The National Post was a disruptive proposition 20 years ago. In the commendations and celebrations that are marking its anniversary, this should not be lost. The newspaper’s founding insight was that a significant number of Canadians were yearning for a different media perspective — one rooted in a more conservative worldview.
That insight was correct. Many Canadians were hungry for perspectives, ideas and opinions outside the “Laurentian consensus” of Canada’s chattering classes. I was one of those Canadians.
I became a conservative during the worst excesses of Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s government. The National Energy Program encapsulated the big-government hubris and centralizing instincts of that era’s liberalism. It was a symbol of the high taxes, large deficits and corporatist industrial policy that were spawning double-digit unemployment, inflation, and interest rates. They ultimately produced a whole new generation of conservatives.
In the next decade and a half, similar experiences elsewhere would lead to the global rise and triumph of a conservative revolution led by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Yet, for Canadians interested in reporting or commentary that reflected these viewpoints, there was no place to turn in the national media landscape. There were, of course, regional and niche publications such as Western Report. Nevertheless, the market overall was marked by a homogeneity, with genuinely conservative ideas and perspectives marginalized in the public conversation.
Canadian conservatives of my generation — many of whom would find a home in Preston Manning’s Reform Party — were forced to rely on foreign thinkers and American publications for media sustenance. There was simply nothing resembling William F. Buckley Jr.’s National Review and its thoughtful, unapologetic conservatism. In Canada, we were on our own.
The National Post changed that. The upstart paper arrived on the scene with a distinctive voice. Its success proved that there were legitimate debates to be had in Canada about issues like public finances, taxes, and national unity.
The newspaper also memorably tackled the issue of Canada’s “divided Right.” For the most part, it did so thoughtfully, recognizing that any meaningful fusion had to produce an option different from the governing party. Simply adding votes together would fail if it meant a return to a party politics that included only shades of liberalism. In this respect, the Post was a real ally for those of us who ultimately brought about conservative unity.
The National Post continues to provide periodic challenges to the Canadian media’s working assumptions about politics, policy, and perspectives. The list is too long to itemize. However, it is fair to say that the Financial Post’s editorial page has recently provided more diverse debate on issues like climate change, carbon taxes, trade negotiations, and fiscal policy than one can find elsewhere.
Still, the trend toward conformity, so deeply entrenched in the monolithic culture of our country’s press galleries, remains with us. Ironically, at no time has such journalism been more threatened.
Canadian conservatives of my generation were forced to rely on foreign thinkers and American publications for media sustenance
The rise of disruptive communications technologies and social media platforms has given the public easy, unfiltered access to information far beyond what traditional media ever could. More importantly, they provide for virtually infinite channels. These do potentially empower extreme, strange, and dangerous voices, but they have also exposed the shrinking range of perspectives that today’s professional journalism permits.
While traditional-media convergence is a serious problem for our democracy, it is an existential threat for the National Post. There is simply no room for yet another liberal-elitist outlet. There are millions of Canadians who do not subscribe to those ideas and politics. This audience wants different perspectives and views. This is who the National Post must speak to.
The way in which this newspaper does that will evolve. New technologies and platforms will continue to push it to adapt. Some innovations will work. Others will not. But there is little doubt that the newspaper will look different as it celebrates future anniversaries.
What should not change, however, are the ideas and perspectives that animate the National Post, its business strategy, and its journalistic content. The newspaper’s founding insight is as correct today as it was two decades ago.
I congratulate the National Post for its 20-year contribution to Canada’s intellectual and political life and wish it the best of luck in the future. Conservatives need it. Canada needs it.