Monday, November 17, 2008

Civic elections: and the winner is ...

... the media!

The commentary in the Province suggested that the Vancouver civic election was a victory for emotion over substance. But, true to the media's public persona, it left out a key element in its analysis: how was the emotion generated?

Allow me to offer an answer: it was generated by the media. It's pretty much accepted that the $100 million load guarantee the City agreed to at an in camera session sank the Peter Ladner campaign. Even though Peter showed integrity by refusing to knuckle under and break that longstanding practice, it was the media's making a meal of the "closed doors" angle that turned the tide.

It's not as if the media didn't report the explanation of the necessity to keep negotiations involving real estate or personnel matters in camera. It's just that the commentators -- talk show hosts, editorialists, and even beat reporters in their choice of words and approach -- decided to vilify the process, regardless of the reasoning behind it.

In fact, it's a pretty good deal for the city. The city guarantees the loan -- doesn't pay it off. If the developer defaults, it loses the property, which is still worth some serious money for the city. Where's the problem? But the media has a "default" setting for anything that appears to be undemocratic, and with its desire to "hold government's feet to the fire" or "hold those responsible accountable", it was hard to find any commentators willing to give objective analysis. Why bother with that, when you can be seen to be shaping public opinion and (oooh!) influencing the outcome of an election? And since one commentator -- and possibly others -- has already said that the Vancouver civic election was threatening to be come a "snooze" until the Millennium Water deal came out, there are probably some in the media who figure they did us all a favor.

Prediction: we won't see the details of the city council discussions on the agreement after all. The upcoming meeting the new mayor has promised, to find out what can be released and what can't be released, will come to the conclusion that nothing more can be released and that it was perfectly appropriate to hold the meeting in camera; there will be the strong hint that anyone wanting to do business with the city of Vancouver in the future will be loath to do so if there's a chance that the negotiations and bargaining position will be made public.

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