More Bad News: News Values and
the Uneasy Relationship between the
Reform Party and the Media in
Richard W. Jenkins
Formed in 1987, the Reform Party transformed itself from a small, regionally based protest movement to a contender for political power within ten years. Neo-populism is central to any explanation of the Reform Party. Reform is not the first protest or populist party to form in western Canada, but the contemporary manifestation of populism in Canada is certainly consistent with the kind of neo-populist parties that have emerged in other countries. In 1997, the party formed the official opposition in Parliament and positioned itself to unseat the governing Liberal Party. Its pursuit of power led the party to make attempts to "unite the right" after 1997 and thus avoid vote splitting that if continued would ensure continued Liberal control of government. The attempts to unite the right culminated in the creation of a new party, the Canadian Alliance. At least in part because the Conservative Party has resisted joining the new movement, early indications are that this new party will not easily make the transition to power. The decision to form a new party indicated that the established image of the party in the minds of voters was a barrier to future success. Given the importance of the media for the image voters have of the parties and the leaders (Shaw 1999; Kern and Just 1997; Jenkins 2001), it is important that we consider how the media may have contributed to Reform's image problem. Since commercial imperatives and newsworthiness are probably the strongest influences on Canadian news, there is always the potential for both positive and negative coverage of any party.