Sunday, March 04, 2007

Political Deflection

Politics is indeed like a game, a hockey game - one way to achieve a goal is through deflection. We read about it all the time in Newfoundland and Labrador blogs, "Danny is doing this, when he should be doing this". But who hasn't used a deflection of issues from time to time? I'm not sure there are many, or any. Deflection is used to postpone a ready answer to important topics. That can be prudent from the government's point of view, especially if saying something about a development or negotiations in the works, could jeopardize any behind the scenes dealings. If a politician has definite positive policies or developments to focus on, then deflecting negative exposure is wise too. On the other hand it is frustrating, and can indicate that there is absolutely no solution or movement on key issues facing the government. In the case of the spending scandal and cynicism about politicians and honesty in government, I think it would be wise to meet this issue head on, offer reassurance in the form of rigid safeguards.

Each election, one of the ways to get votes is to offer up hopeful words, "promises", to achieve things when the candidate is in power. People who need good news like to hear good or promising news. But often times neither the politician nor the electorate is being realistic about what can be achieved in the next four or eight years. So this realization is observed by the elected, and deflecting the issue is resorted to.

Deflection may very well be one of the most common political tactics used in this game. Mike Harris used it effectively in his 1999 election. There is a very interesting article written by James Winter and Jeremy Gillies, Communication Studies, University of Windsor. They wrote an excellent article called " News Media Rallied To Corporate Clarion In Ontario Election". In it, they describe how the Conrad Black owned and influenced media, "cooperated in no small degree" to get Mike Harris elected. They reviewed over 500 newspaper articles in the National Post the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star and found all papers to be bias and severely lacking. For example, with polls close between the Liberals and the Tories, the Toronto Star said, "Mike Harris and his team have the look of winners."

Harris had embarrassing confrontations with protestors and withdrew into "a bubble of carefully orchestrated events." The Globe and Mail went to unusual means to promote Harris' Tories. They hired a "body language expert" to inform the public that Harris had the look of a winner, "the whites of his eyes" mean "clarity of vision". In a televised debate Dalton McGuinty was described as "too excited", and NDP Howard Hampton was mostly dismissed. After he was said to have won the debate, he was dismissed as just a spoiler and robbing votes from the Liberals.

Writers Winter and Gillies said that "what the press left out was just as important as what was reported on." Some of the scandals and controversies were ignored by the press.
Harris' possible role in giving instructions to the OPP in the shooting of Dudley George at Ipperwash, the use of closure to pass the omnibus Bill 26; passing Bill 22, which denies basic human rights to workfare recipients; UN criticism for the increasing legions of homeless and poor; ... Tory Speaker of the Legislature Al McLean's resignation over a sex scandal; Leslie Noble and two other prominent Tories receipt of about $450,000 in fees from Ontario Hydro for consulting work that produced just 12 pages of records; the "Lands For Life" scandal that saw millions of hectares of public land given away cheap to the forestry industry; Tory spending of about $100 million in taxpayers' money in blatant political ads during the run up to the election; the Dionne Quints scandal; Ontario air pollution.

Harris got a deflection and he scored. In our fall election there ought to be realism, less alluding to things like, bringing Newfoundlanders and Labradorian home. I'm not so sure that politicians actually use the word "promise", but people seem to use that word alot. The public needs to be more realistic about what to expect. Somehow people think that swarms of ex-patriates will be returning, in a short time. But if Hebron and Lower Churchill deals were signed in 2008, it will create economic opportunites, but it will probably allow 100's of ex-pats to return for work, maybe over 1000. But there are tens of 1000's of province expats away. There are also people living in the province who will be working on projects like this too. There should be more realism on the part of the electorate and politicians, and then hopefully less deflection of the issues.

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