As those close to me know, I’m a huge news junkie – especially Canadian news. In recent years, The Globe and Mail has been my primary source. Reading it on my phone while waking up has been part of my daily routine I rarely miss. Even though I could catch up on all of the headlines through free outlets like the CBC (and I do), I chose to pay $20 a month to subscribe to the Globe for its commentary and analysis.
Where other papers – like the Sun chain, the National Post and the Toronto Star – have clear partisan leans that make them sometimes dully predictable, the Globe has a rare diversity of columnists – ranging from the quite liberal Elizabeth Renzetti and Denise Balkissoon, to the centrist Jeffrey Simpson, to the quite conservative John Ibbitson, Konrad Yakabuski and Margaret Wente (though she has come noticeably to the centre in recent months). Its Editorials also swing across party lines (on average slightly right of centre) – again not always predictably. Most Globe Editorials have an air of consensus to them – one I have always assumed comes as a result of discussion amongst these diverse contributors.
In a Canadian newspaper culture that is still quite partisan, The Globe and Mail‘s brand has been as the middle-of-the-road honest broker. This is why I have subscribed to The Globe and Mail and not other newspapers. It’s also why I hold them to a higher standard.
But ever since the editorial shakeup that saw the arrival of David Walmsley as Editor-in-Chief in March 2014, there have been occasional hints of weirdness in the newsroom.
In the June 2014 Ontario election there were reports – which the Globe has yet to deny – that the Editorial board had unanimously decided to endorse a minority Liberal government, but was subsequently overruled by Walmsley – allegedly on orders from the publisher, Phillip Crawley – to instead endorse Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives. Whether you believe the allegation or not (I do), there’s no question that the endorsement was published later than promised and read a lot like it was written from between clenched teeth.
Just days later, it was leaked that the Globe had begun commissioning ‘advertorials’ – articles that are written by Globe reporters and look like news, but are actually scoped, paid for, and vetted by sponsors.
And finally, yesterday the Globe published one of the strangest election endorsements I have ever read – one that was widely and rightly ridiculed. The endorsement opened predictably enough with the line, “All elections are choices among imperfect alternatives, and this one more than most. Each of the parties has gaps, deficiencies and failings. But choose, voters must.” I’m with them so far. But then they went on to endorse the Conservative party, but not Stephen Harper – telling us that we should all vote for the Conservatives and then hope that Harper’s first act once returned to power is to resign. Why should we hope for this? Because, they say, of Harper’s hyper-partisanship, meanness, divisiveness, dictatorial control over his own party, contempt for Parliament, etc. All of which, of course, are reasons Harper would never give up power willingly once elected. Alas, amongst the “imperfect alternatives” that we must choose from and suffer through after the election, the Globe managed to find the single most implausible scenario – a “unicorn” as BJ Siekierski of iPolitics described it.
The Globe Editorial board is made up of very smart people, all of whom must have realized how nonsensical this endorsement was. They can’t have forgotten that parties and leaders – especially intentionally divisive ones – are unlikely to clean up their act unless and until voters hold them to account. This is a basic principle of democracy. Besides, anyone who has been following Canadian politics for the last ten years knows that the hyper-partisanship that has come to define Harper’s Conservative government is not limited to just Harper himself (e.g. think Pierre Poilievre or Paul Calandra). Even if it truly was the case that Harper had concentrated power so intensely that he was solely responsible for the rot inside his party, it would then necessarily also be the case that Harper was solely responsible for the Conservative economic policy – the economic policy the Globe argued was deserving of another mandate. They can’t have it both ways.
Or can they? Earlier in their endorsement, they argue that, “the other two major parties have so much respect for the Conservatives’ record on economic, fiscal and tax policy that they propose to change almost none of it.” So the message of their endorsement is that we need a party that follows the Harper Conservatives’ economic fundamentals – like the other two parties do, as they argue – but one that jettisons the Harper Conservatives’ divisive political tactics…like, say one of the other two parties? Nope. Apparently the Harper-less Conservatives (with help from the Pope-less Catholics?) are the more realistic among the “imperfect choices”.
Obviously, this smells funny – kind of like the Hudak endorsement did. In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised – given how many Globe Editorials over the last four years have been highly critical of the Harper government (and not just on its politics) – if the story here is the same as with the Hudak endorsement: that it was a unilateral decision by Walmsley and/or Crawley. With the Hudak endorsement, the allegation was that Crawley was trying to protect the interests of the wealthy Thomson family – the Globe‘s majority owners. If that were the case this time, too, the sticking points would likely have been the Liberals’ promise to raise personal income taxes on incomes over $200K and the NDP’s promise to raise corporate taxes. Both of these would hurt the pocketbook of a wealthy family controlling a major newspaper. Indeed, these were the two issues that seemed to be flagged most negatively in the endorsement.
Ok, so I obviously disagree with the Globe‘s endorsement of the Conservatives. But why cancel my subscription? I, after all, especially like engaging with people with whom I disagree.
I canceled my subscription because I had been subscribing to what I thought was the Globe‘s brand – a tri-partisan centrist newspaper, guided by consensus among diverse viewpoints, which aimed to serve as a hard-hitting but honest broker in an otherwise partisan news landscape. I didn’t sign up for an honest brokership that could be secretly shelved any time it suited senior management’s personal financial interest. Whether that occurred in this particular endorsement or not, it clearly seems to have occurred with the Hudak endorsement and introduction of advertorials. And the fact that I even have to ask this time implies that the Globe has lost my trust.
That said, I will miss reading The Globe and Mail. It will be hard for me to find a new source (or sources) that gives voice to as many diverse viewpoints in one forum. The Globe claims to long for the kind of socially cohesive Canada in which a big-tent, fiscally responsible party can flourish. I long for this too.
But in a united, democratic society, you sometimes have to be willing to inconvenience yourself for the common good. This, in fact, is the essence of social cohesion. Canada’s infrastructure and social safety net are buckling under the weight of chronic under-funding. Fixing these problems will require spending money. Doing so in a fiscally responsible way will require additional revenues. Canada has high income inequality (which erodes social cohesion) and our corporate taxes are some of the lowest in the developed world (by considerable margins). There is logic, then, to asking the wealthy and/or corporations to pay a little more. Even if you aren’t sold on small income and corporate tax increases (and they are small, and not without precedent in recent history), stopping them can’t be as important to social cohesion as ending the unprecedented, Nixon-esque reign of ugliness in our political discourse.
If the Globe‘s owners don’t think it’s worth taking a small hit to their already large bottom line to protect Canada’s social cohesion and send a message to those working to erode it – and if they’re potentially willing to be dishonest in doing so – then I think it’s worth putting myself through the small inconvenience of finding another news source – to stand up for my own principles and send the Globe‘s owners my own message.