Alberta Votes 2015

Extra! Extra! Old media try to stop new politics in Alberta

Awkward last-minute corporate editorial endorsements could backfire on Jim Prentice and the PCs
Photo: Edmonton Journal delivery truck 1914

“In this election, we are picking a CEO for the province,” the Edmonton Journal declared in the headline of its editorial endorsing Jim Prentice and the Progressive Conservative party in the Alberta election.

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The Journal was joined by all the other major daily newspapers in Alberta — the Edmonton Sun, the Calgary Sun, and the Calgary Herald, all owned by Postmedia — and the Globe and Mail for good measure. Prentice’s press secretary even took to Twitter to gloat.

Despite being the unanimous choice of corporate media, all major polls show Prentice’s PCs trailing far behind Rachel Notley and the Alberta NDP. This is a classic case of big media trying to prevent a change to the status quo. Will they succeed?

Can Rachel Notley's NDP win in Alberta?

FACT CHECK: Calgary Herald attack on Notley’s minimum wage plan unfounded

There’s reason to think that, this time, the corporate media won’t be able to bail out their man. The editorials aren’t exactly ringing endorsements, relying mostly on some variation of the “there is no alternative” trope to urge a vote for the faltering PCs. The tired old CEO metaphor is unconvincing; it’s main effectiveness is in revealing the corporate mindset behind this endorsement.

CEO Prentice, of course, is struggling in the polls because the whole economic set-up of his ancien regime has been exposed as a disaster. While Big Oil extracted massive profits, the weak royalty regime left the province totally vulnerable. When the price of oil cratered, Alberta found itself with a $5-billion deficit.

As Ricardo Acuña, executive director of the Parkland Institute, told Ricochet last month, “There is significant anger from all sides of the political spectrum about the Premier’s handling of the province’s current finances.... The PC inability to manage the economy is now entirely undeniable.”

Even the Edmonton Journal editorial conceded the point: “There’s no denying the rise of Rachel Notley’s NDP, particularly in Edmonton, is a signal that the decades of Tory mismanagement and entitlement must come to an end.”

In other words, the Edmonton Journal’s editorial contradicts itself, the textual equivalent of being unable to keep a straight face while endorsing Prentice.

It turns out there’s a logical explanation for the dissonance in the editorial: The decision to endorse Prentice and the Conservatives was called in from corporate headquarters. Canadaland, proving again its essential role as a watchdog of Canada’s highly concentrated media landscape, has the story today, including an umambiguous quote from the Edmonton Journal’s editor-in-chief that the decision was made over her head. “The owners of the Journal made the call,” she tells Canadaland, while noting her own opposition to the practice of endorsing parties as “outdated and paternalistic.”

The last-minute endorsements from the corporate media cut so awkwardly against the tide of public opinion in this campaign that they may just backfire, hurting both Prentice and the long-term credibility of these newspapers.

Edmonton Journal columnist Paula Simons live-tweeted a furious rebuttal to her own paper’s endorsement Friday night, concluding with a plea to voters: “But don’t be bullied by anyone. Vote with hope, not fear.” Simons’ Twitter essay was widely circulated and reproduced, arguably to greater effect than the original endorsement.

That’s a reminder that there’s reason for hope. It turns out, fortunately, that unlike the appointment of a CEO, premiers are selected as a result of citizens electing their democratic representatives.

Postmedia and the Globe and Mail seem to think they can pick the premier of Alberta from their headquarters in Toronto — a group of Bay Street CEOs selecting a fellow CEO for Alberta.

Voters in Alberta might just prove them wrong. If they do, it will be a sign that people are moving on to new media as well as new politics. With a federal election due in a few months, it would be not a moment too soon.

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