As if print media needed another nail in its coffin.
On October 16, 2015, The Globe and Mail pulled a Michael Scott. Faced with the daunting task of endorsing a party in the upcoming federal election, it appears The Globe simply buckled under pressure and refused to do its job. Rather than endorse a real outcome, the newspaper decided it would create a fantasy option, a Conservative majority without Stephen Harper, so divorced from the realm of possibility that it made me wonder if The Globe reads what it writes.
A Conservative government without Harper? That’s something that Harper says will not happen. He’ll leave if he loses, but he will stay if he wins. Why? Harper is the Conservative Party of Canada. He even re-branded the Government of Canada in his name. As The Globe identifies, this election is “a referendum on the one-man show that is the Harper government.” It follows that Harper will rightfully read the result as indicative of Canadians’ opinion of his ability to govern.
But even if Harper is secretly thinking of stepping down after winning a plurality or a majority, the fact remains that voters are in the dark to this possibility. They cannot mark their ballots for a “Conservative government with no Harper” any more than they can vote for “a Liberal/Green coalition” or “an NDP government that keeps its promises.” While come Canadians might like the way these options sound, and while they are possible in theory, the fact remains that voters cannot choose any of them on election day. That’s why, if it is to have an effect, The Globe endorsement will likely add to the collective confusion surrounding our electoral system.
The confusion does not end there; the problems with this piece extend beyond the fact that the endorsed outcome is implausible. The basis for supporting that outcome is also problematic. The Globe praised the Harper Conservative economic record as “Hardly perfect but, relatively speaking…better than most.” Better than most what? Harper’s economic record is the only economic record over the last 10 years, so concrete, meritorious comparison with other parties is not possible.
The more appropriate comparison is between what this endorsement says and what it does. On one hand, The Globe decries the toxic culture in the PMO, but on the other, it repeats PMO talking points comparing Justin Trudeau to Kathleen Wynne, questioning Trudeau’s experience, and referring to “the spectre of waste and debt” as a Liberal hypothetical rather than a current Harper Conservative reality. It’s hard to determine if this is the low point, but it makes a strong case for itself.
After publishing this endorsement, Globe’s Editor-in-Chief David Walmsley took questions via Facebook from 2-3 pm on Friday. That was a great format and time slot to avoid direct accountability. Like the endorsement, it was half childish and half cowardly.
If The Globe wants four more years of Conservative rule, it has every right to say so. But it has to accept the reality that, at this point in time, four more years of Conservative rule almost certainly means four more years of Harper. There is a way around this. Even if it refuses to endorse another party, The Globe could do what it did in 2000: endorse a party with its current leader while expressing a desire for that party to choose a new leader in the near future. This would be akin to “biting the bullet.” It would be unsavoury, but it would be principled because it would acknowledge that Canadians face a tough choice between ethics and economic policy, and that voters must choose from imperfect options. Instead, unfortunately, the newspaper decided to shirk responsibility. In its own words, The Globe wrote that the Harper Conservatives are “self-immolating” and “whittling down supporters to an ever narrower base.” After this disgraceful endorsement, even if only for business reasons, it’s time for The Globe to consider if it is guilty of the same behaviour.