Covering Ontario's election
Toronto Star staff tackled the polling controversy, the ethics of voting, and the plethora of sports cliches in political writing at a panel at Toronto's Word on the Street. J-Source's Rhiannon Russell reports.
There’s more to Toronto’s Word on the Street than free tote bags and twenty-dollar magazine subscriptions. Just ask the three Toronto Star reporters who spent an hour at the festival on Sept. 25 discussing Ontario politics.
Queen’s Park bureau chief Robert Benzie, reporter Tanya Talaga and columnist Martin Regg Cohn led a public discussion on the candidates, the polls and how media has covered the campaign up until now.
Talaga and Cohn have been on the campaign trail for the past few weeks, working up to 16 hours a day. “It’s kind of embarrassing rolling into town in this big, partisan bus,” Talaga said. She joked that after days on the Liberals’ “Forward. Together.” bus, she wanted to call it the “Backwards. Alone.” bus.
“Journalists are, by nature, rebellious and questioning,” Cohn said. It’s a challenge for them, then, to live on the bus and be told what to do and where to eat.
Talaga said the politicians try to sway the reporters. She compared it to being offered Kool-Aid when you’re a kid at summer camp. “You just have to say no … It’s our job to be objective.”
On Sept. 24, the Star released data from one of the biggest polls ever conducted by the newspaper. According to the results, Ontario is headed for a minority government. The data showed support for the Liberals and Conservatives tied at 35 per cent, with the NDP following at 23 per cent.
Despite the poll’s potential revelations, the panelists reminded the audience that the stats could change by Oct. 6. “It’s a poll. Take them for what they are,” Talaga said. “I hate to sound like McGuinty, but I will. The only poll that counts is on election day.”
Cohn agreed. “We have to do a better job, as media, of reminding people that polls are a snapshot,” he said. “We shouldn’t rule out the possibility of a majority.”
Benzie gave a brief summary of what each candidate would be striving for at the debate on Sept. 27. It will be most people’s first chance to have a good look at Hudak and Horwath. Hudak, Benzie said, will focus on how expensive (he says) life has become under McGuinty. Horwath, he added, will try to distinguish herself from the two male leaders. “It’s a game of three-dimensional chess,” he said.
The three also discussed whether they vote in the elections they cover. Benzie doesn’t. “I don’t vote out of principle,” he said. “But it does make a difference if you vote. Do I blame you for not doing it? No.”
Talaga disagreed. “I think there’s no excuse for not voting actually,” she said, smiling at Benzie as the audience cheered and clapped.
Regardless of how the upcoming debate goes, Cohn said media coverage of it is predictable. “We lapse into these boxing clichés – knockout punch and so on,” he said.