Earlier today I made the case that "The Government of Canada" shouldn't be renamed on whim or even deliberately, and using "Canada's New Government" (technically correct in a very narrow sense) or "Harper Government" (mirrors vulgar usage, but inappropriate) rests on dangerously misleading semantics.1

The next of at least 36 reasons to not vote Conservative in May is one facet of their treatment of our press. This will emerge as another theme—the CBC will get its own post, later.

Before that, though: the names of things are important. Juliet, in a famous passage, laments:

…Romeo, doff thy name, And for that name which is no part of thee Take all myself.
But of course the two can't escape their names, and perish. Other authors have made explicit the magic in the power of names.

The lesson is that, despite the difficulty, we ought to make an earnest effort to call spades, spades. You won't see 'Harpo,' 'Iggy,' 'Jack' or 'Liz' in this space, nor 'C(L)O(W)Nservative,' 'LIEberal,' 'Dipper' or any of the endless epithets that appear in newspaper comment threads. To me, their usage signals an unwillingness to confront the complex reality of the things the actual names refer to. They are one-word caricatures.

Likewise, if we use reductive proxies for information of real importance, we run a strong risk of making bad policy.2 Good policy is difficult even with full and correct information. As electors, our votes and inter-election communication with MPs present a mandate to enact certain policies, so we need access to the same information.3 Hence the importance of CAIRS; hence also the important of a free and independent press. In a list of tactics used in malfunctioning democracies to pervert elections, muzzling the press (or state control of media) would be up top with voter intimidation and ballot stuffing. Sunshine, as they say, is the best disinfectant.

A 2006 event typifies the Conservative actions on this point. In news conferences4 with the Prime Minister, a member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery used to pick which others would get to ask questions. The government decided that they, instead, would make that decisions. When the gallery walked out of a subsequent conference to protest, Stephen Harper falsely conflated press scrutiny with the activities of the Official Opposition, and then claimed that "It ain't no thang anyway." Journalists being journalistic, others have written at length on this topic, and a timeline is available. The Prime Minister's Office went on to do similar things with news photography, and reportedly the press accompanying Mr. Harper during the campaign are—like children—expected to be seen, but not heard unless spoken to.

In our daily lives, we may find ourselves in conversations where there is an elephant in the room. Between equals, we can choose indirection, but in others cases we are on the weak end of a power relationship. When bosses, supervisors, significant others or parents ask questions, we must answer regardless of our discomfort with our inadequate answers, or the perceived unfairness of the questions.

Our elected officials govern at the behest of the people. When the press asks questions of the government on their behalf, there is no ambiguity in where the power lies, or who ought to be able to compel answers. The Conservatives' treatment of the press in Ottawa is an inexcusable effort to subvert or reverse this relationship, and yet another reason to reprimand them when you cast your vote.

Tomorrow (today?) I will solicit accusations of anti-Semitism, despite my best efforts not to do so.

  1. Intentionally misleading? Again, plausible deniability applies, but then there's no strict need to prove mens rea

  2. This applies also to the long form census…another future topic. 

  3. This is a necessary but not a sufficient condition. We also need help interpreting the information. 

  4. Contrast conference with announcement


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