By Elizabeth Howell
Carleton graduate Jennifer Ditchburn (MJ/14) recently spun two books out of her completed thesis. The latest book, The Harper Factor: Assessing a Prime Minister’s Policy Legacy (McGill-Queen’s University Press), argues Harper was not a transformational leader from a public policy point of view, although he did have an impact on the way politics is conducted in Canada.
Ditchburn co-edited the book with Graham Fox of the Institute for Research on Public Policy with the participation of a few others from the Carleton community, including journalism sessional lecturer Susan Delacourt, Carleton graduate and long-time journalist Barry Wilson and associate professor Paul Wilson of the Clayton H. Riddell Graduate Program in Political Management.
“Graham and I had this feeling that some of the analysis [seen before the book] wasn’t based on evidence or statistics,” Ditchburn said. “We thought, wouldn’t it be great if there was a book that took the time to look at different policy areas and see if there was a significant change or not?”
The editors solicited several experts and asked them to look at their policy area for the time Harper, a Conservative, had been prime minister (2006 to 2015).Each contributor looked at factors such as programs, initiatives, policy approaches and spending during the Harper years, and made a case for how the area changed or not.
Delacourt’s chapter, for example, looks at the mark that Harper left on how political parties operate, including the emphasis on marketing. “You can see that prior to when Harper took power, there wasn’t – to this extent – a focus on marketing the party and not always using the media as your outlet,” Ditchburn said. Current Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has followed in those footsteps on social media, she added, and she anticipates the trend will continue.
Ditchburn has been a journalist for more than 20 years, including stints on Parliament Hill, Montreal, Toronto and Edmonton. She earned three National Newspaper Awards and reported for both the Canadian Press and the CBC. In March, she left CP to become editor of digital magazine Policy Options, published by the Institute for Research on Public Policy.
“The new job is unbelievably stimulating, and I feel fortunate,” she said. “I’m able to look broadly at a range of public policy discussions going on in Canada, and there’s really interesting discussions going on right now, whether it’s innovation, health policy, foreign policy, international development or Canada-U.S. relations. There is really no limit.”
For her master’s degree, Ditchburn did a lot of research at the Library of Parliament and Library and Archives Canada. She “got addicted” to searching for information, and credits her time at Carleton for helping her see where journalistic practice and theory meet. “It’s made my more academic writing much more solid,” Ditchburn said.
Ditchburn was also a major contributor to the book Sharp Wits and Busy Pens: 150 Years of Canada’s Press Gallery (Hill Times Publishing). It chronicles the history of the Parliamentary Press Gallery going back to 1866.