Our society is increasingly polarized. The population’s loss of confidence in the traditional media is regularly mentioned. The conservative camp and its opposite on the political spectrum each believe that they do not benefit from the same largesse in terms of media coverage. However, in order to maintain their democratic role as the fourth power and curb the disengagement of part of the electorate, the media have a duty not only to welcome all opinions, but to explain them and popularize them profusely in order to be able to better discuss it.
I take the pen in the opinion section of the Duty since a year. A year of learning during which I exposed my point of view through 32 posts enlightened by my former political functions, but also colored by my progressive fiscal conservatism.
Generally speaking, the transition from politics to commentary is not easy. Very few political actors do it successfully. Without false modesty, I’m still breaking in.
Few former members of my conservative family agree to lend themselves to the exercise. The bar is often set higher for us because prejudice and mistrust towards us are high, which makes our mistakes less easy to forgive. Rejecting the arguments of a conservative by accusing him of partisanship or dehumanizing him seems more socially acceptable, while the reverse seems to be less so. We are considered credible or taken seriously only when we criticize our own political family, a rule that applies, it is true, to all political defectors, regardless of where they come from.
In my case, this passage comes with a whole change of culture. The work of political adviser is done in the shadows, far from the cameras. It is the actions of elected officials, for whom we work behind the scenes, that are highlighted. Not our person or our ideas.
At least, that was the rule of the game until quite recently. Social media has helped change that. One need only think of Gerald Butts. Prime Minister Trudeau’s former principal secretary has drawn the spotlight on himself and his Twitter account so often during his reign that doubt has crept in: who is running the country, him or Prime Minister Trudeau and his elected officials?
Times have changed. David Frum, former speechwriting adviser to President George W. Bush, left office when he was credited with coining the phrase “axis of evil.” In all circumstances, the credit goes to the president, not to advisers.
From politics to chronicle
Seven years ago, Jean Lapierre tragically passed away. Liberal minister under John Turner and Paul Martin, having sat for a while as a member of the Bloc Québécois, he had become a media figure whose interventions could not be described as partisan. An apolitical columnist, in the sense of the colorful formula and with an authentic human side, Mr. Lapierre was close to people, he understood the world and the world understood him.
The same cannot be said of all the columnists with a political past like his.
Early in the Conservative Party of Canada leadership race, for example, Thomas Mulcair predicted that Jean Charest would win by a wide margin. Was it a simple error of judgment or a political revenge akin to the kiss of death? One thing is certain, given the results of the race, the predictions of the former leader of the NDP are to be taken with a grain of salt.
Gaétan Barrette plays in a similar register by using his position as a political analyst to revisit his ministerial record to his advantage. His lighting as a former Minister of Health is important, but not to the point of making headlines with the barely veiled objective of rehabilitating himself in public opinion. If one is prevented from making the reforms one deems necessary as a minister, the rule is that one resigns. Mr. Barrette did not.
Others make the transition more successful. Régis Labeaume, the former mayor of Quebec, does not take himself for another in his media interventions. He does not play the mother-in-law and he comments on the news with humor and intelligence.
Luc Lavoie, a former journalist who became a political adviser under Brian Mulroney, then converted into a political analyst, certainly cannot be accused of being close to the Conservatives or anyone else. He criticizes everyone equally; identities with the behavior of François Legault, who is similar to Maurice Duplessis.
Drawing on his academic background, Robert Asselin, former adviser to Finance Minister Bill Morneau, brilliantly analyzes the situation of public finances, while criticizing his former political training. He is not trying to defend the indefensible by seeing budgetary prudence in the Trudeau government.
From chronicle to politics
Jean Lapierre was a politician, then a columnist, then a politician again, before becoming a columnist again. Quite a feat!
Some seem to have forgotten that they were columnists before making the leap into politics. Bernard Drainville, who once criticized the third link project on the radio, is now championing it as CAQ minister. And the one who, as a columnist, criticized the dilapidation of schools no longer sees the problem with as much severity today, in his capacity as Minister of Education. A little intellectual honesty would be in order.
Former journalist Martine Biron, now Minister of International Relations, does not expect to be congratulated for her actions. After two months in office, she claims a “Biron effect” in Quebec’s international relations. I wonder what the journalist she was would have thought of such a statement. In my experience of diplomacy, it takes much longer to see the fruits of such work.
I am not above reproach, far from it. As the expression goes, he who lives in a glass house should not throw stones. As an analyst with a conservative past who criticizes the Trudeau government, I will certainly draw anger for my past and future partisan remarks.
However, we would all benefit from remembering the professionalism of Jean Lapierre before taking up the pen or the microphone. This advice I give to myself as much as to others.