Why narratives?

As far as introducing a blog, I’m of the opinion that explaining what it’s about is the best place to start. I grew up in a Martin-loving household and so, as a teenager, I heard many times that he would be a great Prime Minister. With my family and extended family, politics was always part of the conversation. The 2004 elections was the first time I voted (for Peter Miliken, the former Speaker of the House, a fact I am quite proud of). While I was dismayed with the result of the general election, I was not overly concerned. The Liberal government I had grown up with was relatively intact and the NDP was there to offer them the leftward push they sometimes needed to enact their more progressive legislation. All in all, there was no real cause for consternation.

In 2006, I watched the Liberal government fall. Minority governments tend not to last, but what was surprising was that the NDP had supported the Conservatives in bringing down the government. I was attending York University at the time and voted for Judy Sgro (MP, York West). This time, the election results were a bit more concerning. Stephen Harper, the new Prime Minister, was the former head of the National Citizens’ Coalition, an organization that I understood to have been founded to dismantle health care, primarily, with the larger goal of dismantling as much of our social safety net as possible. How he had been elected with that background was beyond me.

In 2008, I voted for Lui Temelkovski (former MP, Oak Ridges-Markham). He lost the election by 545 votes. My grandfather had helped put up signs for him and I just happened to be visiting when it was time to take them down. We rounded them up and then went to return them to Lui. When we got there, Lui invited us into his home for a cup of coffee. There, I met an intelligent, affable and principled man. I was disappointed that he had lost and became much more so after meeting him. I decided to get involved.

Over the next three years, I helped out when I could: making calls, knocking on doors and putting up signs. We were determined to take back the riding in the next election. That did not happen, unfortunately; the Conservatives crushed us, increasing their vote total significantly.

In 2008, I was upset I hadn’t done enough when I had the chance. In 2011, I was left wondering what I could do. Political work seemed, quite frankly, pointless when a party could get placeholder candidates elected, like the NDP did in Quebec. They hadn’t knocked on doors, recruited volunteers or solicited donations. Based on a handful of polls showing that Quebec, overall, had a favourable view of the NDP after the debate, the entire election shifted. My attention turned to the media.

In my opinion, elections are won and lost based on the portrayal of our political parties in the media. Our democracy is designed to include a free press to act as a counterbalance; it should provide commentary, analysis and investigation. It is a subject of occasional lamentation by members of our media that the press has devolved into a kind of political scorekeeper. Rather than investigate and discuss the relative platforms of the parties, the media is generally more occupied with speculating on how each party’s policy will be received and on how many political points their actions might cost them. Commentary we are privy to is generally unbalanced and partisan, or worse, it is assumed to be and ignored.

The calculation of political points is what I am most interested in. This political arithmetic is based on preconceived and generally accepted dominate narratives. A narrative might be something as simple as “Conservatives are good with money” or it could be something as specific as “Stéphane Dion is not a leader.” They are the assumptions that go into calculating one’s relative political success or failure and as long as they exist, we can only act within them. As an example, it is only in retrospect that I understand that Mr. Harper’s past leadership of the NCC is rarely discussed in the media because it has been subsumed and nullified by the “Secret Agenda” narrative (that is, “Progressives always think the PM has a secret agenda. He has proved he doesn’t so don’t talk about dismantling healthcare/abortions/gay marriage/etc.”). Paul Martin overplayed his demonization of Stephen Harper; the “Secret Agenda” narrative was born; now we can’t discuss his long-term plan for Canada. Analyzing the life cycle of a narrative, understanding how it came to be and the assumptions that support it, is the only way out of this trap.

The goal of this blog is therefore simple and quixotic. I plan to analyze, to the best of my abilities, the media narratives that I see at play in our political dialogue, with the intent of starting a new conversation about politics in Canada.

9 Comments on “Why narratives?”

  1. Hello Andrew, Your analysis is quite perceptive. Harper is a master. Manipulating images and killing our social safety net in increments. “Strong fiscal manager.” Right, thanks to the surplus left by Paul Martin which he blew away. And now he can use the self inflicted deficit as a reason to cut social spending. I find it all pretty disheartening.
    And to put this in perspective, I was a card carrying PROGRESSIVE Conservative. I voted for Stanfield, Clark, Mulroney, Campbell and Charest. But in 2006, I voted for Martin. (I voted Green in 2004). I have joined the Liberal party and may yet vote for the NDP.

    • I appreciate the comment and agree with you completely. The part about an intentionally created deficit as an excuse to cut social spending is apt. It may find itself in a future post. Thanks for reading.

  2. Hello Andrew, I am completely sympathetic to your well written article. Harper is a master. Posing as a responsible fiscal manager while he slowly, and lately not so slowly, dismantles the caring country I used to be proud of. He inherited a surplus from Paul Martin, gave it away and now uses the deficit as an excuse to cut social and environmental programs.
    I met Paul Martin last year at a fund raiser for HIV/AIDs in Africa. I was able to thank him for putting our country on a sound fiscal base. BTW, he is doing good work for our First Nations.
    To put my view about the current government in perspective, I was a card carrying member of the PROGRESSIVE Conservative party and on my riding’s executive. I voted for Stanfield, Clark, Mulroney, Campbell and Charest. But since 2006. I have voted Liberal. (I voted Green in 2004 and I still follow Elizabeth May – she is doing good work.) I have joined the Liberal party.
    If you haven’t already, take a look at leadnow.ca
    MY vote is pretty much wasted here in Durham just east of your riding. Ms Contempt of Parliament and $16 Orange Juice won by a landslide. I suggested to her that she vote against the budget in order to be remembered for something positive. I expect she will be dropped from Cabinet this summer.
    Thank you for the article.

  3. Sorry for the duplicate reply – I thought the first had been lost.

  4. […] 2012 by bionicliberal A great Twitter contributor has started a new blog. You can check it out at http://andrewjyoung.ca/2012/06/21/why-narratives/ … This entry was posted in   Bloggers,   Liberal. Bookmark the permalink. […]

  5. Darby Carswell says:

    I have been a card-carrying and active Liberal all my life, but will now vote NDP simply because it is one possible way to get rid of Harper. If the NDP and LPC merge (unlikely), that will probably increase the odds of getting rid of Harper. Should there be a Liberal Renaissance (devoutly to be wished), I believe we would return to more centralized government – Canadians would vote for them in droves, just for the sheer refreshment of having a mentally stable, reason-based PM and Cabinet.

    That said, I will urge – indeed threaten and intimidate – every candidate and party to promise to introduce proportional representation. There were times when my Liberals (who created a decent democratic nation) were high-handed in majority, and of course the current government is completely arrogant in its bullying. We really can no longer afford to give a government virtually unlimited power. Proportional voting will offer representation to those voters (often the majority) who are excluded from the political process by the first past the post scheme.

    Canada’s parliamentary system depended on candidates being rational and sane, and therefore made no provisions for, or safeguards against, a Harper. That is another issue to be addressed if we ever get reasonable, intelligent governance again.

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