Abstract: In July 1987, an NDP white paper on defence confirmed the parties long standing policy to take Canada out of NATO. The appearance of the paper prompted considerable press attention owing to the possibility of the NDP becoming the next government of Canada. This article examines that press analysis.
Résumé: En juillet 1987, un document du partie Néo-Democratique [N.P.D.] a confirmé leur politique de retirer le Canada de l'O.T.A.N. L'apparence de ce document, a causé de l'attention considérable dans le media, due à la posibilité que l'N.P.D formera le prochain gouvernement du Canada. Cette article examine l'analyse de la position du média.
In July 1987 the NDP released a white paper on defence. Entitled Canadian Sovereignty, Security and Defence it confirmed the NDP's long standing intention to pull Canada out of NATO and proposed that the estimated one billion dollar saving be used to expand Canada's ability to defend its own sovereignty and territorial integrity especially in the Arctic. This proposed expansion included the acquisition of 6 Aurora Long Range Patrol Aircraft, 12 non-nuclear submarines, 18 frigates, and a fleet of helicopters. The NDP proposal attracted press attention across Canada primarily because it appeared at a time when it seemed highly possible that the NDP might form the next government of Canada. In July 1987 the NDP was well ahead of the Conservatives and Liberals in national opinion polls and a few days before the release of its defence paper the party won three federal bi-elections in ridings which had never before elected the NDP. With editorial writers and political commentators now openly speculating that Ed Broadbent might well become the next Prime Minister of Canada, the press began to examine the implications of NDP's NATO policy more closely. This article examines the scope, nature and content of that analysis.
The data for this analysis was obtained from an ordered sample of fifteen Canadian newspapers selected on the basis of four key independent variables: region, language, ownership and circulation. (See Table 1.) The sample was distributed among these variables as follows: Region: B.C. 13.3%, the Prairies 16.6%, Ontario 20%, Quebec 20%, Atlantic Canada 13.3%; Language: English 86.6%, French 13.3%; Ownership: Southam 33.3%, Thomson 26.6%, Armadale 13.3%, Torstar 6.6%, Trans-Canada News 6.6%, Independent 13.3%; Circulation: (weekday) 32,000-99,999 40%, 100,000-199,000 40%, 200,000 and over 20%.
|Winnipeg Free Press||Thomson||170,443||Man.||English|
|Globe and Mail||Thomson||317,000||Ont.||English|
|Montreal La Presse||Trans-Canada||191,698||Quebec||French|
|St. John's Evening Telegram||Thomson||38,392||Nfld.||English|
|Halifax Chronicle Herald||Independent||80,274||N.S.||English|
The time period for the study was 20 July to 20 August 1987. Each newspaper in the sample was examined daily during this period for analytical content related to the NDP NATO policy. This content was classified into one of three categories: editorial, commentary and expert analysis. The source of each item of content was coded (foreign or domestic) as were the issues raised by each item in the analysis of NDP policy. Moreover, each item of content and each issue was coded for its attitude towards the NDP's NATO policy (strongly in favour, in favour, neutral, opposed, strongly opposed) and for the comprehensiveness of its analysis (very good, good, average, poor, very poor). This proved the most problematic part of the analysis given the subjective nature of "attitude" and "comprehensiveness."
The analysis yielded a total of 70 items related to the NDP's NATO policy. (See Table 2.) The majority of these were commentaries (67.1%) normally located on the "op. ed." page. Editorials as a source of analytical content placed a distant second (28.5%) while expert analysis (4.2%) was virtually non-existent. This rank order remained constant for all variables except language where editorials in the French-language press outnumbered commentaries as the main source of analysis on NDP NATO policy. This may reflect the fact that the French-language press in the ordered sample drew upon a smaller pool of syndicated columnists for analysis than the English-language press.
|(% of T)||(% of T)||(% of T)|
|National||(T = 70)||67.1%||28.5%||4.2%|
|B.C.||(T = 11)||63.6%||36.3%||0%|
|Prairie||(T = 20)||60.0||40.0||0|
|Ontario||(T = 20)||70.0||15.0||15.0|
|Quebec||(T = 14)||64.2||35.7||0|
|Atlantic||(T = 5)||100.0||0||0|
|Southam||(T = 29)||72.4%||24.1%||3.4%|
|Thomson||(T = 17)||64.7||35.2||0|
|Armadale||(T = 5)||60.0||40.0||0|
|Torstar||(T = 10)||70.0||10.0||20.0|
|Trans-Canada||(T = 3)||33.3||66.6||0|
|Independent||(T = 6)||66.0||33.0||0|
|English||(T = 64)||70.3%||25.0%||4.6%|
|French||(T = 6)||33.3||66.6||0|
|33,000-99,000||(T = 20)||70.0%||30.0%||0%|
|100,000-199,999||(T = 34)||67.6||29.4||2.9|
|200,000 and above||(T = 16)||62.5||25.0||12.5|
Although the rank order of content categories remained constant--except for language--the ratio between categories fluctuated from the national norm according to variable. Perhaps most interesting was the fact that no newspaper outside of Ontario made use of "experts" to comment on the NDP's NATO policy. Indeed within Ontario only two newspapers, the Ottawa Citizen (Southam) and the Toronto Star (Torstar), carried "expert" analysis. There is no obvious explanation for the failure of the Canadian press to make better use of Canadian defence and foreign policy "experts" on their op.ed. pages. This appears to be at odds with the American and British experience.
The intensity of coverage--that is the average number of items on the NDP and NATO per newspaper--also fluctuated according to independent variable. (See Table 3.) Nationally the average number of items per newspaper was 4.7 (or 3.1 commentaries, 1.3 editorials and 0.2 expert). Regionally, newspapers in Ontario and to a lesser extent British Columbia exceeded this national average while all other regions, particularly Atlantic Canada, fell below it. In terms of ownership, only Torstar and Southam exceeded the national average--Torstar in a rather dramatic way. All others, particularly the Armadale chain fell below the national means for the average number of articles per newspaper. Similarly the English-language press carried on average more items per newspaper than the French-language press, except in the editorial category, while newspapers with a circulation greater than 99,999 offered readers more items on the NDP policy than those with a circulation under 100,000.
|200,000 and above||5.3||3.3||1.3||0.6|
Interestingly, "more" was not necessarily "better," at least in terms of comprehensiveness--that is, the detail in which the NDP NATO policy was discussed. (See Table 4.) In fact, an inverse relationship appeared to exist between intensity of coverage and comprehensiveness of coverage. The fewer the items published the greater the comprehensiveness. Regionally, for example, the Atlantic press ranked last in terms of intensity of coverage and first in terms of comprehensiveness. Linguistically, the intensity of French-language coverage trailed behind that of English but the comprehensiveness of its coverage was considerably greater. This same inverse relationship applied to ownership as well, that is with the exception of the Thomson chain. The latter ranked third in terms of intensity of coverage and last in terms of comprehensiveness.
|200,000 and above||2.9||2.8||3.3||2.5|
The attitude of the Canadian press towards the NATO policy of the NDP was decidedly negative particularly in the category of editorials (see Table 5). Regionally, the strongest opposition came from the Prairies and Atlantic Canada, followed closely by Quebec, while the mildest opposition came from Ontario. Those newspaper owners most opposed to NDP policy, the Independents and Armadale, were located in Saskatoon, Regina, Halifax and Quebec city. Torstar (Toronto Star) was least opposed to NDP policy. The strength of French-Canadian opposition to NDP policy is particularly interesting if compared to the negative attitude of Quebec to the question of entangling overseas alliances prior to the Second World War. Quebec's strong preference for membership in NATO and more recently its support for free trade with the United States suggests a French Canada that has become outward looking and confident since 1945.
|200,000 and above||3.5||3.1||4.3||4.0|
Opposition in the press to the NDP policy ranged from the moderately critical to the mildly hysterical. Those most strongly opposed to the policy denounced it with terms such as "dangerous," "reckless," "unrealistic," and "disastrous." William Johnson, writing in the Montreal Gazette, called it a "recipe for chaos"; Fred Cleverely in the Winnipeg Free Press labelled it "illogical and hypocritical"; while the editors of the Montreal La Presse branded it a "time-bomb." The moderate critics took a more balanced approach. Most agreed that Canada's defence policy needed re-thinking and the appearance of the NDP defence paper in the wake of the government White Paper on defence created the opportunity for a much needed public debate. Indeed, a minority of critics even endorsed the NDP's proposal to bring Canadian forces home from Europe although they stopped short of advocating a withdrawal from membership in NATO. The editors of the Edmonton Journal, the strongest advocates of this position, wrote:
Canada's security demands membership in NATO: it offers protection from both superpowers. Yet there is no reason why the conditions of membership can't be changed: that they shouldn't be altered to reflect today's realities.
Instead of keeping troops in West Germany, perhaps Canada could better contribute to the western alliance by defending the Arctic. Why should Canadian aircraft be based in Europe when they might better be used to defend North America?10
Other critics sympathized with this position but felt it unrealistic to believe that Canada could withdraw its forces from Europe without at the same time withdrawing from NATO.11
Analysis supportive of the NDP position on NATO was a rarity in the Canadian press. There were a few commentaries in this category but no editorials or expert analysis. Gwyn Dyer, whose syndicated column appeared in a number of newspapers across Canada, wrote most of the commentaries supportive of the NDP's NATO policy. Canadian forces, he argued, were no longer needed in Europe. In view of this he felt Canada could make a more significant contribution to international peace and security--without alienating the Americans--if it withdrew from NATO and declared itself neutral.12
|National||(T = 361)||5.2||5.0||5.6||5.0|
|B.C.||(T = 42)||3.8||3.9||3.8||0|
|Prairies||(T = 106)||5.3||5.7||4.8||0|
|Ontario||(T = 91)||4.6||3.9||7.0||0|
|Quebec||(T = 84)||6.0||5.1||7.6||0|
|Atlantic||(T = 38)||7.6||7.6||0||0|
|Southam||(T = 42)||4.9||4.6||5.6||7.0|
|Thomson||(T = 95)||5.6||7.8||5.1||0|
|Armadale||(T = 25)||5.0||5.6||4.0||0|
|Torstar||(T = 34)||3.4||2.9||6.0||4.0|
|Trans-Canada||(T = 21)||7.0||9.0||6.0||0|
|Independent||(T = 44)||7.3||7.0||8.0||0|
|English||(T = 316)||4.9||4.8||5.3||5.0|
|French||(T = 45)||7.5||8.5||7.0||0|
|32,000-99,999||(T = 115)||5.8||5.9||5.3||0|
|100,000-199,999||(T = 176)||5.2||4.8||5.8||7.0|
|200,000 and above||(T = 70)||4.4||4.0||5.5||4.0|
There were a total of 42 separate issues raised in the press coverage of the NDP NATO position. These 42 issues were raised a total of 361 times. Commentaries accounted for 65% of this total, editorials 31% and expert analysis 4%. The average number of issues raised per item was 5.2 varying only slightly between categories. (See Table 6.) The number of issues raised per item varied considerably in the context of region, ownership, and language. The press in Atlantic Canada, as well as the Independents, raised on average twice as many issues per item as the press in British Columbia or the Torstar chain. Similarly the French-language press and the newspapers with a circulation under 100,000 raised more issues per item than the English-language press and newspapers with a circulation over 100,000. It should be noted, however, that there is no direct correlation between the number of issues raised per item and comprehensiveness of each item. A comparison of Tables 4 and 6 shows that while similarities exist there are also marked differences. The Thomson chain, for example, raised on average more issues per item than Southam, but Southam items on average were more comprehensive than those appearing in newspapers owned by Thomson.
No one issue dominated press discussion of the NDP's NATO policy. (See Table 7.) The seven top ranking issues were closely grouped in terms of frequency. Together they accounted for 51% of the 361 times the 42 issues were raised in the press. The most frequently raised issue concerned the likely reaction of the United States to a Canadian withdrawal from NATO. Most analysts--including Gwyn Dyer--agreed that Canada's departure from NATO was certain to concern Washington, but there was a wide range of opinion over how this concern might be expressed. (See Table 8.) Gwyn Dyer felt the Americans would "grumble a bit" but put up with it.13 Most other analysts were far less sanguine. Charles Lynch predicted that the Americans "would go through the roof"; while an editorial in the Regina Leader-Post warned: "They simply would not tolerate it."14 American anger, it was agreed, would likely take the form of severe economic pressure against Canada including a sharp increase in protectionist measures and a marked drop in U.S. trade and investment in Canada. One analyst, quoting Canadian and American strategists even predicted direct American political intervention in a Canadian election if an NDP victory at the polls seemed likely.15
|(T = 361)||(T = 234)||(T = 112)||(T = 15)|
|Rank||% T||Rank||% T||Rank||% T||Rank||% T|
|Defence of Canada||2||8.6||1||9.8||5||5.3||2||13.3|
|Logic of policy||7||3.3||9||1.7||5||5.3||2||13.3|
|Defence of Europe||8||3.0||7||3.0||9||1.8||2||13.3|
|(T = 34)||(T = 32)||(T = 29)||(T = 27)||(T = 23)||(T = 23)||(T = 23)|
The second most frequently raised issue concerned Canada's ability to defend itself outside the confines of the NATO alliance. Most analysts agreed that the current Canadian military, with its 138 aircraft, 80,000 troops, and antiquated equipment was pitifully inadequate to defend Canada's land mass--the second largest in the world.16 To defend Canada adequately, critics argued, would require a vast expansion of Canadian forces and the introduction of compulsory military service as a part of "the Canadian way of life." As neither option was likely to appeal to Canada's people, or the rank and file of the NDP party, these critics predicted that Canada would increasingly become exposed to Soviet aggression and likely serve as an areas for direct superpower intervention.
The question of economic cost--in part related to the issue of "going it alone" militarily--was the third most frequently raised theme in the press discussion of NDP policy. Few analysts accepted the NDP claim that the cost of its defence policy would be far less than that of the Mulroney government's. On the contrary most believed that the cost of becoming what Marjorie Nichols called "a military lone-ranger" would be astronomical.17 It was predicted that the one billion dollars which the NDP hoped to save by bringing the troops home from Europe would be spent "five-times over" on the 12 non-nuclear submarines, the 18 new frigates and the 8 new Long Range Patrol aircraft which the NDP proposed to acquire in order to strengthen the defences of Canada.18 The editors of the Toronto Star noted that Sweden currently spends more on defence than Canada even though Sweden is only one-twentieth the land mass of Canada.19 A commentary by Fred Cleverley in the Winnipeg Free Press concluded that the NDP could not afford the price of both its defence policy and its social programs, and as the NDP's real priorities were social programs like medicare and day care, it was unlikely to abandon these programs in favour of an expanded military.20
The fourth most frequently raised issue--particularly in editorials--involved the possible implications of a NATO withdrawal for Canada's international influence and prestige. Gwyn Dyer alone predicted that such a "trail blazing" move towards a less polarized international system would enhance Canada's prestige.21 The other analysts argued that Canada exercised more influence inside NATO than was possible outside the alliance. Membership in NATO, they argued, bought Canada a "seat at the table" where it could work with other like-minded nations, such as Denmark and Greece, to influence American policy, urge moderation in East-West relations and encourage progress in arms control negotiations.22 A Toronto Star editorial concluded: "In NATO we have the right to comment at the formative stage: Outside NATO we comment after the fact. Would anyone listen?"23
The "loss of sovereignty" also ranked high as an issue with commentators and editorialists. Most argued that a withdrawal from NATO--and by extension NORAD--would result in a greater threat to Canadian sovereignty than would continued alliance membership. This conclusion was rooted in the belief that Canada, on its own, could not afford to defend itself to standards acceptable to the United States. A Globe and Mail editorial warned: "If the NDP thinks the U.S. is insensitive to sovereignty now, consider how contemptuously they would treat a neighbour viewed as uncooperative and anti-American."24 The Ottawa Citizen agreed adding: "They would want assurances that we could defend the north or they may insist on putting their own bases in Canada--or at least insist upon having a substantial say in how defences are handled."25 Canada, on its own, the Citizen and Globe concluded, would be in no position to refuse these American demands.
|(% T)||(% T)||(% T)||(% T)||(% T)||(% T)||(% T)|
|National||T = 361||8.9||8.6||7.8||7.2||6.3||6.3||6.3|
|B.C.||T = 42||14.3||4.8||9.5||4.8||7.1||0||2.3|
|Prairies||T = 106||10.3||8.4||11.3||7.5||11.9||8.4||6.6|
|Ontario||T = 91||7.7||6.6||5.5||9.9||6.6||8.8||5.5|
|Quebec||T = 84||10.7||8.3||9.5||8.3||7.1||0||8.3|
|Atlantic||T = 38||2.6||21.1||0||2.6||7.9||15.8||7.9|
|Southam||T = 142||15.5||5.6||8.5||5.6||6.3||4.9||3.5|
|Thomson||T = 95||6.3||15.8||8.4||8.4||5.3||7.3||5.3|
|Armadale||T = 25||4.0||4.0||12.0||16.0||4.0||8.0||20.0|
|Torstar||T = 34||5.8||8.8||5.8||8.8||5.8||11.8||2.9|
|Trans-Canada||T = 21||4.8||0||9.5||9.5||14.3||0||9.5|
|Independent||T = 44||4.5||11.3||4.5||4.5||6.8||6.8||11.4|
|English||T = 316||10.1||9.5||7.9||7.3||6.0||7.2||5.7|
|French||T = 45||4.4||4.4||8.8||8.8||8.8||0||11.1|
|32,000-99,999||T = 115||6.1||11.3||6.1||6.9||5.2||6.9||10.4|
|100,000-199,999||T = 176||11.9||8.5||9.1||6.8||6.3||6.3||4.6|
|200,000 and above||T = 70||8.5||5.7||8.5||10.0||8.5||5.7||4.2|
The implication of Canada's withdrawal from NATO on international stability was also frequently raised, particularly by the small band of experts found in the ordered sample. Canada's leaving NATO, they argued, would destabilize the international system not by altering the sensitive East-West balance of military power but rather by undercutting the resolve of the Western European nations to resist Soviet military and political pressure.26 This would hand the Soviets a major strategic and propaganda victory and weaken the system of deterrence that for decades had prevented a conflict between East and West.
The last of the seven main issues raised by the Canadian press in its discussion of NDP NATO policy involved neutrality and isolationism. A Canadian withdrawal from NATO and declaration of neutrality was viewed by critics as tantamount to self-imposed international isolationism. William Johnson, writing in the Montreal Gazette, called it a policy of "little Canada for little Canadians";27 Richard Gwyn predicted that it would "isolate us from the rest of the world."28 Stewart MacLeod commenting in the St. John's Evening Telegram wrote: "It is fine for the NDP to say that it has no intention of being isolationist. But that is not for us to decide. If other countries think we are isolationist, then that is what we are."29
The rank order of these top seven issues varied according to region, ownership, language and circulation. (See Table 9.) Perhaps the most interesting variations occurred according to region. In British Columbia the top ranking issue by a margin considerably wider than the national mean was the fear of a possible U.S. reaction. The Prairie provinces on the other hand were most concerned about the economic costs of the NDP NATO policy while Ontario was chiefly concerned about Canada's influence and prestige. Quebec,30 like British Columbia, ranked possible American reaction as the foremost issue associated with the NDP policy while for Atlantic Canada the main issue was the implication of the policy for Canadian defence and presumably defence expenditures.
|(T = 34)||(T = 32)||(T = 29)||(T = 27)||(T = 23)||(T = 23)||(T = 23)|
The rank order accorded the top seven issues by the English-language press largely corresponded with the rank order on a national basis. This is an artifact of the way the sample was constructed, that is, the English-language papers comprise 86.6% of the ordered sample. The rank order of issues in the French-language press proved interesting in light of the earlier suggestion that French Canada had become more outward looking since 1945. The top issue in the French-language press by a considerable margin was fear of isolationism. Three issues tied for second place: concern for the sovereignty of Canada, Canadian international influence and prestige, and the economic costs of withdrawing from NATO. Interestingly there was no comment in the Quebec press on the possible impact of a Canadian withdrawal from NATO on international stability. The analytical comprehensiveness of these top issues was generally average to poor. (See Table 10). This appeared to be determined by two factors. Newspapers are limited in the space which they can devote to any one single editorial, commentary or expert article. Secondly, the issue analysis came essentially from editorial writers and political columnists who in many instances are not experts in the field of Canadian foreign and defence policy.
The Canadian press coverage of the NDP NATO policy varied considerably according to region, ownership, language and circulation. Clearly the best coverage--defined here as a combination of intensity and comprehensiveness in all three categories of coverage (see Table 11)--was in Ontario. There the Torstar (Toronto Star) and Southam (Ottawa Citizen) chains provided readers with the most thorough analytical coverage of the NDP NATO position in Canada. Atlantic Canada provided the worst.
|All categories||All categories||Intensity/|
|(Table 3)||(Table 4)||Comprehensiveness|
|200,000 and above||5.3||2.9||8.2|
The attitude of the Canadian press towards the NDP's NATO position reflected what public opinion polls have indicated for years--that Canadians by and large strongly support Canada's continued membership in NATO. The NDP defence paper did little to pry Canadians--or the press--from this view. The attitude of the press towards a withdrawal from NATO remained decidedly negative. Yet there was one positive note sounded for the NDP. The analysis indicated that while the Canadian press overwhelmingly endorses Canada's continued membership in NATO, there was considerable support for redefining Canada's role within NATO along lines suggested by the NDP defence paper. Editorials, for example, in the Edmonton Journal, the Toronto Star and the Montreal Gazette argued in favour of Canada's continued membership in NATO but concluded there was no reason why Canada should not bring the troops home from Europe and concentrate instead on Arctic defence.31
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the press coverage afforded the NDP NATO policy was the absence of balance. Very few editorial boards across Canada made an effort to print analysis favourable to the NDP side of the issue. This lack of balanced coverage prompted one columnist to write:
Because this [withdrawal from NATO] is regarded as heresy by the heavy thinkers, they [the press] sourly conclude that the NDP simply won't honour that policy if elected. Nowhere is there acknowledgement of the perfectly respectable intellectual case that can be made for Canadian withdrawal from NATO.32
This is ironic. The appearance of the NDP Defence Paper so soon after that of the government's was widely applauded by editorialists and columnists across Canada as providing the raw material for a much needed and long overdue debate on Canadian defence policy.33 Clearly the press had an important role to play in this debate as a medium to portray both points of view to Canadian readers. Yet, except for the Montreal Gazette, the Ottawa Citizen, the Toronto Star and the Victoria Times-Colonist no sampled newspaper printed commentaries supportive of the NDP position, though the Gwyn Dyer syndicated series was presumably available to most.
Indeed, the Canadian press appeared content to give the question of Canada's membership in NATO a free ride. Journalists who normally question and probe the rationale for government policy appeared all too ready to accept the standard arguments put forward for Canadian membership in NATO even though there are valid questions as to the validity of these arguments.34 A number of examples serve to illustrate this point. For example, the likelihood of American economic retaliation against Canada for leaving NATO becomes far less certain if one examines the potential economic and foreign policy costs to the United States from taking such measures. Similarly, the economic cost to Canada of going it alone militarily may not be as prohibitive as assumed if one looks more closely at the experience of European neutrals such as Finland and Austria and at the same time defines more closely needs of a militarily independent Canada. Similarly, a closer examination of the influence which Canada is alleged to exercise on east-west relations through "the seat at the table" gained by right of NATO membership suggests that Canada's influence is really confined to procedural matters and technical questions rather than to major policy issues. For that matter the historical record also suggests that Canadian efforts to use the Western European members of NATO as a counterweight to American influence have tended to be unsuccessful because of the reluctance of the Europeans to jeopardize their relations with the United States in order to support Canada on issues of importance to Ottawa, such as Arctic sovereignty. These are a few examples; there are many others.
In short the historical record suggests that the arguments regarding Canada's membership in NATO are not as clear cut as was suggested in the press anlaysis of the NDP white paper. In this respect, there appears a need on the part of journalists to test more closely the key hypothesis and assumptions underpinning these issues. The consequence may not be a change in the press attitude towards the NDP policy on NATO but it might result in readership that is better informed as to the myths and realities of this important policy question.
Article comprehensiveness was defined as a combination of the number of issues raised per article and issue comprehensiveness. The following guideline was used in defining article comprehensiveness: very poor--one or two issues raised with issue comprehension for each rated at "very poor"; poor--three or four issues raised with issue comprehension for each issue rated no higher than "poor"; average--five issues raised with issue comprehension for at least three issues rated at "average"; good--six or more issues raised with issue comprehension for three issues rated at "good" and "average"; very good--six issues raised with issue comprehension rated at "very good," and "good" for three or more issues. This analysis was problematic. Clearly not all articles fit neatly into the above categories. The result was that value judgements often had to be made as to which category to fit a particular article.