We have a real disconnect between our media and the people they claim to be serving.
I’ve known this for some time, I’ve been in the belly of the mainstream media beast for much of my career and have never fit in. I see things differently than the pack mentality that permeates so much coverage of news and especially politics in this country.
We’ve seen this disconnect appear on a couple of stories in the election over the past two weeks, especially on the issues of refugees and crime.
For most of the media covering the election over the past few weeks there has been no bigger story than the Syrian refugee crisis and while Canadians care and want to help, their concerns and views are vastly different than what the reporters covering the story.
In campaign stop after campaign stop reporters had one question, “When will we bring more refugees to Canada?”
Sometimes there would be variations such as why won’t you bring more or how fast can we get them here but the media pack following Prime Minister Stephen Harper, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau were of one mind, Canada should be bringing more refugees to this country from Syria and we should be doing it fast.
Any concerns raised by Prime Minister Harper about vetting any potential refugees for security risks was set aside as simple fear mongering, at least by the media.
Then reality struck.
A series of polls showed that not only was this not the top issue for Canadians, only 2% thought that according to an Innovative Research poll, but more Canadians sided with Harper's plan to move carefully than Trudeau’s plan to quickly bring 25,000 or more refugees here by year’s end.
An Ipsos poll released September 15 showed 38% trusted Stephen Harper to make the best decisions on this issue for Canada compared with 32% for Mulcair and 30% for Trudeau.
The opposition leaders have been adamant that Canada should not play a combat role in fighting back against the likes of ISIS, one of the main groups creating the refugees. Canadians disagree with 57% saying they want to increase Canada’s military contribution to fighting ISIS. They also want to help with humanitarian assistance on the ground with 78% saying aid should be increased.
There is of course also support for bringing refugees to Canada with 49% saying Canada should immediately sponsor 10,000 refugees but the support for humanitarian aid and the military contribution remains higher.
Yet when International Development Minister Christian Paradis made an announcement about increasing aid, providing $100 million in matching grants for donations Canadians make to qualified charities he was peppered with questions of why he wasn’t announcing more refugees.
The next day at a campaign stop Harper was asked about speeding up refugee resettlement, his answer didn’t leave reporters happy because he called them out.
“I’ve already indicated, as you know,” Harper said, “this government made an announcement, this party, about our to take more refugees, before this was even in the headlines. In fact, as I recall, when we made the announcement that we were going to take in more refugees it was largely deemed not worthy of reporting at the time.”
Back then refugees didn’t matter, then it was all that mattered.
The other party leaders of course have not faced the same scrutiny over their decision not to fight the refugee creators but that appears par for the course.
It goes back to what John Ibbitson and Darrell Bricker write about in their book The Big Shift and Laurentian Elites and the way most of the media belong to this club of people that share the same values and views. They agree with Trudeau and Mulcair and so don’t quiz, probe or question their assumptions quite as much as this Harper fellow that is clearly not part of their club.
It doesn’t seem to dawn on them that Canadians, the people they serve, the people consuming their reports – albeit in shrinking numbers – may have different views.
And the Ipsos poll shows that they do.
Which brings me to the second disconnect, crime.
On Friday I was in Calgary where Harper sat down with hockey great turned victims rights advocate Sheldon Kennedy.
The two talked about what the Conservatives have done on crime so far, what they plan on doing in the future. There was a special focus on protecting children and putting victims and their families first.
Some of the announcement was a regurgitation of past promises but coming as it did so close, geographically and time wise, to the murder of Hailey Dunbar-Blanchette, the little feisty two year-old that has been in the headlines, you would think this would rate top coverage.
Well, you’d be wrong.
That day the story was that Stephen Harper had said “old-stock Canadians” a term the Laurentian elites quickly dubbed racist. Never mind that Trudeau had used it in a media interview, that Stephane Dion had used it in Parliament, that it had been used by the media to describe Mulcair’s deep family roots in Quebec – Harper was a racist.
It is the type of assumption the Laurentian Elites quietly agree on. They nod knowingly when it is stated outright or inferred. It doesn’t matter if it is true, it doesn’t matter that Harper’s government has maintained high immigration numbers for a decade, that those immigrants come from quite the diverse set of countries – those Laurentians know Harper is a racist and the media party are a bunch of Laurentian elites.
Besides, crime, the issue the Conservatives were talking about in their announcement isn’t an issue to them, unless it involves a Conservative senator and then, like refugees last week, it becomes THE issue, the only issue.
And yet crime is an issue for Canadians from coast to coast. It is an issue that resonates with Conservative voters and New Democrats but somehow not with the people covering the campaigns.
The disconnect between the media in Ottawa, or on the campaign trail, doesn’t serve anyone but I fear it is getting worse rather than better.
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