Friday, May 6, 2011

On the inside looking out

I wouldn't say I surprised when various American news broadcasts described the outcome of the recent (2011) Canadian election in a way that was so simplified that it was misleading. However, I had not expected the particular way in which the coverage would distort the realities of Canadian politics. The New York Times piece on the election results, Conservatives in Canada Expand Party's Hold, discussed them without ever mentioning, Jack Layton, the man who lead the New Democratic Party (the new official opposition) to win a record-breaking number of seats. In the same article Michael Ignatieff, leader the Liberals, is mentioned three times (excluding the still incorrect corrections at the bottom of the piece.) Similarly The Washington Post article,
Harper says he won’t move Canada hard to the right after winning coveted majority in election
does mention Jack Layton by name but does so in the second half of the piece and devotes far more time talking about Ignatieff than it did the very surprising success of the leader of the NDP.

It was after reading an article about the Canadian election in Worthwhile Canadian Candidate: Michael Ignatieff may want to be prime minister too much for Canadians to give it to him. that I finally realized which presumptions/stereotypes that Canadian public's rejection of Michael Ignatieff was being filtered through.

First: Canadians are just like Americans except they like to play hockey, say "eh" and "aboot." Verities of American politics can be applied at will to Canadian politics.

Second: Separatism is a strange thing that has something to do with the fact that they speak French in places in Canada but Canadian regionalism isn't really important because they are just like Americans except for the fact that they play hockey etc...

Third: Oh, and they have these "left leaning" parties and some of them even have "socialist" roots but a conservative is a conservative is a Republican so delving any deeper into the party platforms (what! conservatives in Canada back socialized medicine!) isn't really necessary.

Fourth: People who live outside of Canada and become well-known in the United States should be recognized by Canadians as ambitious not expatriate.

Fifth: Canadians who don't immediately warm to a Harvard intellectual who spent more than 3 decades out of the country and came back and almost immediately ran for the leadership of his political party are parochial, credulous (falling for the Rovesque tactics of the Conservatives) or suspicious of ambition.

Sixth: That someone from the "outside" (if they are an American) can better understand/judge what is good for Canadians than can Canadians.

Lest these suggestions come across as simply another case of Canadian "touchiness" I would point out that all the things which annoy me about the American coverage of Canadian politics also annoys me about Canadian coverage of the politics of other countries. Just as American news writers and editors understanding and evaluate Canadian news through the filters of their prior concepts so do Canadian news writers and editors understand and evaluate other countries through prior concepts/stereotypes. As citizens of democracies we are called upon at regular or irregular intervals (depending upon one's electoral system) to make decisions and judgments that should be made out of knowledge rather than ignorance. We should be reacting to the reality of the world around us not the phantasms created by "common knowledge," media steroetypes and fact challenged news delivery systems.

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