Election day is finally, finally upon us, but the longest campaign in Canadian history since 1872 didn’t end quietly for the country’s print newspapers. If anything, it ended nonsensically.
Questions of who controls newspapers’ editorial voice haunted the final week of #elxn42 as print media outlets published their editorial board’s federal election choices. Some internet media, including the RRJ, questioned whether such endorsements are a practice worth keeping.
“For us, it seems a bit outdated,” said BuzzFeed Canada’s Emma Loop, while speaking to The Current on October 9. Although BuzzFeed does weigh in on particular issues, Loop said, the organization will “stay away from the partisan element” of politics by not endorsing a candidate.
Kathy English, public editor of the Toronto Star, was on The Current with Loop. She maintained that newspaper endorsements still have a place. “The Star is an institution that dates back over three centuries. Every day, it takes stands on issues that matter to the community,” said English. “It would be a cop-out not to do so in an election campaign.”
That morning, the Star published an editorial endorsing the Liberal Party of Canada. Two other Torstar papers, the Hamilton Spectator and the Waterloo Region Record, also endorsed the Liberals on October 15 and 17 respectively.
But it was the Postmedia endorsements on October 16 that made noise on Twitter as paper after paper in the national chain published an editorial endorsing the Conservative Party of Canada. The endorsement wasn’t by the editorial staff, however, as Edmonton Journal writer Paula Simons said in a tweet:
And yes. Before you ask, this was a decision made by the owners of the paper. As is their traditional prerogative.— Paula Simons (@Paulatics) October 16, 2015
On Saturday, the National Post itself followed suit. Its editorial board’s pronouncement was also at odds with the opinions of columnists at the Post and other Postmedia holdings whose columns appeared on Friday and Saturday. Even Conrad Black himself weighed in, favouring a Liberal minority and referring to Stephen Harper as a “sadistic Victorian schoolmaster” who doesn’t know when to leave office. And one column was notable in its absence from the Saturday edition: that of Andrew Coyne, head of the Post’s editorial board.
According to Canadaland, Coyne’s column would have endorsed somebody other than the Conservatives, unlike the editorial endorsement he signed off on for the Post. He has not spoken out on why his column did not appear, and his usually voluble Twitter feed has fallen silent — though Ricochet’s Ethan Cox noted that Coyne has disappeared in similar circumstances before.
UPDATE: Coyne has resigned from his post as editor
So anyway… I have resigned as editor of Editorials and Comment for the National Post, effective immediately. I will remain a columnist.— Andrew Coyne (@acoyne) October 19, 2015
2. Postmedia executives and I had a professional disagreement. Their view was that the publication of a column by the editorial page editor…— Andrew Coyne (@acoyne) October 19, 2015
3. … dissenting from the Post’s endorsement of the Conservatives would have confused readers and embarrassed the paper.— Andrew Coyne (@acoyne) October 19, 2015
4. My view was that that was what I was paid to do as a columnist: give my honest opinion on issues of public interest.— Andrew Coyne (@acoyne) October 19, 2015
5. I don’t see public disagreement as confusing. I see it as honest. Readers, in my view, are adults & understand that adults can disagree.— Andrew Coyne (@acoyne) October 19, 2015
Numerous Postmedia properties were also notable for their front pages in the last days of the election campaign: full-page, bright yellow wrap ads from the Conservatives bashing the competition. The ads appeared on the covers of the Penticton Herald, Vancouver Sun, Calgary Sun, The Province, The London Free Press, Ottawa Citizen, and 24 Hours Toronto. Most were aimed at the Liberals, but the Penticton Herald ad targeted both the Liberals and NDP. Curiously, the Friday edition of 24 Hours Vancouver, also a Postmedia property, featured an NDP wrap ad. While it isn’t a new practice, one reporter noted that these ads were a step up from the norm.
@belindaalzner Never seen one in such big papers, either, but correct me if I'm wrong— Selena Ross (@seleross) October 17, 2015
Meanwhile, back at The Globe and Mail‘s offices, editor David Walmsley spent an hour fielding questions on Facebook about the paper’s unconventional endorsement of the Conservatives without endorsing party leader Stephen Harper.
“The half-heartedness is a sign of the weakness of the political candidates,” Walmsley said in response to one questioner. “It would be great to find a clear, obvious winner the country could unite behind, but we don’t have that at the moment.”
In response to the Globe’s ambivalence, some Twitter users channeled their inner political humourist with the hashtag #MoreGlobeEndorsements.
The Charter of Rights and Freedoms, without the rights and freedoms. #MoreGlobeEndorsements— Justin Mathews (@JustMath19) October 16, 2015
The Walking Dead. But no zombies. We have enough of them on our editorial board.#MoreGlobeEndorsements— Erynn Watson (@erynnwatson) October 16, 2015
Here at the RRJ, we endorse newspapers, but we’re on the fence about newspaper endorsements.