This Magazine

Progressive politics, ideas & culture


The Price of Propaganda

This Magazine Staff

Things political start to stink when they stagnate.
Conservatives have typically had a lock on fiscal prudence, portraying the other mainstream parties as tax-and-spendthrifts who cannot be trusted with the public purse. Canadians have long accepted the presumption that Conservatives would keep tighter control of public finance than any other party.
Those days are over, or should be, and I’m not just talking about Stephen Harper’s most recent budget that has a war to pay for – call it what it is – on top of some things Canadians need, as well as a few they want.
It seems the Conservatives have been in power too long – in Alberta, at least. They’ve lost touch with their grassroots. The Reform movement that Harper and many of his cohorts were parts of – that gave rise to the current government – had a tightfisted ethos. One of its mainstays was for government to cut spending, and strict accountability for spending that could not be cut.
I wonder what Preston Manning would say about political advertisements for incumbent Conservative MPs being paid for not from Conservative party coffers, but with taxpayer funds.
The “non-partisan” Canadian Taxpayers Federation – traditionally a Liberal-bashing, Conservative-extolling lobby group with links to Manning, Reform and the Conservatives – clearly disapproves of taxpayers bearing the cost of campaign advertising. The CTF filed a formal complaint with Elections Canada over perceived Liberal indiscretions of this vein in Beaches-East York, saying a Liberal MP’s pamphlet “amounts to election advertising and its cost should not be borne by the taxpayers of Canada.”
In Alberta the CTF made similar comments – but alas, filed no grievance – when Conservative campaign propaganda circulated during the weeks just prior to and now following the election call.
Goldring Ad1.JPG
The black-and-white format, featuring either Harper or the local candidate, is always the same, the message always similar: your neighbourhood is not safe; previous Liberal governments are to blame; Conservatives are taking Real Action!
Leaving aside the touchy issue of playing up public fear and outrage at a lax justice system in order to court votes, there seems to be an essential hypocrisy at work here. Surely the Conservative power base would not approve of MPs using taxpayer money from their expense accounts to publish election campaign material. Surely this is one of those areas where Conservatives are much more accountable than those Liberals scoundrels.
Well, maybe a bit. According to the CTF, Liberals are worse when it comes to using public funds for partisan political purposes (lest we forget the Gomery inquiry). But Conservatives are also spending public money this way – a departure from their fundamentals.
The parties that trade governance of Canada back and forth are both guilty of this practice. It has become the norm, and we’re expected to buy the Conservative evasion that the Liberals spend public money this way too, only more of it and more often.
Canadians, I sense, are weary of the politics of could-be-worse. Unfortunately were stuck with such a deflated attitude because so far there’s nothing really inspiring about this election, no new ideas, nothing dynamic to get behind. The Green Shift is a flop. Nothing and no one has galvanized voters or kindled their faith. Parties are sticking with tried and true strategy: ‘Pick us over the other guys, because they’d be worse than us.’
So, you know, we’ll pick one of them. But it seems a return to fundamentals is in order, for all parties. They should be offering Canadians something better than could-be-worse. Isn’t that why we elected them in the first place?

Show Comments