Elizabeth May: The corporatization of democracy in Canada
My life and work before becoming leader of the Green party in 2006 had prepared me (I thought) for the work ahead. I had experience on Parliament Hill as both a senior policy advisor within government and as the executive director of Sierra Club of Canada, meeting frequently with ministers and prime ministers to make the case for changes in policy. I thought I knew how the media worked and wrote tips for NGOs on how to reach the media in my 2006 book, How to Save the World in Your Spare Time. I had always believed a strong case, well presented and supported by a mobilized public, would be covered by the news media, even if the translation was garbled by inadvertent error. Up until 2006, I had also believed that any government, Liberal, NDP, or Conservative, could be moved by that case and massive public support.
I left Sierra Club to run for leader of the Green party because I knew Stephen Harper would not allow public opinion to move him to action on climate change. His ideological commitment to oil sands growth and climate denial made him an immovable object to climate action.
My learning curve around the issue of corporate concentration in the media led me to write a chapter on the role of the media in Losing Confidence: Power Politics and the Crisis in Canadian Democracy (McClelland and Stewart, 2009). I looked back at parliamentary inquiries and royal commissions warning of the dangerous impact on democracies of corporate concentration of ownership. CTV owning the Globe and Mail. The Canwest empire owning 43 dailies across Canada, with flagship National Post, all the dailies in British Columbia, as well as Global TV. I noted the clear incidences of bias in CTV actions in 2008, clearly earning Mike Duffy his Senate seat. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised the consortium of media executives didn’t want my voice at the table.
Sure, some things have changed. Ownership of the Globe and Mail has shifted, a bit. The Canwest empire has been rocked by bankruptcy with Shaw buying Global TV and the newspapers of Postmedia under new ownership. But we have a problem. I suspect even our public broadcaster is influenced by fear of losing all public funding.
In 1981, the royal commission headed by Tom Kent reported that the extent of corporate concentration in the media was “monstrous”—and that was before Conrad Black’s buying spree, gobbling up local and national papers into one corporate giant.
All the other parties and the national media have decided that the single largest threat to civilization, climate change, is not an issue in this election. In the 2008 federal election campaign, I grew slightly weary of the question, “What’s the point of the Green party when all the parties are trying to be green?”
In 2011, the question has shifted: “Now that climate change is not an issue, what’s the point of the Green party?”
Meanwhile, Greens have identified that one of the best ways to arrest rising health care costs is by taking on Big Pharma. Twenty percent of costs are now due to pharmaceuticals and it is the fastest rising portion of our health care expenditures. The magnificent work of the Therapeutics Initiative at UBC is at risk because Big Pharma is lobbying the B.C. government to cut its funding. Why? Because this little group of diligent experts has been advising our provincial government with an independent evidence-based assessment of new prescription drugs. There are an estimated 500 British Columbians alive today because the TI advised that Vioxx would do more harm than good. We need evidence-based assessment, and a centralized bulk buying agency to eliminate the unsafe prescription drugs and drive down the cost of the ones providing a benefit.
Our agriculture policy takes aim at corporate influence at Agriculture and Agri-food Canada and within the Canada Food Inspection Agency. CFIA is responsible for both promotion of Canadian food exports and food safety at home. It is essential that the food safety regulator not have a dual mandate and conflict of interest. We want to protect the family farm, ensure farmers make a decent income on farms, whether organic or not. We cannot allow the Cargills and Maple Leafs to drive food policy.
So, in this election campaign, the Green party has been sidelined by the media consortium, removing the risk of any inconvenient truths being voiced at the debates. Please, consider voting Green this time if only to ensure that the efforts to suppress these truths will not succeed. “Lend us your vote,” as Jack Layton said in a different election. If for no other reason than to push back at unsavoury corporate influence over our democracy, vote Green.
Elizabeth May is the leader of the Green Party of Canada and a candidate in Saanich-Gulf Islands.