Agenda Setting in English Canada in the Age of Minority Government, 2004-2011

Peter Malachy Ryan
Communication and Culture, Ryerson University
October, 2012
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Peter Ryan is an instructor and Instructional Designer at MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta. Prior to 2010, he taught for over five years with Ryerson University’s Department of Politics and Public Administration, while completing his doctorate in Communication and Culture. He was also formerly a Research Associate with the Infoscape Research Lab.
 

Abstract

This dissertation examines the relationship between agenda setting and frames analysis in Canadian federal politics from 2004-2011. The research project tests Savoie’s thesis that the centralization of power has grown with the increasing size of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and that the leader of the office has most clearly exerted that power in controlling the government’s agenda by applying it to the experience of minority government at the dawn of the 21st century. To test his thesis, textual analyses of the PMO’s agenda-setting documents were conducted to identify the key language, frames, and controlled policy announcements that were reflected within the political discourse.

How does the discourse represent and reflect the shift in power in a dramatically changed political environment when, at least in theory, a minority government would be at the mercy of the opposition parties that hold the balance of power?

From 2006 to 2011, the Harper Conservatives stayed in power by cleverly manipulating the agenda through framing and reframing issues to their advantage. The prime minister retained the final executive decision on party and government political communications and was, therefore, the leading arbiter of the messages delivered to represent key party agenda-setting strategies. Harper has often been identified as a shrewd strategist by academics and the media alike, but how different were his agenda-setting techniques compared to previous minority government strategies?

This research identifies the communication tactics that the PMO used in 2006 to ensure its unique five key policy frames of “accountability”, “child care tax credits”, “cutting the GST”, “patient wait time guarantees”, and “tough on crime” were consistently delivered and coordinated across media in their platforms, websites, speeches, and outlays. The Harper Conservatives’ new strategies included narrowing agendas, promoting wedge issues, priming voters using distracter frames, and using strict media communication protocols to attract popular support from the key segment of middle-class families. Using these tactics, the government set the agenda on the dismantling of the firearms registry, framed the skills and motivations of two opposition leaders as ineffective and weak with attack advertisements, and sold the illusion that coalition governments were undemocratic.
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We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.

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