Everyone knows that the Alberta provincial election campaign is already on, despite the fact Premier Rachel Notley has not declared it.
Recent campaigning in the City of Red Deer by Premier Notley (promises of hospital renovations), a large billboard with Wetaskiwin MLA Bruce Hinkley on it outside Millet and UCP leader Jason Kenney announcing campaign readiness just about every day all show the campaign is on.
As editor , I have a few simple rules in place for how the newspaper covers election campaigns, from Feb. 21 onwards.
Over the past 27 years I’ve seen a number of local, provincial and federal election campaigns, and something that happened early in my career made an impact on me.
I was working as a reporter at a newspaper where the editor made no secret of the election candidates he favoured (I can’t remember if it was provincial or federal). This editor allowed candidates to send in “press release,” “news items” and “letters to the editor” that were nothing more than campaign material. He let these candidates campaign for free in the newspaper and on the opinion page, while other candidates he didn’t favour had to buy advertising space to publish their campaign material.
It just so happened the editor’s preferred candidate won the election, and I was in the office the day one of the losing candidates came in to let the editor know what many people in the community thought of the paper. Some people were unhappy that the editor played favourites. I thought to myself, “If I’m ever editor, that’s not going to happen under my watch.”
Normally, I wouldn’t bring election rules into play until the premier actually called an election. As noted above, though, the campaign is obviously underway, despite no official call.
First and foremost, the newspaper won’t print press releases, news items, opinion columns or letters to the editor from candidates, campaigns or political parties while the election campaign is on, efforts to sway voters by riding on the back of the newspaper’s reputation. The vast majority of the time such content is nothing more than campaigning masquerading as “news.” That kind of stuff belongs in paid advertising.
Also, regular opinion columns submitted by elected officials running for election will be suspended until the election is over. The newspaper just wants to ensure that everyone, incumbent or challenger, are treated fairly.
Letters to the editor commenting on the election and submitted by members of the community may be considered, but chain letters or any attempt by political parties or candidates to use the letters to the editor page for free campaigning won’t be tolerated.
The newspaper also commits to covering all legitimate all-candidates forums as time and staff allow, but can’t attend single-candidate publicity events.
Good luck to all the candidates, and here’s hoping Premier Notley officially announces the election campaign that’s obviously already underway.
Stu Salkeld is editor of The Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.