clever and subtle campaign of Redford's strategists. Nor is it to accept the absurd myth repeated tirelessly by Wildrose propagandists that Redford and her PCs are liberals. Nor is it to say the PCs are the best possible choice for Alberta.

But it is to say Albertans tried to make the best possible choices under the circumstances for themselves and their province, and if our pollsters had been paying attention they would have seen they were likely to do so.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.



AND... Cheers to you "outwest" (not to make this into a mutual admiration society).

Looks like we're of the same leanings and rational!

Thanks for participating.

Whoa! RIGHT ON Nadein Lumley!!!!


I HAVE to share this with friends!

A second time you nailed it David (this particular) saying the key, "is that Albertan's were never as dumb as the pollsters, media commentators and Wildrose strategists gave them credit for being."

Finally (me discovering), a realistic and honest Alternative News Paper.

But the truth is that Albertan's didn't squash a political coup (Re: a "wholistic" Conservative Government - still a Conservative Leadership and Conservative Opposition) we just squished it.

Can we believe Alison's version softening to centre or left wing leanings?

And the upshot of both the main article and reply above, in reference to the controlled media; I think both of what you two have just published is one of the most important social, economic and political commentaries for both the domestic and international environments. Canadian journalism - print and broadcast - are more than the epitome of this (the "owned" and monopolized media).

For a couple of years now I have been getting into HAM and Shortwave Radio as a means to pick up on "on spot" happenings world wide and more of an unbiased reporting. Alas, it's better but marginally. Radio Australia and English Hong Cong, Radio Beijing and a host of others still subscribe to the same wire service - and the HAM guy's I've listened to aren't talking, more mindless gibber (small talk like in a bar). ...even Radio Havana ("ironically," seems to receive the best here in the west) is a bit shallow in reporting and is very repetitive.

Before the first Gulf War, I found CNN to be fairly credible and with a bunch of energetic and reasonably unbiased reporters - it all ended then, a distinct shift both in policy and staff and I haven't hardly watched it since. For awhile TV's BBC World News seemed better, then I started to really question and found what we get here is "BBC World News, New York." Then TV's Al Jazeera, finally a little more on South America and the rest of the world ...but still not really an authentic English Language version of what's broadcast in the Mideast and rest.

Back to radio, I applaud much of Alberta's CJSW and CKUA but it's hard to listen to Syncrude being a prime contributor to CKUA and think it's going to be independent (kind of like ATCO industries so frequently paying for that 3 inch advertising bar at the bottom of the front page of the SUN) . I'd like to see a centre left version of QR77 and have people like yourselves as monitors (hosts) and guests.

We need a proper Alternative Radio station, for Alberta and Nation wide.

Thank you so much, I will pass a link along and post to my Facebook.

I don't consider the right ward shift to have been stalled much, at all. The two parties are right wing twins with the same backers and similar agendas.

Redford has been put in the position where she'll have to throw a few bones to the progressive agenda to appease her new voters, but on critical issues such as the sale of water, the speed of the tar sands exploitation, and slippery slope of health care privatization (however slow the pace), I expect her to embrace her party's true right wing agenda, as per usual, even if it's slowed down quite a bit.

this rightward shift seems to be thankfully stalled...the majority of people who take the time to vote seem to have a political line that they do not cross...and the WPR is well on the other side of that line...



Gosh, perhaps Nadein's reply could just be put together as it's own article. In the meantime Mr. Climenhaga, you do slightly underplay the degree to which your own articles bought into it all...

Who Killed Canada

Media Ownership and the Radical Right in Canada





Part 1, 2 & 3.  Note:  each video about 10 minutes long


No time for video?  Read review instead:



Mr. Hurtig begins by discussing the Canadian media and how we now have the greatest concentration of media in the western world. In fact, he states that this would simply not be allowed in any other western democracy.


And since these same media outlets control newspaper, television and radio news; we are essentially only being given one voice. There are few or no alternative views. As stated in the video, a healthy democracy should foster a healthy and independent news media.



How Rich Elite & Corporate Propaganda Hijacks Democracy


Do you ever wonder why so many of the Fraser Institute’s right-wing commentaries get into Canadian daily newspapers?  Perhaps you’ve been disturbed by the spate of articles about the inevitability of Canada forming closer ties with the United States.  Maybe you’re troubled by the constant media attacks on medicare?


Former SFU communications professor and occasional Straight contributor Donald Gutstein explains how Canadians are being duped by a sophisticated, broad-ranging, and reactionary public-relations assault financed by some of North America’s largest corporations.


Wealthy Americans such as brewing magnate Joseph Coors and newspaper publisher Richard Mellon Scaife funded several think tanks in the 1970s to spread a libertarian message of deregulation and lower taxes, which countered the consumer revolution led by Ralph Nader.





How Rich Elite & Corporate Propaganda Hijacks Democracy


Do you ever wonder why so many of the Fraser Institute’s right-wing commentaries get into Canadian daily newspapers?  Perhaps you’ve been disturbed by the spate of articles about the inevitability of Canada forming closer ties with the United States.  Maybe you’re troubled by the constant media attacks on medicare?


Former SFU communications professor and occasional Straight contributor Donald Gutstein explains how Canadians are being duped by a sophisticated, broad-ranging, and reactionary public-relations assault financed by some of North America’s largest corporations.


Wealthy Americans such as brewing magnate Joseph Coors and newspaper publisher Richard Mellon Scaife funded several think tanks in the 1970s to spread a libertarian message of deregulation and lower taxes, which countered the consumer revolution led by Ralph Nader.





In part one of Mel Hurtig's lecture series, Who Killed Canada? based on his book The Truth about Canada, he gives an introduction to the infrastructure of the extreme right-wing movement; beginning with the hi-jacking of our media, to the many so-called think-tanks, that provide the 'facts' to that hi-jacked media.

In part two he discusses the reduction in federal revenue that weakened spending in important areas. We learned that we are 25th of the 30 OECD countries, in terms of spending on social programs.

Part three deals with our increasing poverty, that coincides with the increase in corporate profits. And though these 'free market' gurus try to convince us that we should throw in our lot with corporate Canada, they have done nothing to advance Canadian interests or protect this country's citizens.

Patriotism should be about more than war, but should also be about national identity. Sadly, our national identity is being erased. I don't even know who we are now, and as journalist Colin Horgan wrote recently; "With Barack Obama, anything seems like it might be possible. With Canada's Steve Harper, barely anything does."

In his book Pay the Rent or Feed the Kids, Mr. Hurtig describes how many Canadian families must choose between the two. And yet successive governments have ignored this growing problem, listening to special interest groups like the National Citizens Coalition and the Canadian Taxpayers Association, who are funded by corporate Canada to keep their taxes low.

And while there are many advocacy groups that speak up for the most vulnerable Canadians, they are all but ignored. And how could we possibly expect Steve Harper to do anything when he once boasted about the fact that he was often asked to speak on things like child poverty, because he didn't believe government should be putting money into eradicating it.

Under the Harper government these groups are now just deemed 'special interest' and have no voice.



Here is an interesting article from the Guardian which sums up the biases of newspapers that publish articles like those of Ibbitson. Bias is our business.



One of the more surprising developments, though, is to see that the Toronto Star‘s leftward deviation is far less significant than the Post‘s business bias. As expected, they published more than half the Liberal columns this month, and half of the NDP pieces. But even in the Star, 6 pieces went to business executives compared to just 1 piece by a trade unionist, and free market think tanks edged out progressive think tanks, 3 articles to 2.




Canada's Billionaire Media Playas

Picking two names at random, among them is David Thomson, the richest man in Canada with wealth in the area of $23 billion and a key owner of The Globe and Mail. Thomson spends millions on art without giving it a second thought.

The second individual is Pierre Karl Péladeau, the president and CEO of Quebecor Inc., which owns the second largest newspaper chain in the country. He is anti-union. Using strong-arm tactics to humble employees at two of his Québec papers, Péladeau forced them to accept lower wages.







snip snip: However, democracy is also undermined from the inside by a cult of indifference. The self-proclaimed analyses of certain media are the cause of many problems.

One such problem is clearly seen in the large number of journalists commenting on political news as though this were merely sporting events or artistic performances. How often do we hear commentators discussing the Conservatives' contempt for Parliament, their disregard for social justice and democracy, and other related issues? These questions, they say, do not reach the average voter.

But it is very easy to pretend to know what citizens think when speaking on their behalf. The "real world," pseudo-political analysts tell us, wants to hear about the economy and nothing else.

Strange reasoning, because how can we possibly discuss the economy if Parliament is not functioning and if it hides the real cost of F-35 fighter jets, or if the distribution of funds to development aid programs rests on the arbitrary will of a few people?

It is obvious that the economy is a crucial political question. However, the economy means nothing if it is considered for its own sake, abstractly and without points of reference located in our very way of conceiving the nature of a just and democratic society.



Manipulated Ignorance: Knowing Incorrectly

Some of that ignorance is the result of the conscious efforts to divert and deceive people.

The sophisticated techniques to shape public attitudes developed by the public relations and advertising industries are used effectively by corporations and politicians, with the independent news media-consciously or unconsciously-often serving an important transmission function.

Much of this is designed to make sure people don't know things, to create or deepen ignorance.




Why the sweet F**K is it so F**KING hard to post in here???????????????


All stations, publicly funded or not, want to maintain or expand their viewership. This is what I'll call the elephant in the room.


TV news is a curious medium. You don't always know whose interests are being served - or ignored. Although bounded by certain federal regulations, most of what you see in a newscast is actually defined by an internal code - an editorial tradition handed down from one generation to the next - but the key is, it's self-enforced. Various industry associations hear complaints and can issue recommendations, or reward exemplary work with prizes. There are also watchdogs with varying degrees of clout. But these entities have no enforcement capacity. Underneath this lies the fact that information is a commodity, and private TV networks are supposed to make money. All stations, publicly funded or not, want to maintain or expand their viewership. This is what I'll call the elephant in the room.

snip snip: "Now I want my opinions back."

I have serious problems with the direction taken by Canadian policy and politics in the last five years. But as a reporter, I feel like I've been holding my breath.

Every question I asked, every tweet I posted, and even what I said to other journalists and friends had to go through a filter, where my own opinions and values were carefully strained out.

Even then I'm not sure I was always successful, but I always knew at the CBC and subsequently at CTV that there were serious consequences for editorial.

Within the terms of my employment at CTV, there was a clause in which the corporation (now Bellmedia) literally took ownership of my intellectual property output. If I invented a better mouse trap, they owned the patent.

And if I ever said anything out of line with my position as an "objective" TV reporter, they had grounds to fire me. I had a sinking feeling when I first read that clause, but I signed because I was 23 and I wanted the job.

Now I want my opinions back.



In other words, despite only having support of roughly a third of Canadian citizens, 92% of editorial opinion in the press in Canada were stumping for Harper. Something was definitely out of whack, but perhaps there was hope because conceivably the remaining papers could come along to save the day, singing the praises of Ignatieff, Layton, Duceppe, or May in some way that roughly corresponded with the distribution of votes and voices in Canada.

Sorry, that hasn't happened. For those hoping that somehow the editorial pages might finally line up with popular sensibilities and the disparate political forces that make up the fabric and culture of democracy in Canada, the bad news is now really bad news.




It's not Canadians who've gone to the right, just their media.

"Lawrence Martin has written several articles about the Canadian media's rightward migration. In a January 2003 column headlined It's not Canadians who've gone to the right, just their media, he quoted an unnamed European diplomat saying "You have a bit of a problem here.

Your media are not representative of your people, your values."

Too many political commentators are right of centre while the public is in the middle, the diplomat continued. There is a disconnect."



In chart form, the 2008 Canadian Federal election:
Here's how the people voted (click to enlarge):

And here's how the media voted:


Newspaper endorsements in the Canadian federal election, 2006


News Announcer, DJ and Radio Tech outs all the dirty tricks he was forced to use on air



Aspers and Harper, A Toried Love
Ties that bind CanWest to the Conservatives.
By Marc Edge, 13 Nov 2007, TheTyee.ca

Steve Harper and Leonard Asper: Mutually assured ambition


The likelihood of any limits on media ownership being enacted by the new ruling party in Ottawa also grew scant for another reason. The Asper heirs had moved almost as close to the Conservatives as their father had been to the Liberal party.

[Editor's note: This is the first of four excerpts from Marc Edge's new book Asper Nation: Canada's Most Dangerous Media Company.]

One senior editor at Global Television even ran in the 2006 election as a Conservative candidate in Toronto with Asper blessing. A new chairman of CanWest's corporate board came directly from Tory ranks and aligned the Aspers uncomfortably close for some with the new party in power. A CanWest executive was discovered helping to fundraise for the Conservative cabinet minister in charge of broadcasting. Parliament Hill reporters for CanWest News proved more co-operative than most with the media management tactics of the new Tory government.

"Big media is in the driver's seat of big politics,"

said Peter Murdoch of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada. It's clear who the government is listening to. I's not just outrageous or appalling. t's scary."


CanWest must quit referring to themselves as a newspaper and call themselves what they really are: an advertising brochure.


You no longer have reporters, you have repeaters.


The new game began in Canada on Aug. 27, 1980. "Black Wednesday", as it became known, was the day newspaper corporations across the country colluded to swap properties and kill competition. The Ottawa Journal and the Winnipeg Tribune folded, and Vancouver Province's owner, Southam, bought the Vancouver Sun. The two had been in bed together since 1950s via a press-and-profit-sharing agreement at Pacific Press that killed the third paper and defended against upstarts.

Suddenly competition for readers was no longer necessary; these publicly traded corporations now focused on advertiser-pleasing copy as the technique for pulling more ads.

At least Postmedia has an understandable reason for changing standards: they're legally obligated to maximize profits. But the fact that the commercial-free public broadcaster also ignores the public good suggests that there is a new definition of journalism.


Between 1990 and 2005 there were a number of media corporate mergers and takeovers in Canada. For example, in 1990, 17.3% of daily newspapers were independently owned; whereas in 2005, 1% were. These changes, among others, caused the Senate Standing Committee on Transport and Communications to launch a study of Canadian news media in March 2003. (This topic had been examined twice in the past, by the Davey Commission (1970) and the Kent Commission (1981), both of which produced recommendations that were never implemented in any meaningful way.)

The Senate Committee's final report, released in June 2006, expressed concern about the effects of the current levels of news media ownership in Canada. Specifically, the Committee discussed their concerns regarding the following trends: the potential of media ownership concentration to limit news diversity and reduce news quality. (2)


With fewer journalists on staff, news editors increasingly turn to the copy provided by organizations like the Fraser Institute to fill the "news holes" between advertisements in their papers.

This is why we get so many reports from bogus groups like the Fraser, the Frontier Centre, The Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the Manning Centre for Destroying Democracy. Not enough staff so we allow them to fill in the blanks.



Login or register to post comments