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Under the Agridome
Philip Shaw 8/17 6:32 AM

Today has been quite a day. In my 32 years of writing this column, I can hardly imagine a time when 200 news organizations in the United States would dedicate all their editorial and op-ed space concerning their role as "the enemy of the people." Of course that line is coming from the American President, who has taken a very aggressive role toward the American press. Thursday, across the United States news organizations editorialized about their role in a healthy democracy.

I very much appreciated DTN Editor in Chief Greg Horstmeier's piece Thursday, "Not the Enemy" where he eloquently describes the roll of the agricultural press in the current American political narrative. Reading about an agricultural editor being accosted verbally for being involved in fake news is somewhat chilling. People need to value the free press. It's a necessary part of our democracy.

I am aware that it is a bit rich of me to be commenting on what I perceive as a very American issue. I will let stand what my DTN editor wrote, it was an excellent synopsis of the situation. However, I must admit that it is somewhat of a different situation in Canada, where we have similar guaranteed rights but a completely different cultural environment in which they are applied.

Canada is a much more culturally liberal society than the United States, especially so in 2018. I often joke to my American friends that Bernie Sanders would be too conservative for Canada. It is partly this way because about a quarter of Canadians are French-speaking, and French Canada has always been much more culturally liberal than English Canada. We are also largely urban. In 2018, we do not have the political polarization that we see in the United States, and because of that, we do not have one side of the political ledger at war with the press. Needless to say, we do have some issues, which seem to be creeping across the border.

You see it in the political discord and on social media. For instance, there is a fringe element in Canada that thinks our free press is bias against Canadian Conservatives. However, because our country has two official languages and a large non-English-speaking minority, this media bias is seen completely different in French Canada. Where in English Canada the free press might be accused of being biased against conservatives, in Quebec, the media might be accused of being biased toward the Federalists or the Separatists. Even though that is the case, some of the vestiges of American mistrust of the media can sneak across the border.

We saw a pre-Trump version of that in the previous government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. During his time in government, Conservative ministers would typically not hold news conferences and avoided the press. Prime Minister Harper always avoided the press and almost never held news conferences. When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was elected, the mandate went out to be open with the Canadian public. Immediately, Canadian federal ministers held news conferences and were readily available on television news shows. Like it or not, Prime Minister Trudeau is always in front of the microphone. It's a subtle difference, but if you compare the Harper era with the Trudeau era, you could see that the Conservatives didn't think of the media as their friend. Unfortunately, that attitude, in my opinion hurt them. They had nothing to fear, but they acted the opposite.

I think in a Canadian context, there is no place for any of this. I look at the current issues regarding the U.S. "enemy of the people" stance as purely an American phenomena and any Canadian similarity is purely fringe. For the most part here in Canada, we embrace the Free Press and avoid the narrative coming from the American right wing.

This past week, Ontario cabinet minister Lisa MacLeod apologized for using the term "fake news" in a disagreement with the press over a policy within her ministry. There have been others.

It's not that Canada doesn't have its problems with a free press and the free expression of ideas. Just this past week, former Conservative leadership candidate Maxime Bernier was roundly criticized for criticizing diversity in our society and calling out the Liberal government for "extreme multiculturalism." I found the comments repugnant in a Canadian context, but not everybody did. We move on, hoping everybody can get along.

In the 32 years that I have written this column, I've surely taken my share of criticism. Some of it was fair, some of it was unfair, and some of it was just downright abusive. However, I never thought of shouting "fake news" or hearing it shouted at me, but in 2018, it is creeping into the narrative. Simply put, we can do better than that. Let the Americans work that out. We have our issues in Canada, but that really isn't one of them.

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Email: philip@philipshaw.ca

Website: www.philipshaw.ca

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Philip Shaw M.Sc., 29552 St George St Dresden Ontario N0P 1M0

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