“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”
In 1984, George Orwell’s seminal How-To book for political despots, information is the currency of control. All governments throughout history have known this and all engage in propaganda at some level.
Orwell, of course, was inspired by the totalitarian regimes of Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin, both of whom have been attributed the quote: “A lie told often enough becomes the truth.”
But the practice is not limited to tyrannical dictators. It was a hallmark of the George W. Bush administration in selling the lie of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction to the American public.
And it is a hallmark of Stephen Harper’s revisionist view of Canada. There was the rebranding of the War of 1812 as—in Harper’s own words, or at least words attributed to him—“a seminal event in the making of this great country.”
Nevermind that the War of 1812 was an extension of the American Revolutionary War. Nevermind that Canada would not even exist as a sovereign nation for another 52 years (and even then only include southern Ontario, southern Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia). And nevermind that the war ended not with a heroic military victory—“and we won the fight for Canada,” as one of the Conservatives’ glitzy commemorative TV commercials suggests—but with a negotiated treaty that returned losses and gains on both sides to the pre-war status quo.
Not that the war was wholly unimportant in the eventual shaping of Canada, but while the government spent $30 million in efforts to re-imagine this 200-year-old conflict in terms of glorious patriotism, it completely ignored another truly seminal event in the making of the country, the 30th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Then there is the notorious, ongoing “Economic Action Plan” advertising campaign, another costly exercise, aimed at convincing Canadians what a great job the Conservatives have done managing our money despite growing evidence to the contrary.
Next the Conservatives announced in the spring of this year they would conduct a comprehensive review of Canadian history, including how it is taught in schools. They backed down on the latter aspect of the review following an outcry from the opposition and provinces that education is constitutionally guaranteed as a provincial jurisdiction.
I’m not saying reviewing how history is taught is not a good idea. The insight of hindsight is a valuable tool, but given Harper’s record, one has to question the motivation of the federal government taking an active role in that process. Many people did question it, and vehemently.
Fortunately, we still have relatively independent media outlets in this country to call them on their shenanigans despite Harper’s best efforts to hamper access to information, as well as, diminishing newsroom resources (which are not his fault, per se, but convenient for his propagandists nonetheless).
Case in point, and a much more subtle example of trying to control the message, last week a new style of press release showed up in our editorial inbox that was a first for us.
Press releases, of course, are nothing new and invariably partisan. We do our best, if they’re locally pertinent, to extract factual information and provide some balance to opinions expressed therein.
This new style of communication, however, seeks to cut out the middleman altogether. It’s not so much a press release as a pre-written article complete with instructions on how to localize it.
For example: Every day, seniors right here in (INSERT LOCATION) are making a big difference in our community. For example (INSERT PERSONALIZED LOCAL SENIOR PARAGRAPH HERE).
Celebrating seniors is a pretty innocuous example of this new government vehicle— and let me be the first to say Happy (belated, it was yesterday) National Seniors Day—but it is insulting to my profession and to our readers that we would let spokespeople of the governing party write your newspaper for you.
In Harperland, it’s just another way of attempting to control everyone and everything.
I am already counting down the days until the next election. Only 746 to go, that is if Harper doesn’t decide to prorogue his own legislation requiring a general election be held on the third Monday of October in the fourth calendar year following polling day for the last general election.