Friday, May 08, 2009

Michael talking policy in Vancouver, and media narratives

I’ve written about this before, but once the media collectively decide on a narrative it’s very hard to knock them off it, and they’ll work very hard to ignore anything that counters it. And the collective media narrative on Michael Ignatieff, and we saw this during their reportage from the convention, is that he’s refusing to talk policy.

Never mind the fact no other opposition party is going into detail on their platforms either. And ignore the fact the Conservative policy seems to be ignore the seriousness of the downturn and sling mud at the Liberals. Ignore the fact it’s silly and counter-productive for any party to unveil detailed policy initiatives at this point, before an election. The narrative is Ignatieff isn’t talking policy, and the media are sticking to it.

That’s why, as I donned my blogger hat and sat on the media riser live-blogging Michael’s acceptance speech last weekend, I was pleasantly surprised when he got to the following passage in what was a pretty good speech:

To unite our people, to treat everyone fairly while this crisis lasts, we need a common national standard of eligibility for Employment Insurance.

But that’s just the beginning.

A strategy for recovery must be a strategy for learning.

Investing in Canadians to create the jobs of tomorrow.

Government cannot predict where the economic opportunities of the future will emerge.

But government can prepare our people to seize those opportunities when they arise.

We must create a society where learning is a way of life and learning is life-long.

A knowledge society—where what counts is what you know, not who you know.

A knowledge society – where learning creates hope and opportunity.

A knowledge society—where every child gets an equal start with world-class early learning and childcare.

Where women get equal pay for work of equal value.

Where every student who gets the grades gets to go—to the best higher education in the world.

That means every Aboriginal child gets a world-class, not a second-class education.

And no Canadian struggles with the burden of illiteracy.

And no disabled Canadian faces obstacles that prevent them from giving their best.

A Canada where every unemployed person can get the training they need.

A Canada where every new Canadian has the chance to work hard and achieve their goals, like my father did.

A Canada where our researchers and scientists know that their governing is supporting them, not undermining them.

A Canada where every creator, artist and filmmaker knows that their federal government will do everything to help them succeed on the international stage.

A Canada where hope and opportunity take root again in our farming communities, our small towns, our northern and remote regions.

The way out of this slump is hard, but the direction is clear.

In the union hall, in the lecture hall, in the concert hall, wherever one Canadian is teaching another to do something they never thought possible, far-sighted government must be there to provide the resources to help everyone realize their full potential.
As I listened to myself I had a number of thoughts. One, was that this was a very traditional Liberal, centre-left policy vision that, besides being one I fully agree with, will be sure to confound those that falsely persist on painting Ignatieff into some sort of neo-Con box.

But I also thought to myself Yes! Good! Here is some specific policy vision, the broad strokes of the areas Ignatieff wants to focus on in a coming election campaign, and where he would take a future Liberal government as Prime Minister.

This is about as far as you can go in outlining a policy vision pre-election. Education, research, First Nations, culture, agriculture. A knowledge economy. It’s not a policy platform, but it points clearly to his priorities and provides a framework that can be filled in over time, as we get into a campaign.

Surely, I thought, this will satisfy the media critics crying for policy vision from Ignatieff.

Oh, how silly I was. Before he was even finished speaking, some of the media observers had already posted their stories online lamenting the lack of policy vision. I really wondered if we were in the same room, listening to the same speech or not. They have their narrative, I suppose, and they’re sticking to it.

As a Liberal, however, I’m satisfied with the policy outlines that Ignatieff has put forward, in this speech and others. I thought the style and delivery was fine. He’s getting less professorial in his delivery, and he needs to keep working on that. A little more emotion would be good too.

Delivery aside though, I liked the substance. This was a speech to two audiences: Liberals and the Canadian public. Both audiences wanted similar things: his vision for Canada, his priorities for governing, and for leading Canada forward. And for Liberals, particularly those that may still have had questions about his leadership, and his Liberal credentials, they wanted to hear that he shares their Liberal values.

And I think this speech did that. As I said, this was a traditionally classic Liberal agenda he laid-out: economic growth with a social conscience. I think the biggest cheer from the audience was for his mention of early childhood learning and childcare. I’m one of you too, was the message I got.

It was also a speech that draws very clear distinctions between the visions of the Ignatieff Liberals and the Harper Conservatives, which was also an important thing to do here. People aren’t going to vote for us because we’re not Harper; we need to provide a clear and substantive alternative.

So, mission accomplished in my estimation. Despite what my media friends say.

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Devin Johnston said...

I think that most of the criticism of Iggy in terms of a lack of policy (and certainly what I have been thinking about him) is that he gives us a lot in terms of principles and values and platitudes, but nothing in terms of specifics. Politically, this is probably an effective strategy because it appeals to voters by using words they like but is not vulnerable to attack because we have no specifics (if Dion had said "environment" rather than "carbon tax" the whole thing would have gone a lot better for him). That said, it is very dissatisfying for those of us who actually care about policy details.

As far as your claim that the media are being inconsistent by criticizing Iggy for a lack of policy but sparing the other parties, I don't completely agree with you. You state that "no other opposition party is going into detail on their platform". This is absurd. The NDP puts out fairly specific policy proposals almost every day.

That said, the Conservatives got a free ride from the media last election when they flatly refused to discus policy of any sort, release a platform, or talk about anything other than character. To that extent, I think your criticism is fair.

Jenn said...

I remember a few media sources had posted complete reviews of his speech before it was even uttered, let alone halfway through, unfortunately.

WesternGrit said...

Most of the media in this country are but a mere shadow of what journalism used to be about. Most are just "pretty boys" and "pretty girls" reading cue cards, with little or no journalistic skills or aptitude. Weather-persons promoted to the "news desk".

Today, it is all about commercial appeal - who can sell more cars between takes. Of course "who can support the corporate line" also holds much sway.

At least in most European countries they have "real" media... Der Stern is one of the best investigative papers around. In the UK the BBC always is brilliant. We in Canada suffer from the bloat of American Corporate Imperialism, where selling "throw-away" "planned obsolescence" trash is more important than truly reporting the news. Where ratings matter more than anything, because that is what dictates the price of your commercial airtime. Even the humble CBC has gotten on the bandwagon during these "tory times".

Wilson said...

One media personality who jumped onto the 'lack of policy' bandwagon was Rick Mercer, in his last rant (available as text here).

I forwarded a link to this article to the contact email at his page, but others - maybe even Jeff himself - might consider doing the same. It's one thing when the general media do it - we know they're lame. But Mercer?

wilson said...

The Conservatives put out policy most every day, they are the government.
The budget, stimulus, Senate reform, EU trade deals, it's all Conservative policy.

o/t when the fake Wilson comes to BTs, he/she attacks Cons...strange.

Barcs said...

I have to echo Devin. The weekend was just more of what Iggy has been criticized for.

Great big grandiose VISION.... and no POLICY on how to achieve that vision.

Policy and vision are not one and the same. Iggy is very good at the platitudes and speeches like Obama. Which is the reason Obama is still in campaign mode trying to talk to (not with) the people every week instead of doing the work.

The weekend changed nothing policy wise. Iggy detailed the liberal values, but still gave us no idea how he plans to achieve them.... No policy