Understanding political party accomplishments without spin
October 25, 2013 9:06 AM   Subscribe

I live in Canada. Every now and again I try to understand what's happening in federal or provincial politics. Every time I look I only seem to find information on the current scandals or vote-grabbing hot-button issues. Is there somewhere I can understand more without the rhetoric and spin?

Every time there is an upcoming election I feel like I should get informed because I have no idea what is happening, or has happened, politically. I find it really difficult to read up on what a particular party has done or wants to do. For example, Dalton McGuinty's Ontario Liberal party is now know for only one thing - a gas plant cancellation scandal. How can I find out what else they accomplished while in power? Can I use the same sources to understand what the current liberal party wants to do, and what the opposition parties want to do?

I feel a responsibility to know more about what's going on but I get so mixed up in the spin, negativity, and finger pointing that I never feel more informed than when I started.

What can you recommend, Hivemind?
posted by Naib to Law & Government (10 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
CBC Radio's drive-in and drive-home shows are a good place to start.

Good to know the editorial bias of the bigger newspapers:

Toronto Star = NDP slant
Globe and Mail = firm Federal and provincial Liberal slant
National Post = (nominally) CPC
Toronto Sun = Ford Nation
posted by KokuRyu at 9:18 AM on October 25, 2013

Here's a better look at Canadian media leanings. The 'liberal' Globe and Mail, for example, endorsed the Conservatives federally in the last election.
posted by Jairus at 9:24 AM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm not Canadian and have found the articles in The Walrus to be illuminating.
posted by mippy at 9:43 AM on October 25, 2013

It certainly has its own politics, but I really like the coverage from The Tyee. It's BC-based but covers national issues.
posted by snorkmaiden at 10:04 AM on October 25, 2013

Best answer: One of the great challenges when dealing with the government is the spin, honestly. For example, the "Economic Action Plan" is the current government's word for "budget". Whereas budgets used to simply allocate money to various programs or initiatives while allowing others to die natural deaths, the EAP cuts government programs (sometimes brutally) in order to find the funds to finance stuff.

The best approach when dealing with anything on the political scale is to ask "what aren't they saying"? This goes for all stripes of politics, and reporting, too.

This advice is for the federal level, but each province reports a lot of this stuff too. If you want to find out what the government did in a particular area (say, Environment), one way is to look at the Departmental Performance Report for the government department responsible for that area. That lists, per year, what the government spent and what activities it undertook in that particular area.

Another great place to look is the Parliamentary Budget Office, which releases analyses and datasets of spending in various areas, rolled up for the entire federal government. Be aware, however, that most departments are forbidden from providing the PBO with certain information, so the data is necessarily incomplete in certain areas.

It's dry and policy-wonky, but it's not partisan. I hope this helps.
posted by LN at 10:10 AM on October 25, 2013

Best answer: It should be noted that the Departmental Performance Reports are not immune to spin themselves, as they are reviewed by ministers' offices before release. But they're mostly okay and the direction of the departments' work reflects the government's priorities, generally, although since the Public Service is the constant despite changing governments, a lot of it tends to be status quo because of public servants, not their political masters.

Likewise, accomplishments early in a government's tenure are often not necessarily a product of that tenure, as lots of police takes years and years and years to finalize, especially if it's complex in nature.

Another good non-spun source is looking at the LegisInfo and equivalents in other provinces to take a look at what bills the government and opposition parties are introducing and - more importantly - what is getting passed by the government in the end. A lot of what is trumpeted in the news is at the introduction stages of bills, sometimes bills that never get passed but are used as spin by the parties. Legis info is great to see where these things are, how people are voting on issues you care about, and who cares about which issues. If you're REALLY keen you can cross reference the conversations about the bills in the Hansard, but that is extremely extremely keen. :) Note that you'll have to look at the previous session of Parliament (which ran from May-ish 2011 to the date of prorogation), as this session just began last week.

I believe there are similar systems to LegisInfo for the provinces, too. Here's the one for Ontario.
posted by urbanlenny at 11:05 AM on October 25, 2013

Further to what Jairus wrote above, you can replace "2011" in the link given by either 2008 or 2006 to see what newspaper endorsed what candidate in the previous elections. For example, in all three, The Globe and Mail endorsed the Conservatives.

I have not been able to find a single objective source, but I find that the National Newswatch gives a diverse coverage, helpful in identifying the particular spin put on by a given source.
posted by aroberge at 12:13 PM on October 25, 2013

Paul Wells often brings clarity to federal issues.
posted by zadcat at 3:12 PM on October 25, 2013

CBC Radio 2's Q media panel is often quite decent about deconstructing spins.

(note: Government funded, but not uncritical of the Government).
posted by ovvl at 5:33 PM on October 25, 2013

Best answer: Unfortunately, it's hard to ignore politics for years and then try to get an informed picture of a party's accomplishments/defeats just before voting in an election. The best thing to do is to stay informed full-time. Some easy ways to tackle that for Canadian politics are:

1. Watch the CBC At Issue panel each Thursday on The National. You'll get some solid analysis and Coyne Hebert, and Anderson are good at unpacking spin (particularly Hebert)

2. Read the Ottawa Citizen. They tend to skew more heavily towards political coverage than other paper.

3. Get on Twitter. I only use it for work and I find that it's a great way to stay informed if you're following a core group of journalists/columnists you trust and respect.

4. Watch Power & Politics on CBC.

5. Avoid Sun News at all costs. They're doing nothing more than carrying water for the Harper Government.

If you try to stay in the know at a basic level at all times, you'll be much better-positioned to make an informed decision once an election rolls around. Good luck!
posted by fso at 6:20 AM on October 26, 2013

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