Government policy is something that for one reason or another I’ve always had an interest in but don’t know enough about.
Why do governments make policy decisions the way they do? How do politicians balance good economics with good policy? As a journalist, is there a better way to write about policy decisions made even at a local level? These are all questions I’ve had for years.
Earlier this month, I attended the Fraser Institute’s Policy for Journalists program in Vancouver, where I got to learn a little bit more about policy from a different perspective. I had previously attend the institute’s Economics for Journalists program.
A lot of people have strong and not always positive opinions of the Fraser Institute, but as a journalist, you go into the program knowing they have their viewpoints and that it’s up for you to decide what you want to do with the information. It’s also incredibly healthy to hear opposing views and the reasons behind those viewpoints.
Although it was a worthwhile experience, the program covered a lot of the same material that the Economics for Journalists program did, specifically around policy decisions made in Canada during the 1990s and 2000s.
One of the most compelling portions of the program was the institute’s discussion on policies around health. What they pointed out was that media tends to compare Canada’s healthcare system with the United States, which has a vastly different style of healthcare than we do. The Fraser Institute pointed out that it would be fairer to compare Canada’s healthcare system to countries with models such as the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Japan, Australia and Singapore.
I also appreciated the discussion around economic choices and political choices and how the two are often never the same. As an exercise we ‘played politician’ and made choices not based on sound economic policy, but whether the decisions were good politics. It really showed that often times, the best economic choice isn’t made because politicians – like everyone else – are self-interest driven and are concerned with keeping their job instead of perhaps what is best for their community in the long term.
A focus area was around the Fraser Institute’s positions. That’s fine – after all it is their program and they can do what they wish – but there was very little discussion around different ways to examine policy decisions and what other approaches journalists could take reporting on policy.
Without question the best part about the program was not so much the content but the people. Again, I got to interact with extremely talented journalists – and a few public relations and communication folks – for two entire days. I got to see how they take notes, how they ask questions and how they think.
I got to hear about their communities and where they’re reporting from. When you’re in a newsroom in a community where there aren’t as many media outlets compared to a major city such as Vancouver or Toronto, meeting and interacting with other journalists from around the country is incredibly refreshing and also inspiring.
At the end of each session we asked questions about the content we had heard. Following a session where the Fraser Institute’s positions on energy and environmental policies were laid out, there were plenty of questions about why those positions were taken.
And that, to me, was what made the program worth attending. Sure, I learned some new information about policy and I got to understand a bit more about economics. But, I also got to interact with and watch some extremely talented individuals do what they do best, ask questions.
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