Over the course of its development, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) has been a source of contention, sparking protests in some participating countries. But it’s only very recently that the Canadian media has begun providing significant coverage of the multinational trade agreement. A June 17th CBC article states that, at the time of publication, 3 in 4 Canadians had no idea that the country was involved in TPP talks.
Fast forward to late July, 2015. In the last two weeks, there have been over 100 articles on the TPP published in major Canadian news sources. Talks are heating up, and for the Canadian government, the pressure is on to make concessions in the form of supply management protections (the policies designed to keep the country’s dairy, poultry, and egg industries profitable). Many recent articles focus on supply management, but some explore other facets of the deal, which have the potential to impact various sectors of the economy.
As a potential election issue, the TPP and its future effects would likely be raised in parliament – were parliament in session. Though much of the agreement’s contents are not public, questions about what has already been established (as well as any perceived secrecy surrounding negotiations) might have elicited telling reactions in parliament. But, because the government has adjourned, interests on both sides of TPP issues – including government relations professionals who advocate for affected industry groups and companies – have been unable to gain this type of insight. At the moment, a comprehensive look at media coverage is the best way to learn what’s happening (and what political figures – not to mention the public – think of it all).
The usual political divisions
A recent search carried out through Gnowit’s media-monitoring platform turned up over 100 articles on the TPP over the previous two-week period. According to this search, 41% of these articles were positive in tone, 37% were negative, and 22% were neutral.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that publications believed to lean Conservative – such as those belonging to the Sun Media chain – have printed numerous positive articles about the TPP and its potential economic benefits. Others – like the CBC – have tended to analyze the strategy of government negotiators in a more straightforward way. And, as one might expect, online publications further left on the political spectrum (such as rabble) have been the most openly critical of the deal.
To get a sense of just how polarized media opinions are, let’s narrow our focus to one province: British Columbia. There has been speculation about the jobs that could be created by the TPP. But to what extent is this part of B.C.’s public consciousness? Consider the spate of recent articles on the subject in the Vancouver Sun. A July 17 editorial – one of a handful from proponents of the deal in the paper that day – asserts that, “[a]s Canada’s only Pacific province, B.C.’s businesses and residents stand to benefit significantly”.
In contrast, our system found a number of articles printed in B.C. publications that conveyed primarily negative sentiments. National Farmer’s Union president Jan Slomp wrote a piece defending supply management, and decrying the agreements that threatens it. “Free trade deals like the TPP are not sacred cows,” he writes, “but they do supply a lot of bull.” Slomp’s article was circulated in rabble, the Asian Pacific Post, and the Tyee. Other articles in the Tyee – a publication that boasts an average of 800,000 to one million page views per month – criticize the TPP for issues related to privacy laws, copyright, health care, and others.
An election issue
Unsurprisingly, much of the media coverage related to the Trans-Pacific Partnership is framed by the upcoming federal election. Will Harper make those supply management concessions? If so, how will he justify it to those who benefit from these protections within his rural support base? Suddenly, politicos are posing these questions publicly, and Canadians – who very recently knew nothing about TPP talks – are filling online comment sections with their opinions.
Amid talk of potential concessions, Thomas Mulcair is publicly expressing his commitment to farmers. A July 22 article in the Stratford Beacon Herald describes the PM candidate’s visit to a local dairy farm, where he posed for a photo op and addressed the media. Mulcair pledged to ensure that the “supply management system is defended in its entirety”.
Though it may seem like a given that the NDP could benefit if the Conservatives alienates farmers, Globe and Mail author John Ibbitson has another interpretation. Ibbitson claims that the TPP could, in fact, lead Mulcair to lose the election. He argues that Mulcair may be forced to oppose the TPP to side with Quebec dairy farmers, a move that will turn off British Colombians who want the jobs the deal is supposed to create.
Then, of course, there are members of the general public, who are making predictions of their own. The following quote (from a Globe and Mail letter to the editor, published July 24) is a good example.
“An election approaches and Canada can ill afford to be left out of the TPP: Mr. Harper can’t let that happen. An educated guess would predict continued stout defense of supply management and a last minute cave in on the excuse (‘we fought the good fight’) that it was essential to attain membership in the TPP.”
- Michael Flavell, Ottawa (from the Globe and Mail, Letters to the Editor)
Currently, final TPP talks are occurring in Maui. Whichever way things go, the deal will have an impact on Canadians, which means there’s sure to be plenty of ongoing government discussion about it. For now, most of us are reliant on the sparse details that have found their way into the media.
How will these details affect public perception? And how will this public perception impact the deal’s social and economic outcomes? One thing is certain: stakeholders and advocacy professionals will be keeping a close eye on what happens next.
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