The Hill Times Dec. 15, 2016
TORONTO—Despite everything else going on, big news has been made about an Ontario Progressive Conservative backbencher promising his constituents a revisit on some social issues once in government.
The news is, of course, that Conservatives have a hidden agenda to make abortion illegal again, reinstate capital punishment, abrogate same-sex marriage, and support the geocentric theory that the sun rotates around the Earth.
This hidden-agenda theory is an old issue that surfaces every now and then to damage the Conservatives.
No doubt, there are Canadians against abortion, same-sex marriage, and in favour of capital punishment. Personally, I am against abortion but not against women’s right to chose. I am also in favour of same-sex marriage and against capital punishment. I would debate against those not sharing my opinion but always respect for their views without painting them as dangerous members of an illegal, esoteric sect.
The hidden-agenda charge was used against former prime minister Stephen Harper during every campaign he fought. Never mind that he said over and over that policies on abortion, same-sex marriage, capital punishment, and the Earth rotating around the sun were established in legislation or astronomical realities that his government wouldn’t try to change.
Media and opposition, despite solid facts, never acknowledged that. I remember a few years ago, when some Conservative MPs tried to reopen the discussion on some of those issues. Harper slammed their initiative, reminding them that the issues were dealt during the electoral campaign and they would not be reopened, as promised to the voters. Opposition and media, instead of recognizing that Harper had no hidden agenda and was keeping a promise made during the campaign, accused him of being a dictator by not allowing disagreements.
Back to the Ontario Pulitzer scoop of some journalists that, despite danger for their safety, penetrated a bunker protected by armed security guards where a group of Christian supporters heard Rick Nicholls, a Conservative backbencher MPP, say that “social issues are very, very important. We need to form government, then watch us go.” I have a tip for them: every Sunday they might get such a scoop going into some buildings with a cross on the roof where a conspirator on the altar with a long robe says more or less the same.
Of course, he is not an elected official. Still, an MPP has the right to have an opinion without being penalized for it. At the same time, an MPP doesn’t have the right to speak on behalf of an organization that has a different position on the same issue.
So, what is the scoop all about? It is a typical backbencher freelancing with some supporters, telling them things they want to hear, knowing that nothing is going to happen.
However, having expressed my frustration against the futility of these “scoops,” I am wondering why we periodically must deal with this political and journalistic nonsense.
Are media against the Conservatives, or is it that Conservatives don’t understand media? I believe in the latter. I suspect that they don’t care about journalists and consider them a nuisance.
It looks as if Patrick Brown Conservatives believe that they can win the next election only capitalizing on Premier Kathleen Wynne’s mistakes, and using media only to rectify today what someone said yesterday.
If that’s the case, they are going to have some surprises, like the one experienced by Hillary Clinton against Donald Trump or, closer to home, by John Tory in 2007 at against Dalton McGuinty and Tim Hudak in 2011 against Wynne. Mr. Brown needs to go beyond the rhetorical attacks from the opposition against the government and establish a direct link with voters trying first to understand their problems, then advancing solutions.
It is in this context that the role of the media becomes important. I know that many journalists are not eager to talk about real issues and positive events, preferring scoops like the one just mentioned—but it is worth a try. Otherwise Brown could do what the Harper’s Conservatives did in 2011 (but forgot in 2015), bypassing the conventional and national media and focusing on local, regional, and social media to promote a message and establish a direct dialogue with voters.
Using the media only to focus on the mistakes of the government and to correct their own is not going to work.