Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Myth and Meaning: Deconstructing a Conservative Party of Canada Fundraising Letter

This is an actual CPC fund-raising letter that has been floating around on the internet over the past few days. It is similar in many ways to most other CPC fundraising letters.

Now, let's have a good look at what they say.

I'm sorry to have to do this, but I have some disturbing news to share with you. 

Here they are setting the stage. "Disturbing news" sets up a sense of anxiety, perhaps alarm. In psychology this is known as "priming". It's a technique designed to put the subject (the letter recipient) into a certain frame of mind which will enhance the impact of the subsequent information. The use of the phrase "to share with you" implies familiarity. It is intended to make the recipient feel like a part of something, an insider.

I was recently made aware of a plan by Quebec's largest trade union, the FTQ, to attack Conservative candidates in 8 ridings. Even worse, this is part of a larger plan by a group of unions to unseat Conservatives in 60 ridings across Canada!

"I was recently made aware of a plan" makes it sound like this is some sort of dark ops that CPC intelligence has uncovered. The use of the word "attack" makes it seem like something violent and unsavoury is about to occur. "Even worse" - this transfers negativity on the first part. People who receive CPC fund-raising letters frequently are already primed to respond to the word "union" with mistrust, outrage and condemnation. Unions are a central theme common to many CPC requests for money. Unions, media, special interest groups (like First Nations, environmentalists, veterans, women...) are among the favourite CPC bogeymen used to elicit funds.

The plan, called "Beat the Conservatives," is a clear attack on a fundamental Canadian principle of democracy.

"Beat the Conservatives" is a pretty lame slogan. I would have thought the unions could have come up with something catchier. Be that as it may, the rest of the sentence is twisted. "A clear attack on a fundamental Canadian principle of democracy" - so, if anyone challenges or campaigns against the CPC, they are being undemocratic. This is clearly a use of the word "democracy" with which we are unfamiliar. The suggestion is that not only is the CPC the bastion of Canadian principles, but anyone who opposed this "truth" is opposed to democracy. Take a moment to get your head around that.

We're fighting back - but we won't be able to do so without your help. Please donate $15 to help us in this fight.

And here is the ask. $15, they say, is essential to beat back this undemocratic evil conspiracy.

It's this simple. We're up against a secretive group of union leaders who have access to millions of dollars and a single goal - to defeat Prime Minister Harper and Canada's Conservatives.

They reference "a secretive group of union leaders" - it is really hard to argue that anyone in politics in Canada is more secretive than Stephen Harper and the CPC. This is amusing. This nefarious group "have access to millions of dollars and a single goal" - it's almost as though they were describing themselves! And what is this dreadful goal? "To defeat Prime Minister Harper and Canada's Conservatives" Gasp! How could anyone want that? Well, for many reasons. And, as we thus far live in a democracy (more and more questionable all the time, but let's make the assumption), it is the nature of a democracy for different groups with different ideas of how the country should be run, to compete against one another for the minds of the voters. Who will then, again theoretically, be allowed to cast ballots indicating their preferred representative in Ottawa.

We do not vote for the Prime Minister. They vote for the President in the US, but this is Canada and we just vote for a local representative who may, or may not, be a member of a party. The Prime Minister is only the leader of the party that won the most seats. First among equals, with equals being the most important part of that description. Stephen Harper is not a king by divine right, and opposing him is not treason, even if the spin doctors in the PMO would like to make it sound that way. Finally, Canada's Conservatives are not the Conservative Party of Canada, and vice versa. The CPC co-opted (or stole, if you prefer) the word Conservative to use in their name when Peter MacKay welched on a promise to David Orchard that he would not turn the Progressive Conservative Party over to Stephen Harper and his Reform/Alliance cronies.

They are nothing like the Conservatives of Diefenbaker. If your grandad voted conservative, wonderful. But you don't have a real conservative party to vote for. This lot has confused "conservative" with mean-spirited, uncaring, and riding roughshod over the environment, the people, and the institutions that many associate with Canada, all for the benefit of big business. Real conservatives know the value of a dollar and look to use money wisely, for the greatest benefit. The CPC like to spend a lot of money on advertising and ceremonies and photo-ops and flying their chums around the world... Things that do no tangible good, other than supporting their egos and increasing their control of the message and the minds of Canadians. This is not conservative. They cheat and lie. These are not conservative values. So it is actually insulting to real conservatives for the CPC to claim to represent them.

And we can't count on the Liberals and NDP to speak out against this, as they are the ones who stand to benefit.

Ummm. Yeah. Well, let's go back and think about the common usage of the term "democracy". The opposing parties are not going to side with the CPC against anyone trying to encourage a vote against them. That is just not how the game is played.

We can win this fight - but not without your help. Contribute $15 right now to stand with us.

Again with the bold. the underlining and changing the ink colour to heighten the sense of urgency and reinforce the $15 ask. "Stand with us" - they close as they began, encouraging the reader to feel a part of something, an ally.

The underlying premise of this, and most other CPC fund-raising letters, is not only to rake in piles more money, but to reinforce the notion in people's minds that the CPC is the rightful government and any suggestion that someone else should be elected is somehow seditious. I find it scary that some people read these things and actually just absorb this message and close their minds to other perspectives.

Thank you

At least they are polite, if a bit presumptuous.  Canadians really need to think critically when confronted with fund-raising letters, public announcements, talking points, etc...

Don't let the CPC spin doctors bamboozle you with their mind-control tactics!

Monday, 5 January 2015

I am Canadian

I am Canadian.
I live in a house, not an igloo.
I drive a truck, not a dogsled team (although, I do have a Siberian Husky/Irish Setter cross – he doesn't like the cold any more than I do).
I believe in the country providing health care to all, regardless of their ability to pay for it - we take care of each other.
I believe in a strong and progressive educational system where children are valued, regardless of who their family is or what their race, religion, or socioeconomic status might be – educated children are our future.
I believe in science, because science lets us reach into atoms and out beyond the stars.
I believe that paying taxes that are used to benefit my community, my fellow Canadians, and my country is a good thing.
I believe in respecting the First Nations of our country – we owe them much.
I believe in art, and music, and literature, I believe Canadians are among the most talented and creative people in the world and we should rejoice in that.
I believe in Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, our constitution and the Supreme Court of Canada that protects those rights for all of us.
I believe in protecting the environment for future generations.
I believe in peace, order and good governance.
I believe the justice system should be about making society better and helping people cope and fit in, much more than punishing and disabling.
I believe we should all be able to follow our dreams.
I believe in keeping the peace and being an honest broker in the world.
I believe in Canada, but I think we have lost our way.
I am Canadian.

The "FREE" Press in Canada: An obituary

Today Prime Minister Harper shuffled Julian Fantino out of his post as Minister of Veterans' Affairs and into a less visible spot in his cabinet. Clearly, the PM is cleaning house, dealing with irritants that might get in the way of getting votes. He is assuming a) Canadians are stupid and will forget all about the various gaffes and atrocities in Veterans' Affairs over the past few years and b) Canadians are stupid and don't realize that, as odious as Mr. Fantino appears to be, he is not running anything, everything that happens in this government comes from the PMO and starts in Mr. Harper's head.

CBC news network covered the announcement of this shuffle by reading the press release from the government. That is not journalism. That is reciting the government's talking points. Even when pressed to discuss the implications of this move, the reporter seemed to suggest that now Fantino was gone from this post, everything was hunky dory and all that bad blood between veterans and the government could be put to rest.

Fortunately Tom Mulcair had the guts to get in front of the cameras and come right out and say that what happened in Veterans' Affairs happened because Stephen Harper wanted it to happen. Even so, the commentary on Mulcair's speech was hesitant and careful to stick to repeating what he had said, rather than examining this issue.

In other news... It appears that a video clip of CTV anchor, Don Martin, saying that Harper was "flirting with fascism" when it came out that the PM and the CPC were preparing legislation that would circumvent copyright laws, allowing them to use news footage for campaign ads without compensating the news agency that produced it, has been wiped from the internet.

 You can see the comments here but if you click the link to see the clip, you will be informed that Bell media has removed the clip because of copyright issues. Oh, the irony!

The CTV is not entirely virtuous in terms of political objectivity, by the way.  It was found in breach of the code of ethics governing Canadian broadcasters in 2009 when Mike Duffy interviewed then Liberal leader Stephan Dion and broadcast clips that were not to be aired and which were later used by the CPC to discredit Dion. Mike Duffy got a senate seat. Dion lost the leadership of the Liberals and Harper won the election.

The attempts to suppress criticism have been many and varied this past year. Probably the most publicized spat between a columnist and the government involved an opinion piece by Toronto Star's Heather Mallick, and the angry response by Conservative Party political operations director Fred DeLorey. Ms Mallick rightly retorted that her job is to express opinion. It is not intended to be neutral or objective. DeLorey attempted to suggest that holding a critical view of the PM or the government was somehow seditious, and he goes on to attempt to undermine the public's faith in mainstream news media: "We’re up against the Liberals and the NDP in the next election, but we also have to fight an uphill battle against all their friends in the Ottawa media. Since we can’t count on fair coverage, we’re going to need to speak directly to voters. It’s not cheap, but it’s the only option."

And in still other news, it seems the federal government doesn't like its staff checking out Blacklock's Reporter. The accredited news source, specializing in parliamentary news, has been blocked on government servers. If you are not familiar with Blacklock's, the publication is not your usual news outlet. You won't see traffic accidents or fires or sports scores. It is a very serious, often very dry medium that deals with the doings on Parliament Hill; bills, regulations, Access to Information and federal courts. They take the quality of their reporting very seriously and, in so doing, have often been critical of the government. Not just this government, by the way, previous governments have not been spared the Blacklock scrutiny.

 Not only does the CPC want to make sure federal civil servants are protected from news regarding their places of employment, it has also worked very hard to make information nearly impossible to access by members of the press. Investigative reporter, Mike DeSousa, offers an insight into the difficulty many journalists encounter when trying to do their jobs in Canada these days. Months of waiting to get documents that have been completely blacked out. That is not transparency, or accountability, or access to information.

Many people are unaware that things are deteriorating rapidly here in Canada. Between 2013 and 2014, Canada slipped 10 places in the World Press Freedom Index, landing at 20th. Sad, because in 2002 we were in 5th place. A brief synopsis of the decline in press freedom in Canada can be found here.

But, back to the CBC. Every government has disliked the CBC. This is because the CBC has been doing what it was intended to do: speak truth to power, ask the tough questions, and dig for the deeper story. As an independent publicly-owned broadcaster, the CBC was not reliant on advertising and so could not be pressured by corporate interests to cover events in any particular way. All other mainstream media in Canada is owned by corporate interests and relies on advertisers (other corporations) to be able to operate. This financial reliance leads to a tendency to frame the news in ways that please the corporate interests. It can slant the news, sometimes to the point where it barely resembles the actual facts.

But the CBC, like the BBC, was a public broadcaster, and therefore not beholden to corporate dollars. The Liberals were no fans of the CBC when they were in power, but they accepted that it was part of Canada's cultural fabric. The CPC, and especially PM Harper, do not accept it. They hate it. They hate that public money is supporting any publicly beneficial organization, from Canada Post to the Canadian Wheat Board to Parks Canada. They feel that people should pay for services like postal delivery, health care and education. But they especially hate that public money is supporting an organization that asks questions and sheds light on things they would rather keep hidden.

The CPC war on the CBC goes back well before 2006. Back in the days of the Northern Foundation and the National Citizens' Coalition, Harper was already engaged in a war of words with the public broadcaster. Since gaining power in Ottawa he has steadily whittled away at the CBC, cutting funding, cutting jobs, bad-mouthing the CBC to fund-raise, installing a new Board of Directors comprised of hand-picked CPC supporters... He has even gone so far as to change the bargaining process so the BoD has a say in compensation and staffing. It certainly appears that word has gone out: criticize the PM or the government and your name will go on the list for the next round of job cuts.

The changes are evident, from the cuts in staff, to the choices made in lead stories. The CBC, once the most reliable and relevant news source in Canada, is becoming a mouthpiece for the government. And soon it will be moot. It was recently announced that the federal government has contracted, to the tune of millions of taxpayer dollars, to have a company write "custom" news stories. Back in the day, this was called "propaganda". Soon there will be no need for the CBC, CTV, Global, or the print media. The government will provide all the news they want you to see...

#HarpersRecord: A Sociological Phenomenon

This past weekend I participated in a very interesting social media event. A hashtag on Twitter emerged, #HarpersRecord, inviting Canadians to recall just what our Prime Minister has done. With an election coming up this year, it seems only fair to take a good look at the record he seems so proud of.

The participation in this event was surprisingly large. Launched on Saturday afternoon, the hashtag trended in Canada several times Sunday morning. One thing was clear, a lot of Canadians are ANGRY.

Another interesting observation is that there was almost no "troll" activity. Does that mean CPC supporters didn't notice the thread? Does it mean that the documenting of Harper's record in government was such that they could not argue? Or does it mean that the PMO staff were off for the weekend so there was no one around to write up talking points and give the paid trolls their marching orders?

Participants added statements, photos, news links, opinions, and frustration. And the thing is, it's all documented. From closing libraries, to cheating in elections, to abandoning the long-form census, to removing protection from our waterways, to raising the OAS age to 67, to making it harder to get EI, to closing Veterans Affairs offices and returning over $1B to the treasury that was earmarked to be spent on veterans, to running a full-time propaganda machine, and more.... It is all on record. None of this is opinion. There is nothing that can be denied about Harper's record. The question is, will Canadians ignore this record and return Harper to power for another 4 years? Or will this collective rage finally get us up off our couches and out to the polling stations in unprecedented numbers to make sure these things never happen in Canada again?

To view #HarpersRecord, go here.  

If the link doesn't work for you, let me know in the comments section and I will try to do something different so everyone can see.