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Martha Hall Findlay's Milking the Media, While Harper Hides

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"How is it that an academic paper by a former Liberal MP on an issue that remains obscure to most Canadians has raised such a fuss?" asks Andrew Coyne in Saturday's National Post, furrowing his brow over the abundance of favorable media coverage that has greeted Martha Hall Findlay's recent call for the abolishment of so-called "supply management" controls on the Canadian dairy industry.

Coyne proceeds to conclude, in his typical Coyne-y way, that all this attention clearly must stem from Ms. Martha's brave, contrarian leadership in confronting one of the major third-rails of Canadian agricultural policy. Which is funny, since I thought it was because there's nothing else to write about now that Parliament's closed for the summer. (Literal cover story in that same issue of the Post: "The cost of funny voices: Helium shortage sends prices soaring.")

But since the papers are crowded with editorials lauding 2006's pluckiest also-ran, I guess we should try to figure out what exactly "supply management" even is. And good luck with that!

Journalists generally don't like breaking down complex economicky things, in part because they're so insulated they tend to presume anyone who isn't already as familiar with the minutia of government wonkery as themselves is some kinda dingus not worth wasting time on, and partially because column space is limited, and any words spent describing the object of your latest outrage are words that can't be used expressing the outrage itself.

Kate Heartfield at the Ottawa Citizen calls dairy supply management a "complicated system of tariffs and quotas," Jeffrey Simpson calls it a "protectionist racket" and Jonathan Kay calls it a mix between a "cartel and government-enforced monopoly." All delightfully crabby, but I bet we can do even better.

In an abridged summary of her recent study on the concept, Martha herself dubs SM a "byzantine system" that forces Canadians to pay "upwards of $300 more a year than they need to" for tasty, calcium-rich goodies like milk and cheese. Now we're getting somewhere! Cartels and rackets are one thing, but overpriced yogurt? This will not stand!

So why does it? Well, every single editorial makes much of the notion that there's simply too much conspiracizing. Kay says politicians fear a farmer revolt at the ballot box, since they're such a "well-organized rural political constituency," while Jon Ivison says no one in Ottawa "wants to be accused of killing the family farm." Everyone agrees that all the political parties are colluding with each other in order to ensure the system/cartel/racket/war crime/whatever is never substantially questioned by anyone with power, while they happily "milk" (ho ho) the placated hayseeds.

And any Canadian with a democratic conscience should find this sort of thing deeply suspicious and troubling! Universal consent on a single contentious political question is always a sign of a democratic decay, they say. A newspaper industry that publishes pretty much the exact same editorial in a dozen different publications? Not so much.

* * *

Omigod, did you hear that Harper and Mulroney had a secret rendezvous? The tabloids said they were totally splitsville, but last week they were apparently seen entering a hotel together!

If you want to spread some gossip, that'd be great, because there's almost nothing else to say about this exceedingly thin non-story that nevertheless seemed to make headlines in all the papers over the last couple of days. Most were some regurgitation of this 900-word Canadian Press report, which contains exactly 14 words of fact, "Stephen Harper held a secret meeting in a Montreal hotel with Mulroney last week," and 886 of speculation, presumption, and filler.

A common complaint among mainstream journalist-types is that we in the world of "new media" produce far too much vapid celeb chatter and idle star-watching at the expense of genuine reporting.

Yeah, it's a real mystery where we get these ideas.