Canada’s press walks tight rope covering its southern neighbor

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By Ian Wendrow and Jiayin Zhang

News managers of America’s northern neighbor, Canada, have struggled to cover the U.S. presidential election while navigating the terrain of bias that is leveled against the news media. Although some Canadian newspapers, such as the Montreal-based left-leaning French language publication, La Presse, openly advertises its political stance, newspapers in Canada also made conscious attempts at recognizing the news preferences of their audiences.

One way Canada’s newspapers tried to gauge the interest of audiences there in the election in the United States was by conducting their own opinion polls. In Quebec province, a poll by La Presse of 1,000 Quebec residents found that 74 percent of Quebecois believe a Clinton victory would be “good or very good news for relations with our neighbors to the south.”

The international news editor of La Presse, Lachapelle, said although the poll shows strong support for Hillary Clinton, there were a number of people who supported Trump and they tended to “be more vocal.” Lachapelle said: “We heard them a lot complaining that we were talking too much about Mrs. Clinton and always talking negatively about Mr. Trump.”

He said Donald Trump’s support appeared to be stronger in Quebec’s conservative outlets or suburbs. The executive editor of the National Post, Jordan Timm, echoed the dilemma of his newspaper on the U.S. election. “It’s been a challenge sometimes because our readership does skew more conservative and when we have a headline on a story on our website that is, you know, construed as negative about Trump, I’ll get emails,” he said. Lachapelle of La Presse said a constant worry for his newspaper is whether it ought to balance stories and whether to present a candidate’s flaws.

He said that although he regarded Clinton as “a flawed candidate, you can’t say she’s the same type of candidate as Trump.” He said there is a less of an obligation on the part of his newspaper to make some kind of false equivalence for the sake of electoral fairness. Timm said he believes Canadian reporters have more leeway to express their points of view in news copy. He cites the example of Daniel Dale of the Toronto Star, a liberal-leaning publication.

Timm said Dale can be quite candid in his writing and on Twitter about how Trump came out and said 25 false things and it was egregious. He said it was important to have people that can “capture the aspects of the American political process and of this moment in American history” in ways that American reporters assume are understood to American audiences but not necessarily to Canadians.

Some Canadians say they are frustrated by the election coverage and the fixation with personal attacks being reported by the press.

“I’m fed up with Trump’s aggressive language everywhere in reporters’ stories,” said Emmanuel Duval, a Toronto resident. Another Toronto resident, Katrin Abbassi, said she was positive about the prospect of a Clinton presidency despite the higher amount of coverage on Trump. She said she hoped the next president would have a good relationship with Canada. “I guess the relationship between Canada and USA will get stronger because I think Clinton and Trudeau have the same approach toward immigration and refugee crisis.”
At MSU, the director of the Canadian Studies Center, AnnMarie Schneider, said whether it is a Trump or Clinton administration, each will establish a unique connection with Canada. She said Canada has the N. 1 trade flow with the United States. She also said homeland security and how to manage natural resources are key topics that both countries need to deal with under the next U.S. presidency.

(Additional reporting by Folu Ogundimu.)

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