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One Election, Two Solitudes


Tom + Miguel

There exist two quite different media coverages in Quebec, based on the English and French languages. To the extent that each linguistic culture is exposed to, and sensitive to, different issues, the media reflects this difference. Conversely, differences in media coverage are reflected in the culture.

To better understand media coverage in each other's language, Tom Robinson (anglophone) and Miguel Tremblay (francophone) took the pretext of the 2015 electoral campaign to exchange articles in their respective mother tongues.

The project's announcement and methodology were published at the beginning of the campaign on the Hors des lieux communs blog.


Links in the table point to the versions found on the Internet Archive instead of the ones found on the original media. We took this decision so that the article is available as it was on the original publication date, and to ensure its continued availability no matter what happens to those orignal media websites. Of all the websites visited throughout the project, only those from Trans-Canada and the Globe and Mail block Internet Archive from retrieving their contents. For those cases, we put the original link to the articles.


Post-project comments

Tom Robinson

Tom Robinson was in charge of the daily publication of an English article covering the 42nd general election in Canada.

Thanks to the One Election, Two Solitudes project, I have never followed an election campaign quite so closely as the 2015 Canadian federal election. While I've never been a political junkie per se, newspapers and news magazines have always been a favourite pastime. We probably couldn't have picked a better election for such a project, though maintaining a daily search for articles through a 78-day cycle was tough at times. From the sheer effort of doing so, I think on balance that I learned more about the English media than the French.

While an initial goal of the project was to focus on issues of interest to Quebecers, the mandate quickly broadened to try and capture viewpoints from across the country. On the English side there were 62 articles posted from the following news outlets:

  • Montreal Gazette: 24
  • National Post: 10
  • Globe and Mail: 8
  • Toronto Star: 6
  • CBC: 3
  • Ottawa Citizen: 1

So that makes 52 items from “Central Canada”. In addition, I posted two each from the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, the Calgary Herald and the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, with one each from the Charlottetown Guardian and the Vancouver-based on-line publication, thetyee.ca and two from outside Canada with columns from the New York Times (albeit from a Canadian writer) and The Guardian UK.

On the French side the 64 articles that Miguel posted were heavily weighted toward Le Devoir (42 items), followed by La Presse (8), Journal de Montréal (4), Huffington Post (2) and one each from Radio-Canada, Quebec City based Le Soleil, news magazine L'Actualité and indy outlet Voir Montréal. From beyond Quebec, there were two posts each from TFO (Télévision française de l'Ontario) and New Brunswick's Acadie Nouvelle.

One thing that jumped out pretty quickly is the effect of media concentration in the main-stream media. The same articles from the same (central Canadian) journalists are published in all the major cities. It's not like we don't know this already, but it made it at times difficult to find local opinions (that's once you get past the articles on that city's hot criminal trial of the day). I gave up totally on the Vancouver Province after the first couple looks turned up nothing but Ottawa Citizen by-lines. A much better publication was the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix and I was also pleasantly surprised to see a plurality of opinions in the Calgary Herald. Based on the voting history, it's easy to believe Albertan's all think entirely the same way.

Regarding Quebec issues, I did not expect to find much from outside the province, but what proved disappointing was the Montreal Gazette's bizarre editorial strategy of giving over commentary on Quebec issues to francophones, notably Philippe Authier and Yves Boisvert. Hard to believe anglophones don't have opinions on issues of interest to Quebec, but I was not able to convey much to my franco compatriots in that regard.

In the French coverage, it was interesting to see Le Devoir publish a weekly review of English media. The Gazette used to do a similar French media roundup, but for whatever reason no longer do. Both media highlighted contests in interesting ridings. Within Montreal they concentrated on those ridings of the predominant linguistic group - west island for the Gazette and further east in the French media. Beyond Montreal, the French media seemed to have more of a tendency to highlight further flung ridings such as Gaspé and both media were fascinated by the story of Ruth Ellen Brosseau, the place-holder candidate who won the riding of Berthier-Maskinonge in the Orange wave of 2011 and who proved to be one of the survivors of the NDP fall of 2015.

The francophone media gave far more space to the Bloc Quebecois and the separatist cause in general than did the English media, as might be expected. Coverage was not necessarily all positive though, perhaps in keeping with the fortunes of the BQ. It underscores an aspect of the current state of the two solitudes that viewpoints regarding the independence of Quebec are simply not heard on the other side of the wall. I remember a time when the Gazette published a column by Josée Legault, probably in spite of views unpopular with its readership. On the other hand, I told Miguel that the article by the President of the Organisations unies pour l'indépendance (“En votant authentique, nous votons stratégique”) would simply outrage most anglophones by suggesting that the election was illegitimate and was being held without the consent of Quebecers due to the events of 1982.

With respect to coverage of the various party's fortunes, there were a lot of negative articles about Stephen Harper and the Conservatives, at least in the English media, at the beginning of the election, but the tone became far more positive toward them as time went on. Both English and French media were predicting big things for the NDP early on, but as Justin Trudeau's star kept rising, they had fewer and fewer positive things to say about them.

In the aftermath of the election there was a certain amount of whining about the media from the Conservatives, including the losing candidate in my own riding of Pierrefonds-Dollard, Valérie Assouline, and the outgoing Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Chris Alexander. A family dinner table conversation during the campaign tackled the issue of whether the media lean more to the left or the right. Those on the left of the political spectrum were convinced the media have a right wing bias, while those on the right felt that it was quite obviously leftist. Perhaps they are more balanced than we give them credit for. For more analysis see this article from the Globe and Mail

The niqab issue was the most profoundly disturbing part of the campaign and my attempts to be objective went out the door. I was very upset with our so-called leaders using such a divisive tactic and disappointed that people would actually change their vote based on it. The BQ ad with a drop of black oil turning into a niqab-clad head was thoroughly disgusting and Gilles Duceppe should be ashamed of himself. I posted four straight articles (including one from Calgary) all with the same message that this should be a non-issue. On the other hand I don't think this was unrepresentative of the coverage.

At the end of the day, the issue had a profound effect on the election, but if you follow the survey results (see analysis here), it gave maybe a minor bump to the two parties pushing the issue (the Conservatives and the BQ), but ultimately it was soundly rejected. I think it may have contributed to a return to highly negative articles about the “Harper government” in the last week of the campaign. Even Conrad Black wrote an article, which was fairly balanced regarding all three main parties, but which was scathingly critical of Stephen Harper's modus operandi. “Leaders are not elected to deal only with what is easy” he wrote regarding Harper's unwillingness to deal with Quebec's constitutional wishes because it would be “divisive”. When he concluded that “we don't need 4 more years of government by a sadistic victorian schoolteacher”, I knew that article had to go in.

Miguel Tremblay

Miguel Tremblay was in charge of the daily publication of a French article covering the 42nd general election in Canada.

After having posted 64 links in French and having read 62 articles posted by Tom Robinson during the “One election, Two Solitudes” project, this is what I have retained.

I noted that certain main themes were the same on both the anglophone and francophone sides. I am thinking, amongst other things, of the infamous niquab issue and aboriginal issues. However, the Bloc Québecois was more represented in francophone publications, perhaps due to its status as a “regional” party.

There is a certain “British” humour that can be found in the anglophone articles that I don't find in the francophone press. See, for example, the texts “Some P.E.I.-isms for Senator Duffy” and “Sympathy for Stephen Harper: Imagine that everyone you trusted had lied to you”.

It seemed to me that there was much more diversity on the anglophone side, as much as in the media that Tom covered as in the regions that were the object of the articles. This is surely explained by the immense territory of Canada in comparison to Quebec, which is, correspondingly, less diverse. I would add that covering the media of the major cities, Tom was afforded a cross-Canadian sampling, whereas adopting the same strategy I was more or less confined to Montreal and Quebec City. At the same time, the anglophone coverage of Quebec was concentrated on the West Island of Montreal. A greater number of regions were covered in the Québecois media, which essentially covered all the administrative regions in one shot (Quebec, centre of Quebec, Montreal, Gaspésie).

It was more pleasurable for me to read the articles posted by Tom, engaging in a discovery of anglophone media, than having to seek out a francophone article that might prove interesting for the other solitude. It weighed upon me, particularly in the last two weeks of the campaign, to be scouring the newspapers to identify articles to share. 78-days for an electoral campaign is long!

In collecting the list of articles posted over the course of the project, both English and French, I relived, in accelerated fashion, the 42nd electoral campaign. The daily rhythm is just enough to give a recapitulation of the campaign's highlights. While I anticipated from the outset publishing such a list at the end of the project, I never imagined that it would also serve as a résumé of the campaign.

Finally, I achieved my principle objective with this project: I read many anglophone articles from numerous Canadian media and I now have a better idea of the political coverage in these media. I would add that I now know the names of several journalists and columnists that I will now recognize when I read the weekly review of the anglophone newspapers in Le Devoir.

One Election, Two Solitudes

Creation : December 13th, 2015
N 45° 33′ W 73° 36′

One Election, Two Solitudes

Last update : December 13th, 2015,
N 45° 33′ W 73° 36′