When Pierre Poilievre’s campaign for leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada let the Omineca Express in Vanderhoof know he was visiting Prince George during his B.C. tour this spring, I reached out for comment as would any reporter. A cryptic response was sent to my publisher, rather than me, telling her I could only attend his rally to take pictures and video. There would be no interview and no follow-up. Fair enough, I thought, news is news, and I grabbed a few quotes from the candidate’s Twitter feed to file a brief report.
Not long after, a woman who attended the rally struck up a conversation with me. She asked why we didn’t interview Poilievre and I explained that we had asked, and would have given him more space if he had spoken with us. Her reaction was far from what I had expected. She was insulted that her candidate didn’t speak with the local newspaper, which represents her community and the people in it. She had assumed until then that we had sidelined her favourite candidate.
“What the hell?” she exclaimed rhetorically. “Everyone reads the newspaper. That’s not smart of him at all.” She went on to say she subscribes to her local newspaper, even though she’s not always a fan. It’s the only news her mother consumes. “I thought he was smart, you know, now l’m not gonna vote for him,” she continued. I was surprised when at the end of our chat she asked me who to vote for, as she had expressed a strong distrust of mainstream national media.
Since that’s not advice that I can give, I told her how in northern Saskatchewan last election I shared a home with two roommates, one backs the conservative-leaning Saskatchewan Party and the other supports the NDP. I drove them both to the polls. We joked that they’d cancelled each other out. I’m not sure who she’ll pick but I was told, without question, that it’s no longer Poilievre.
This chat got me thinking about the value local newspapers hold for our communities. Poilievre has made a point of not speaking much with the media but I think he forgets that not all media is the same in the eyes of all his voters. They might not like the bigger outlets, but the local paper is a major source of pride to communities that still have them, those that do know the value of it, those that don’t bemoan their loss.
We tell residents what the gas prices are, what our municipal councils, school boards and places of worship are up to. We cover the minor hockey teams, the school plays, the achievements and struggles of regular folks. When high level politicians visit, we ask questions for our readers that no major outlet would care to pose.
Sidelining the community newspaper is sidelining residents. It’s denying your message to voting members of the public who perhaps couldn’t make it to your rally, who might not have a reliable internet connection, let alone a Twitter account. Not speaking to the paper means something different here than it does in Vancouver, Regina or Ottawa because the paper is a reflection of the community and its voters of all stripes. That the Poilievre campaign doesn’t realize this tells me they don’t understand something crucial about Canada.
Poilievre can ignore national media and his supporters might applaud when he lambastes a southern Ontario news reporter’s alleged liberal bias, but nobody values local news like northerners, whose priorities are so often ignored by the bigger outlets and by Ottawa.
Michael Bramadat-Willcock now writes for The Terrace Standard.
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