By Lance Crossley
One of the most intriguing aspects of the recent struggle for power on Parliament Hill was the propaganda war. Nowadays we call it public relations, but it still amounts to the same thing: the conscious and intelligent manipulation of public opinion.
In the dramatic lead up to the Governor-General approving Stephen Harper’s request to prorogue Parliament – thereby saving his political career – the country witnessed an ugly battle for the hearts and minds of Canadians.
The anti-coalition propaganda was particularly disgraceful.
The source of this propaganda came primarily from two very well oiled machines: the Harper government and big business.
Let’s start with the Harper government. It is to be expected that politicians with power will try every means to keep it, but the Conservatives resorted to outright lies to prevent the fall of their government.
They relentlessly repeated that this was a separatist coalition (it’s actually an NDP-Liberal coalition that has the Bloc’s blessing) and shamelessly implied this was a coup d’etat (when in fact it is perfectly democratic – Canadians elect a Parliament, not a government). The problem with the Conservative propaganda is that it is manufacturing a national unity crisis and spreading ignorance as to the kind of democratic system we have.
Big business was also against the coalition, although for a different reason: the fear of a government friendly to progressive labour policies. This view was reflected in the corporate-friendly editorial boards at most of the major newspapers. The Globe and Mail said it was “dangerous” to have members of a “left-wing, labour-beholden party” in cabinet. It even demanded Harper resign just to avoid this scenario, even though it endorsed him for leader during the recent election campaign.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce (CCC), a huge business advocacy group, originally criticized Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s pathetic economic statement, saying it lacked a real economic stimulus plan. But the powerful lobby group was clearly more worried about the prospect of a coalition. The reason was plainly stated by its president, Perrin Beatty, during an interview with CBC Newsworld where he brought up Bill C-257: a private member’s bill put forth earlier this year by the Bloc Quebecois that would have strengthened Canada’s labour rights. The bill failed but the fact that Beatty used it to explain his opposition to a coalition accurately revealed his motives. Conversely, it also explains why the coalition was so heavily endorsed by the Canadian Labour Congress and so many unions.
Even the Liberals were aware of big business’s opposition, as they went out of their way to tell corporate Canada the NDP would have no significant financial role in a coalition government.
The first casualty in public relations is truth. All the fear mongering by powerful interests prevents Canadians from acting in their own interest. It’s not that everyone has to agree on the idea of a coalition, but the winning idea should not belong to those with the biggest propaganda machine.
Lance Crossley is an award-winning journalist who has worked for The Ottawa Citizen, The Haliburton Echo, and The Prague Post.