Communications in General Tag - BissettMatheson Communications http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/latest Fri, 26 May 2017 07:26:59 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Imagine Fredericton - in 25 years http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/imagine-fredericton-in-25-years http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/imagine-fredericton-in-25-years

 

This blog is strictly meant for people in Fredericton. If you aren’t from Fredericton or you don’t live in Fredericton, then just move along – nothing to see here.

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Are they gone yet? Good. Not that they aren’t nice people. Everyone who follows my blog is nice, it goes without saying. But this is about Imagine Fredericton, and as you know we’ve got it pretty good here, and it can be a little embarrassing talking about our future when the discussion always starts with something like – “We’ve got a beautiful city, with a wonderful river, great walking trails, and lots of recreation options and a vibrant arts and culture scene, and and and.” We can be like that obnoxious relative with the perfect kids - a touch nauseating, if you know what I mean.

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OK, enough of that, but here’s what got me going.  Tuesday evening, a lot of people turned out at the Convention Centre for the official launch of Imagine Fredericton.

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Organizers describe it a massive, yearlong conversation about how we would like to see our city develop over the next 25 years. And it covers pretty much everything from what the downtown should evolve into – will there be cars downtown? How much green space? What do we do with the river? (I think we should keep it) And how should the north side develop, and where should new development be concentrated, and what about public transit, and affordable housing, and what should be do to make sure we are ready for the effects of climate change? And recreation, and arts and culture, and of course the economic engines, how should those develop, and where?

And lots more but you get the idea. We’re talking thorough here. A yearlong conversation about how Fredericton should look, feel and function like 25 years from now. This will go on for the next 12 to 18 months. Then, the urban planner hired guns that have been brought in will work with city staff to take everything they heard, mix it in with their collective expertise and mould that into a Growth Strategy and Municipal Plan, a blueprint to get us from here to there.

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That’s where the rubber hits the road, but before then, all residents and businesses owners will be given many opportunities to weigh in. In fact it began last evening with people invited to have their say on video, put stickers on a big map of the city to give an opinion on what areas of the city are great and what areas could use work, or write their thoughts on sticky notes under such headings as “What are your aspirations for Fredericton’s future?”

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No one is going to hold a gun to anyone’s head to participate, but this is a rare opportunity to get involved so the final plan truly will reflect the values and aspirations of the community.  

It really is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to take something that’s by all accounts pretty damn good, and be part of making it pretty damn better. Here’s the site for more information.  

The first two photos in this blog are from mynewbrunswick.ca which by the way is a great site for New Brunswick photography. 

Thanks for reading. Please consider sharing with your friends, but not if they aren't from Fredericton because, well, you know. 

 

 

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duncan@bissettmatheson.com (Duncan Matheson) Blog Wed, 15 Jun 2016 03:13:36 +0000
Covered Bridge Chips, who's the bad guy? http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/covered-bridge-chips-who-s-the-bad-guy http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/covered-bridge-chips-who-s-the-bad-guy

 

Reading many of the comments on social media in reaction to the strike at Covered Bridge Chips, I can’t help but wonder why organized labour has fallen so out of favour with the public.

I’m not overly surprised as unions have grown more and more out of favour over recent years all over North America, and while there are also lots of comments in support of the workers at the potato chip plant, those are definitely in the minority. Which begs the question why?

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Here we have a company, that is into its third expansion so it is safe to assume is doing well. And it is paying its employees minimum wages. Just how many are being paid the minimum is in dispute, but obviously some are. No one will disagree that it’s hard to make a living on minimum wage. Most I would hope would also agree that if you are working full time you deserve to make a living wage.  So why is it that when they organize and fight for just that, they become the bad guys?

When you pay minimum wage, what you are really saying to your employee is – “I would pay you less if there was any legal way I could, but I can’t, so here’s what I have to give you”.  That seems to be the mindset of many employers, but in the minds of many it is the people on the line who are the unreasonable ones.

The point is that organized labour has become the whipping boy for what ails us. When a company sends its manufacturing to China or wherever so it can get its widgets made by slave labour for the cheapest price possible, nobody blames the greed of the company for the subsequent unemployment, but rather it is because of the inflexibility of the union.

The problem is that organized labour has not done an effective enough job with its communication. That’s unfortunate because study after study, including by conservative organizations such as the World Bank, concludes that higher rates of unionization lead to lower inequality, lower unemployment, higher productivity, better social justice, healthier environments and a quicker recovery from economic downturns.

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To see the flip side of this you need look no further than the United States. Nearly half the American states over the past few years adopted what is called Right to Work legislation. It sounds good but in reality it is designed to weaken unions. Twenty-one of the twenty-three states that adopted Right to Work now have per capita incomes below the US average, and increased poverty levels. It’s a race to the bottom and a race we as a society should avoid.

I appreciate this is big picture stuff and may be far removed from the labour dispute at Covered Bridge Chips, but the comments that strike has prompted does speak to the overall anti-union attitude that prevails.  And yes, I know there are examples of unreasonable unions, but for every old school union that hasn’t yet realized that management and employees are in this together, there is an unenlightened management that doesn’t get it either.

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But back to Hartland, I don’t know who is being reasonable and who is not in the Covered Bridge situation. What I do know is that unions don’t get their foot in the door at any place where the workforce is satisfied that they are being treated fairly. And I also know it is quite a leap to be labeling people greedy because they can’t make do on minimum wage and want to be able to provide for their families. Seems fair for eight hours work, or is that just me? 

Thanks for reading. You can "like" this blog above, and if you feel so inclined please share it as well. ReTweets always appreciated. 

 

 

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duncan@bissettmatheson.com (Duncan Matheson) Blog Thu, 07 Jan 2016 23:59:21 +0000
Writing Faces - the long, but mainly short of it. http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/writing-faces-the-long-but-mainly-short-of-it http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/writing-faces-the-long-but-mainly-short-of-it

 

I was fortunate enough to be in attendance at a house concert this past fall featuring the great singer songwriter Ron Hynes.  In fact it would have been one of Ron’s final shows. Conversing with his audience between songs, he talked about how he gets asked where he finds the inspiration for his songs. His response was among the most honest I have ever heard from a songwriter or for that matter any writer. He said, and I’m paraphrasing here, that there is no inspiration, just hard work. He talked about getting up in the morning and putting in the time, every day. Sitting with his guitar and working for hours – trying line after line, changing them, trying again, further tweaks, and then eventually, hours later, sometimes days or even months later, there’s a finished product.

Ernest Hemmingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” He also said....

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I’m embarrassed to call myself a writer in the same essay in which these guys are mentioned, but while of comparatively marginal talent, it is much of what I do, and I can certainly attest that it is, for me as well, as the saying goes, 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration.

But in some weird sense I do enjoy writing. I think it is the challenge of it, and the satisfaction of producing something, whether it’s a speech, a magazine article or op-ed, or for that matter these blogs.  It’s work but also enjoyable.

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Last winter, I had the good fortune to participate in a rather unique writing project. I was asked to be part of the small team of writers composing profiles to complement the photography in what would become Keith Minchin’s Faces of New Brunswick coffee table book.

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The fun of doing this was in the challenge. No profile could exceed 130 words. I remember when I was drafting the first one I contacted editorial director Lane MacIntosh to ask how much leeway I could have on the word restriction. He said I could go to 132 words if I had to. I waited for his laugh and reassurance he was just kidding. He wasn’t. Bastard.

Henry David Thoreau once wrote this note to accompany a story he sent to a friend “Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.”

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And that, keeping the writing short, became the discipline and the challenge. Our approach was not to write biographies, but to avoid them. Rather our objective was to search out that gem of information, that unique life turning point, or inspiration, or motivation, or tragedy, or turn of fate, or whatever it was that more than anything else, make these people tick; the passion that makes them who they are.

And then, capture that in 130 words, so a reader will learn something interesting about the person that they may not have known, and that they would probably not find anywhere else.

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I thoroughly enjoyed the process. I also liked the fact that the people Keith choose for the book were a true cross-section of New Brunswick, and included the famous as well as the little known from all walks of life, but all with a story worth telling and all of whom in their way contribute to making New Brunswick what it is.

There was also the great satisfaction of being part of something bigger. Working as part of a team of very talented people including editorial director and writer Lane MacIntosh, fellow writer Sharon Pond, a dynamite editor in Armand Paul, which was a treat because I hadn’t worked with him since my days at CBC many years ago, one of the most creative graphic designers I have ever worked with in Pierre Allain, who made every page pop, and of course as the anchor Keith’s wonderful photography.

The end result is something I am extremely proud to have been a part of.

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It truly is a celebration of New Brunswick and is in itself a work of art. So if you are like me, and find yourself every year at about this time stressing over that perfect present, this may be what you have been looking for -  if the gift is for someone with a connection to the province. It’s a thought. If you are interested, here’s how to get it.

I’m not sure if this will be my last blog before Christmas, but it might be, so just in case, I’d like to take the opportunity to wish you all a Merry Christmas, or a Happy Hanukkah as the case may be, and to thank you for taking the time to read my blogs.

As always thanks for reading. You can "like" this blog above, and if the spirit moves you to share this, please do. Retweets always appreciated. 

 

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duncan@bissettmatheson.com (Duncan Matheson) Blog Sun, 20 Dec 2015 21:18:54 +0000
A homelessness focused event you might consider, and it's tonight http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/a-homelessness-focused-event-you-might-consider-and-its-tonight http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/a-homelessness-focused-event-you-might-consider-and-its-tonight

 

Homelessness is a disgrace in a country as blessed as ours. I trust most of us can agree on that. But on the positive side more and more jurisdictions are making serious inroads in eradicating it. The biggest breakthrough is the Housing First model – the idea that helping someone deal with the causes of homelessness starts with giving someone a home. This creates the stability needed to deal with the issues that caused the person to be on the street in the first place.

Here in Canada, Medicine Hat has become the poster child for this model, becoming the first Canadian city to eliminate homelessness. Figures don’t lie, and they show that the cost of giving someone a home is far less expensive than the costs to taxpayers of allowing them to exist on the street. Here is more information on the Medicine Hat experience including an interview from As It Happens with the mayor. 

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Point is, the Housing First model is catching on all over because it works. Here in Fredericton, much work has already been done and is continuing to be done toward the same end by our Community Action Group on Homelessness (CAGH) 

Part of the challenge facing CAGH is getting buy-in from the larger community. And the first step toward that is making people more aware of homelessness, its causes and effects.

There’s a pretty cool event this evening aimed at just that. To mark National Affordable Housing Day – bet you didn’t know it was National Affordable Housing Day did you? No, neither did I until someone mentioned it. Anyway, it is, so there’s this event at the Wu Conference Centre to mark it, and it's tonight. And it’s free. It starts at 5 with a reception and socializing and hopefully some chat about homelessness, and there will be some live music mixed in with the finger food and refreshments. But the real attraction is at 6, when they are going to screen the full length, award winning film Lowdown Tracks.

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Can’t say I have seen it, but I have heard about it and the buzz from film festivals has been quite amazing. It is being celebrated as a powerful documentary portrayal of the relationship between trauma and housing instability as it follows the lives of five street musicians living homeless on the streets of Toronto.  Here’s the trailer

I plan to go and I hope you will consider it too. Did I mention it’s free? 

Thanks for reading. If you can help spread the word on this event that would be appreciated. ReTweets are one way. We'd like to get as many people out as we can. 

 

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duncan@bissettmatheson.com (Duncan Matheson) Blog Wed, 09 Dec 2015 00:38:01 +0000
The curious case of Dr. Cleary http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/the-curious-case-of-dr-cleary http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/the-curious-case-of-dr-cleary

 

There’s a principle in communications that when there is a void, it will be filled. There is a void as wide as a Mack truck in the curious case of Dr. Eilish Cleary and there has been no shortage of fill.

In the absence of any plausible explanation from the people who know, those who don’t are filling the void with all manner of rumour and speculation. But more than anything else, with outrage.

Social media is all-abuzz and its collective wrath is landing squarely on the shoulders of the Brian Gallant government.

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Health Minister Victor Boudreau is hiding behind the usual screen of it being a “personnel matter”, adding later that her firing was not politically motivated.  But many are not buying that.

By keeping the reasons behind the popular and respected former Chief Medical Officer’s dismissal a mystery, the government has not only drawn condemnation on itself, but also on JD Irving. This because much of the speculation is that Dr. Cleary was let go because she was investigating the health risks of the use of glyphosate, a herbicide used by the forestry company, and one that the World Health Organization says is “probably carcinogenic”. People are connecting the dots suggesting, possibly quite falsely, that because of her research into this herbicide, Irving wanted her gone and the government was quick to comply.

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The government denies any connection, saying that research will continue, but unless and until it offers up something better, this belief will continue. Dr. Cleary isn’t speculating, at least not publicly, saying only that she’s also in the dark, saying all she has been told is that her particular skillset doesn’t meet the government’s needs.

Social media has been quick to call bullshit on that, and with no shortage of sarcasm, along the lines of the government’s requirements are for someone who will do only what they are told, and never to do anything that might upset Irving.  Other speculation ranges from the environmentalist company she keeps and her apparently related speaking engagements, to the language issue to it being about her stand on fracking. But far and away it’s the alleged Irving connection that is resonating most.

If JDI is completely innocent in this, the government is doing the company a major disservice by allowing this speculation to thrive by not clearing the air with the real reason she was let go.

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NDP Leader Dominic Cardy has called for independent investigation, calling it a muzzling of New Brunswick’s most prominent government scientist. Can’t see that happening but he makes a good point when he asks which is it –was she let go because of a personnel matter or because her skillset was lacking, as they have given both as reasons.

The words of Walter Scott come to mind “O, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” 

Thanks for reading. Please consider "liking" this blog above, and if you feel so inclinded, please share it as well. 

 

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duncan@bissettmatheson.com (Duncan Matheson) Blog Tue, 08 Dec 2015 03:55:55 +0000
Communications around Syrian refugee crisis shows our character for what it is http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/the-syrian-refugees-issue-has-our-character-showing http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/the-syrian-refugees-issue-has-our-character-showing

 

As could be expected, the Paris attacks have heightened the public debate over the Syrian refugees. That debate has been burning up social media as it puts on display both the best and worst of our collective character. It is centered of course on the fact the refugees are mainly Muslim, just like the terrorists.

For some, that’s license to parade their racism and for others to share their exaggerated but honest fears. For some politicians, it’s a chance to grandstand and score some points with anti-Muslim rhetoric. Stephen Harper tried that in the recent election, but to Canadians’ credit, it didn’t work. But in the United States, on the heels of what happened in Paris, at least 31 Governors are declaring that they don’t want any Syrian refugees in their states. They don’t have the legal authority to enforce any such thing, but that’s another matter – this is about catering to the majority of voters.

It’s good to see that in Canada we are doing things a little differently. We’re displaying a more generous spirit. But a quick scan of social media shows we don’t have room to be smug, as there is no shortage of naysayers, but for all the mean-spirited and nasty content, there are many times more generous and compassionate comments.

The good thing about this volume and diversity of opinion is that it forces the debate, and it puts our own beliefs, prejudices and hypocrisy to the test, and a little soul searching never hurt anybody. Often it is the memes that do this most effectively. Some through humour, like this:

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Others are more poignant.

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Or this:

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While a lot of criticism is aimed at Christians for being hypocritical – it is mainly the southern states in the US where the Christian Right holds great sway that are the most vocally opposed to allowing any Syrian refugees in. But on the other side of the coin, and jumping back to New Brunswick now, it is the churches that are among the first to step up as sponsors, just as they have in the past.

What all this discussion also does is crank up all that old BS about refugees and immigrants taking our jobs and being a drain on our economy, and about how we should be looking after our own first. On that, gotta share one more:

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Participating in the political panel on CBC Shift last Friday, I made the point that governments and multicultural organizations have failed in their communications in not doing enough to counter these myths. It turns out I just wasn’t patient enough.

So credit where credit is due, it is great to see that the New Brunswick Multicultural Council has now taken the initiative with #RestoreHope, a campaign aimed at giving New Brunswickers an opportunity to sign a petition of support for bringing Syrian refugees to the province. But more than that, the site lists eight specific reasons why we should support the refugee effort, including tackling some of the persistent misinformation. It’s a start.  

So if you are so inclined, go check it out, and if you sign you can also mention why you have signed it. I can think of a lot of reasons, but they are all variations of simply because it is the right thing to do.

And if you want to help with this refugee settlement initiative, the Multicultural Council has started weekly lunch and learn sessions, at least here in Fredericton, where you can find out how.

Thanks for stopping by. You can “like” this blog above, rate it below, and please share it if you feel so inclined. Retweets are always appreciated.    

 

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duncan@bissettmatheson.com (Duncan Matheson) Blog Fri, 20 Nov 2015 00:18:17 +0000
Some election day thoughts http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/some-election-day-thoughts http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/some-election-day-thoughts

I can’t say I am disappointed to see that the longest election campaign in Canadian history has morphed into the Stephen Harper farewell tour. Even in the unlikely scenario that he wins, it would be a minority, and he would be gone. I have made no secret of my distain for the man. I think he has been bad for the country, bad for democracy and bad for the Conservative party.

That said, while there will be relief when his demise becomes official sometime this evening, there will be no gloating on my part. I hate the fact that the primary purpose of this election for the vast majority of Canadians was to get rid of someone rather than elect someone. I totally get it; I just don’t like it. It says something about Harper of course, but it also says something about the lack of any great vision for the country that Canadians could get excited about, from either of his main opponents.

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The long campaign though, did reveal the good, the bad, and the ugly about our politics and political leaders. Kudos to Tom Mulcair for sticking to his principles over the niqab issue even though it cost him a lot of votes in Quebec. And for the ugly, there was Harper making the niqab an issue in the first place, and then doubling down by instituting that tip line for what he called “barbaric cultural practices”. In short, inflaming racial prejudices against Muslims for the sake of votes. It brought Canadian election campaigning to a new low. Hopefully, we won’t see the likes of that again in this country, ever. I like to think we are better than that. 

By making the niqab an issue though, Harper forced us to think about what sort of Canada we want. In a way it makes today’s election somewhat of a referendum on Canadian values, and that’s not a bad thing.

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Harper has become such a polarizing force in this country, that for the vast majority of voters, the first priority is seeing him defeated. I can’t think of another election where the defeat of an incumbent was this predominant; considerably more important than who his replacement would be.

For this reason strategic voting became more of a thing this time. I expect I am far from alone in being torn on this myself, in deciding whether I could risk voting for the candidate I would really like to see win, or give my vote to a different candidate because that one was perceived to have the better chance of defeating the Conservative. I hope never to be in this position again, so I sincerely hope that sufficient pressure is placed on the new government to fulfill their campaign commitment to scrap the broken first-past-the-post system for some type of proportional representation, given that every party except the Conservatives made this promise. Never again should we end up with a majority government that doesn’t represent the majority of voters.

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One final though, and it is aimed at those who aren’t yet sure if they are going to bother voting. The point so many others have made about voting being a privilege and how lucky we are in this great country to be able to do it without fear is valid in every respect. But for the point I want to make, I will quote American writer David Foster Wallace, when he said “By all means stay home if you want, but don't bullshit yourself that you're not voting. In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard's vote.” Something to think about.

Thanks for reading. Please consider tapping that "like" button above and sharing. ReTweets always appreciated. And if you haven't voted yet - you have until 8. 

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duncan@bissettmatheson.com (Duncan Matheson) Blog Sun, 18 Oct 2015 22:11:55 +0000
Don't believe those elxn ads - they are not quite what they seem. http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/he-said-what-a-look-at-some-election-ads-so-far http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/he-said-what-a-look-at-some-election-ads-so-far

Attack ads are notorious for distorting the truth, grabbing a little snippet out of a speech and presenting it completely out of context.  It’s all about creating a negative impression, making a person seem incompetent, scary, dishonest, whatever.

They work on some voters. Specifically, they are aimed mainly at people who don’t really follow politics, and aren’t going to think beyond the message conveyed.  It will never cross their mind that they are being misled.

The attack ads we are most familiar with, because if you watch TV they are played so often you can’t miss them, are the Conservative’s attack ads on Justin Trudeau. So let’s look at a couple of those.

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“Budgets will balance themselves.”  Did Trudeau actually say that? Does he really believe that? Yes, and yes. But the context makes all the difference. What he said was “if the government did its job well and focused on growing the economy then the budget would eventually take care of itself. Each increase in GDP sees an increase in the government's coffers. Balancing the budget is simply a matter of ensuring that there is enough economic growth and therefore revenue to cover expenses.”

Well, put it that way and I guess budgets do balance themselves. Put another way – if you earned more money, you wouldn’t have to worry about your making you mortgage or car payment. It would cease to be a problem.

Point being, if you don’t hear the context you are left with a false impression.

In a more recent attack ad, the Harper Conservatives are playing more on that “budgets will balance themselves” line by ridiculing Trudeau’s comment that he wants to grow the economy “from the heart outwards”.

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Opponents (not sure if it was the Tories or NDP) labelled that “Care Bear economics”.  That’s a clever line so kudos to whomever came up with it, but again, it is misleading.

In the speech where he made that comment, he was talking about the heart of the economy being the middle class, and that therefore growing the economy should come from that heart; from the middle class.

Voters can make up their own mind on whether that’s good policy, but he’s not channelling his inner Care Bear here. There’s more substance to it than that.

Even more recently, we have an example of the same kind of distortion from the Liberals, of a comment by Stephen Harper. The Liberals, like all the parties that aren’t the Conservatives, have to pace themselves in respect to media buys, so for now at least, this one only lives online, but is being widely circulated – that’s how I saw it. Here it is:

Well, really no, it doesn’t say it all. Far from it. If it had said it all, it would show that when he said he is not going to hold everybody accountable for “their” actions, he wasn’t taking about “everybody”. Here’s the complete quote:  "These (Duffy and Wright) are the two people whose actions are responsible for this situation. That's why I've held them accountable and I'm not going to go around holding everybody else accountable for their actions".

If you just grab the last half of that sentence, as the Liberals have done here, you can see how it changes the meaning completely.

Know what’s a shame? That truth in advertising laws don’t apply to political ads. But they don’t and with the election campaign soon to ramp up we are undoubtedly going to see a lot more of them.

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The take away here – be careful of any quotes one party uses against another, and take it all with a grain, no a large handful, of salt.

Meantime, here’s to hoping whenever any party puts out an ad, that the media analyzes it to see if it is a distortion, and if it is found wanting in that regard, that they report that far and wide. 

You can "like" this blog above, rate it below, leave a comment, and ReTweets are always appreciated. So be a Care Bear - and share. Thanks for reading. 

 

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duncan@bissettmatheson.com (Duncan Matheson) Blog Sun, 23 Aug 2015 21:58:31 +0000
St. Marys Pow Wow an excellent example of non-verbal communications http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/st-marys-pow-wow-an-excellent-example-of-non-verbal-communications http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/st-marys-pow-wow-an-excellent-example-of-non-verbal-communications

Today, a guest blog by Sharon Pond, a senior associate here at BissettMatheson Communications. When she asked about writing a blog on the recent St. Mary’s Pow Wow, I told her it would need to be communications-focused. She said she could do that, and knowing her as the insightful, gifted writer that she is, I had no doubt. I think she nailed it.

A young woman walking past me said it best. As the drums beat loudly and the young native drummers chanted, she remarked to her companion: “I don’t know why, but when I hear that sound, all these emotions just well up inside me.”

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I was feeling the same way. I had gone to Fredericton to attend the 16th annual St. Mary’s First Nation Pow Wow, held last weekend on the city’s northside, next to the St. John River. I had been so moved by the pow wow experience, I felt compelled to share my impressions in this space.

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The setting was wonderful – perfect weather, which on the Saturday afternoon bought out what must have been 2,000 people, natives from across North America and many other non-native observers. The St. Mary’s First Nation Wolastoq Maliseet people made everyone feel welcome. As the grand entry of the dancers began under the main tent, I like just about everybody else pressed forward to see as much as possible. It was that moment which prodded me to consider the impact of the non-verbal communication happening all around me.

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Imagine five separate drum stations, taking turns playing as dancers of all ages moved in a circular pattern inside the tent, all dressed in elaborate native regalia, their gentle motion appealing and soothing. Children, teens, adults and seniors all moving their feet, going through various dances. My favorite was the “jingle dancers”, young women whose native dresses were adorned with hundreds of silver bells stitched to the fabric. The soft jingle of the bells as they danced was a treat for the ears.

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The visual spectacle and heart-pounding drums—in fact, just the privilege of witnessing an authentic pow wow—renewed my appreciation for native peoples. It was all speaking to me, communicating native pride and culture. I didn’t understand the words being sung by the drummers, but was certainly aware that each drum group was projecting a different tone, evoking a range of feelings. There was no doubt in my mind that everything happening around me was communicating, without traditional words but highly effective none-the-less, modern native values and pride originating in generations of native life, struggles and survival.


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Alan (Chicky) Polchies, one of the organizing committee members for the pow wow, gave identity to the voice I was hearing and feeling. “The drum beat is Mother Earth’s heartbeat, like we hear in the womb,” he said. “We began the summer pow wow to help revive and celebrate who we are as natives,” he continued. “We want people to see who we are. We’re all about peace and friendship; we are protectors of the earth.”

If you missed the St. Mary’s pow wow, there are numerous other pow wow opportunities over the summer where you can experience this truly visceral form of communication with the native culture. Check the New Brunswick pow wow trail 2015 schedule here, and enjoy. 

Thanks for reading. You can "like" this above, rate it, leave a comment, and, as always, ReTweets are appreciated. 

 

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duncan@bissettmatheson.com (Duncan Matheson) Blog Fri, 19 Jun 2015 01:03:18 +0000
When a political promise is not a real promise http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/when-a-political-promise-is-not-a-real-promise http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/when-a-political-promise-is-not-a-real-promise

 

The battle in the legislature’s Question Period over the New Brunswick government’s decision to eliminate the cap on nursing home fees has taken an unfortunate turn that will do nothing to enhance the credibility of politicians and will give citizens one more reason to tune out.

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It started with the Opposition Progressive Conservatives accusing the government of declaring war on seniors.

The Liberal government’s response has been to accuse the Opposition of fear mongering, and point out out that all they are going to do is require seniors who can afford it, to pay a little more.

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The problem is that the government has not clarified what “who can afford it” or “a little more” means. So in the absence of that kind of detail, seniors are worried that it may mean them, and they wonder if landing in a nursing home will eventually drain them of all their savings.

The Opposition keeps demanding answers with all the indignant rhetoric it can muster. The government, which says those details aren’t determined yet, keeps reiterating that this is only going to affect 13 per cent of nursing home residents, a suggestion that, if it is meant to reassure, is falling short.

This week, the Opposition changed its attack a bit, focusing more on comments Premier Gallant made during the election campaign to the annual meeting of the Coalition for Seniors and Nursing Homes Residents’ Rights. They say he promised them that he wouldn’t touch senior’s assets. He says he doesn’t recall saying that and challenged the Opposition to prove it. There apparently wasn’t any recording of the speech made, but after a day the Opposition produced the minutes from the meeting, which apparently does say he made that promise.  

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And this is where it goes downhill, with Energy Minister Don Arsenault saying, in essence, that it doesn’t matter whether Premier Gallant promised not to touch senior’s assets because even if he did say that, it wasn’t in writing in the election platform, so it doesn’t count. The Opposition is trying to embarass the government on this and rightly so as they should be embarrassed for trotting out such a lame excuse. But you know that old adage about how people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones - thanks to former Health Minister Ted Flemming the Opposition is in a glass house.

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When the Liberal Opposition went after then Conservative Premier David Alward over breaking a verbal promise on a perscription drug plan, Flemming's defence was something along the line of it not being a serious promise and the proof of that was that it wasn't included in the party's election platform.  

This is what political discourse in New Brunswick has been reduced to; the ability to squirm out of a verbal commitment on a technicality. No wonder people have become jaded, and why more and more citizens have given up on and have completely tuned out the political process. 

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Here’s a suggestion that could serve as a start of addressing this public disillusionment. Maybe from here on, in election campaigns, politicians should be required to read a disclaimer before every speech. Something that says: “Be advised that anything I might promise in my upcoming remarks should not be taken seriously unless it is repeated in our platform.” 

At least then New Brunswickers would have fair warning and would have one less reason to be disappointed later. 

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duncan@bissettmatheson.com (Duncan Matheson) Blog Thu, 23 Apr 2015 19:36:20 +0000
Thou shalt not discuss duality - what's that all about? http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/thou-shalt-not-discuss-duality-what-s-that-all-about http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/thou-shalt-not-discuss-duality-what-s-that-all-about

 

The response was strong and swift and the message unmistakable when Fredericton Mayor Brad Woodside suggested in a tweet that the costs of duality should be discussed. And that message wasn’t just for the mayor, it was for all of us - don’t you ever dare suggest we discuss duality.

Because he did bring it up, francophone mayors demanded an immediate apology, with the Mayor of Dieppe even suggesting a boycott of the upcoming Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference, apparently because Mayor Woodside is the President.  

Most New Brunswickers, including Mayor Woodside, are not against bilingualism. Neither are they bigots. Most of us understand that we are an officially bilingual province, and that duality is part and parcel of that. And most of us understand that it is enshrined in the constitution.

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But what many of us don’t understand is that it is somehow outrageous to suggest we even talk about it. It can’t be the fact it is in Canada’s Constitution that places it out of bounds. We talk about all manner of things that are in the constitution, all the time. How often has the Charter of Rights and Freedoms been openly discussed for instance, and that’s part of the Constitution?

But for whatever reason, any discussion of duality is out of order, out of bounds, never to be mentioned, at least not in polite company, and certainly not in public.

In a province that prides itself on openness and tolerance, why is that?  

I’m not talking about the dinosaurs that backed the old Confederation of Regions Party in the early 1990s. I’m talking about reasonable and fair New Brunswickers who understand and respect the necessity to protect the francophone culture, but don’t understand why, in a province that is on the verge of bankruptcy, we can’t consider common-sense solutions such as having English and French kids travel to their respective schools on the same bus.

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Why, these New Brunswickers wonder, are we running separate school buses over the same streets when there is room on one bus to accommodate everybody? There are other examples but this is the one that has become a symbol of what some see as the apparent waste of duality.

Do these duality-driven costs amount to much? I have no idea.

What I do know is that when you refuse to talk about these things people will sometimes jump to outrageous conclusions.  The costs may very well be grossly exaggerated, and probably are.

But until governments and politicians change their attitude and agree it is time they explained to New Brunswickers why, for example, we need to run two half-filled school buses when one would do the trick, these questions will remain, as will the outrageous conclusions.

How has refusing to address these issues worked out so far? 

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In his recent State of the Province speech, Premier Gallant made an impassioned plea for New Brunswickers to get onside with his government’s efforts to reduce spending. He said something to the effect that we all have to be part of it.

No question our financial situation is a mess and it has to be addressed. But what is compromising Premier Gallant's effort to get necessary buy-in from New Brunswickers is that many see his, and others, reluctance to even discuss duality in the context of saving money as an excuse not to be supportive.

The Premier’s phone conversation with Mayor Woodside where he told him duality is not on the table has apparently silenced the mayor. But it does nothing to satisfy a whole lot of other fair-minded New Brunswickers who are simply looking for answers to what they see as legitimate questions.

I have been working in communications all my adult life and I have not seen an example yet where a refusal to discuss something leads to a better understanding of it.

Thank you for reading. Now if you will, take a moment to “like” this blog above. You can also rate it below or leave a comment, and as always, ReTweets are appreciated.  

 

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duncan@bissettmatheson.com (Duncan Matheson) Blog Wed, 04 Mar 2015 00:11:50 +0000
Good communications does not fix bad behaviour http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/good-communications-does-not-fix-bad-behaviour http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/good-communications-does-not-fix-bad-behaviour

Crisis communications has been part of our company’s services for over 20 years. Over that time we have been called in to advise on all manner of situations. And every time, one of the first things we look at is whether the company or organization did or is doing something wrong. If so, our advice is always to fix it.

Our position is that if a company isn’t committed to proper, ethical behaviour, its problem is deeper than just a communications issue, so communications isn’t enough to fix it.

Which brings us to Sun Life and Bank of Montreal. Here are two multi-million dollar companies that had refused pleas from spouses of people who made poor, irrational financial decisions because they suffer from dementia.

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In one case a man with Alzheimer's disease cashed in insurance policies the couple had paid more than $17,000 in premiums into over the past 30 years, policies that were to pay $140,000 on his death. The man in question cancelled them for a cash settlement of less than two thousand dollars. Despite pleas from the man’s wife, including medical documentation showing he wasn’t in his right mind, Sun Life’s response was to hang tough.

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And with the Bank of Montreal, a similar story. A 76-year-old man with dementia borrowed $70,000 to purchase a new vehicle, even though he already had a car. That commitment was for seven years of $800 monthly payments. His wife tried to return the car, but because her husband refused to give her power of attorney, BMO said they couldn’t take it back. But meantime, he wasn’t making the payments.

So the car just sat there. After the man died, his widow tried again to return it, but rather than repossess it, the Bank of Montreal instructed its lawyers to go after her house.

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These are examples of companies behaving badly. Both cases have now been resolved, but the thing is, the resolutions came only after they got wind that CBC’s Go Public segment was going to expose this behaviour.

CBC did the story anyway, which is how I and I suspect many others heard about it, as it was on radio yesterday and The National last night.

In its letter to the spouse saying it would reinstate the insurance policies, Sun Life said it was doing it on compassionate grounds. Funny how the compassion only showed up after the CBC did.

Which brings us back to my point at the beginning of this blog, that if a company isn’t committed to acting ethically, no amount of communications is going to make everything all right.

These cases got resolved because they were going to become public. But what about the others, and there is no doubt there are and will be others? At a time when experts say Alzheimer's is only going to become more frequent, is the corporate policy of these companies, and others like them, to only exercise compassion when they are shamed into it, as was the case here?

If so, that’s pretty messed up, and will do precious little for their corporate reputations.

If you missed the Go Public item, it’s on the CBC website, right here.

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duncan@bissettmatheson.com (Duncan Matheson) Blog Tue, 24 Feb 2015 14:44:02 +0000
Are the parents of those protesting girls at FHS doing them a huge disservice? http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/are-the-parents-of-those-protesting-girls-at-fhs-doing-them-a-huge-disservice http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/are-the-parents-of-those-protesting-girls-at-fhs-doing-them-a-huge-disservice

 

Fifty-nine years ago this week, on December 1st, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery city bus to a white passenger. Parks’ protest sparked a chain of events that eventually led to the end of racial segregation. That day would later be included in the list of days that changed history.

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For Parks’ decision though, the immediate consequence was her arrest.  That’s the way protests go. They can lead to progressive change, and often do, whether it is a protest over racial discrimination, unsafe work conditions, social injustice or whatever, often those partaking realize there may, and most likely will be, a price to pay, and they make the conscious decision that on balance, it is worth it.

With this backdrop, flash ahead to today and the protest over the dress code and the absence of a sexual harassment policy at Fredericton High School. I hesitate to compare this with Rosa Parks, but not every protest is world changing, but in the world of these female students, apparently it’s a big deal.

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So power to them for standing up for what they see as a discriminatory policy. As is often the case in these things, the original purpose gets lost amid the over-the-top rhetoric including, in this case, the suggestion that with the dress code the school administration is nurturing a rape culture. But that’s beside the point.

What these students have yet to learn from history is that change doesn’t come easy, and those who lead the fight for change pay a price.

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In this case, that price is suspensions and banishment from extra-curricular activities. But while it is under review, it is the consequence the people in charge decided on. And just as it was the student’s decision to protest, it is the administrations’ decision how they respond to it.

I would have a lot more respect for the students if they either accepted what was doled out, or protested further that the punishment is out of proportion. They would probably find public support for that because it does look like the administration over-reacted.

But at least it would be them making those decisions. But instead, it has boiled down to their parents fighting their battles for them.

So we have students, in challenging the administration over what they perceive as an unfair policy, acting like mature adults in protesting it. But when the going gets a bit tough, they retreat like children, cry about the consequences of their actions and get mom and dad to take up the fight. Or maybe it is the parents injecting themselves into the battle.

Either way, what does this teach these students about dealing with life in the real world? That if they face something that is unfair, that their parents will be there to look after it for them?

I just listened to one of these parents on CBC radio who did just that. She said she hopes more parents would get involved. Not that the students themselves would make their case, but that more parents would get involved. 

We keep hearing from experts that we have a generation of young people who are incapable of dealing with adversity or failure because they have never had to.

When I was in junior high, someone did something and the teacher in the classroom said that unless whoever did it confesses, all the boys will be punished. Can’t remember what it was but the teacher determined a male was at fault. The apparent discrimination of that aside, we were given a choice of getting the strap or staying after school every day for a week.

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The discussion at home, and I expect in many homes, was around what we were going to do about it, emphasis on the “we”? No one’s parents got involved. No mom or dad went to the school to challenge the principal or the teacher. It was our problem and it was up to us to figure out how to deal with it.

A few years later, in high school, one day just about the whole school walked out to protest a decision that there would be no more school dances. I can’t remember what triggered that decision or how the whole thing played out, but again, it was our issue to deal with, and no ones parents got involved.

Times have changed. It is debatable but has it reallly been for the better? 

Thanks for reading. You can rate this blog below, Like it above, RT and/or leave a comment. Am I out to lunch on this, or bang on?  

 

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duncan@bissettmatheson.com (Duncan Matheson) Blog Tue, 02 Dec 2014 17:22:44 +0000
A most fitting Remembrance Day tribute http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/a-most-fitting-remembrance-day-tribute http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/a-most-fitting-remembrance-day-tribute

 

Like many Canadians, my thoughts this day go to our veterans, especially of course those of family. While my father was one of the many who went overseas, it is the service of my uncle Johnny that always caught my imagination most. He was on the front lines as part of the Cape Breton Highlanders when the Germans first used mustard gas. I remember the stories, never told by him but by other relatives, about how he and the others had to piss in their handkerchiefs and put them over their faces so they could breath and survive. A desperate act by men, many mere teenagers who by courage and circumstance, found themselves in a situation light years from the quiet lives they left behind and of which only some would return.

Maybe it is partly because of this but more I think because she is such a damned good writer, that I got goose bumps reading the story in today’s Fredericton Daily Gleaner by Jackie Webster. I have long admired Jackie’s writing, but her account today, telling the story of the Red Chevrons, is simply wonderful.

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(photo is of the late David M. Dickson and the late Nelson Adams, both of whom were part of the D-Day invasion forces.)

She wrote of the bond of the soldiers from New Brunswick who shared that experience of the Red Chevrons, the first contingent of Canadian troops to go overseas, and of the New Brunswickers who fought in D-Day. And how they would get together each year to share a glass, and remember. And about how their ranks, each year more diminished by age, until, as she ended the piece, “and now there are none”.

But before that last line there is exceptional writing, taking readers to those battlefields. Read this:

“When they gathered around the piano, belting out, in voices thinned by time, the war songs of their youth, they had much to be proud of. Gassed at Ypres, bloodied on the Somme, they have taken Vimy Ridge. They did not speak much of fallen friends. They spoke instead of the conditions in which they fought. The heat. The cold. The hunger. The lice. The mud. Most of all the stinking, all pervasive mud. And the sounds of exploding shells that made them think of hell. But out of that chaos, they forged a bond that made them, all of their lives, closer than brothers.”

But what really got me was Jackie’s use of a quote borrowed from those who were there at that first gas attack. “When hell had opened up its gates, when everybody broke and ran; with chaos the only constant, the Canadians stayed. We stayed and, by God, we held the line.”

How can any Canadian read that, and not be overcome with a sense of pride and wonder, especially when reflecting on the fact that many of these guys were barely out of their teens?

Jackie’s story captures that, and so much more, chronicling how that bond forged in that hell kept these boys together over the intervening years, until the years did what years do. Her story is such a fitting end to a remarkable group.

 

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duncan@bissettmatheson.com (Duncan Matheson) Blog Tue, 11 Nov 2014 14:29:53 +0000
Ghomeshi blew it on communications front too http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/ghomeshi-blew-it-on-communications-front-too http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/ghomeshi-blew-it-on-communications-front-too

 

When I blogged about the Jian Ghomeshi mess last week, I mentioned that I found it a fascinating study in crisis communications. The developments since then have made it even more compelling, especially the circumstances and misunderstanding that led to the whole thing going public.

Crisis communications 101 has a basic rule. It is don’t lie. In Ghomeshi’s now infamous Facebook post and by other details that have since emerged, it seems pretty obvious he did, to his bosses at the CBC, to Navigator (the crisis communications firm he hired), and to his fans and other Canadians who read his Facebook essay.

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It still isn’t clear whether Navigator wrote that Facebook entry, although the nature of the writing suggests a very strategic, professional touch, so probably so. But I can’t imagine they would have, had they known that the Toronto Star was about to blow it apart with a story in which four women alleged that Ghomeshi abused them.

Any crisis communications consultancy that got blindsided like that has every right to walk away, which is apparently how it went down.

As a crisis communications strategy, if you can call it that, that Facebook entry was, in retrospect as ill-advised as you can get. It was brilliant for that short window between its posting and the Toronto Star story, because it worked in positioning Ghomeshi as the victim of a jilted ex-lover and an ambitious freelance writer. But now it stands as testament of a man who tried to mislead everybody.

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But now, there is even more to suggest how stupid it was.

As a result of this story, I discovered Canadaland, the podcast site of said freelance journalist, a reporter named Jesse Brown. And from what I see he’s a damn good one. The site is a look at the business of journalism in Canada, sort of an on-line Canadian version of CNN’s Reliable Sources, but with an investigative journalism bent.

Brown is the reporter who was actually behind the story getting out.

Understandably nervous because he knew he would be attacked and quite possibly sued, he took what he had, the allegations of four women who say Ghomeshi sexually and physically abused them, to the Toronto Star, which of course has more resources to deal with lawsuit threats. The Star assigned one of their investigative reporters, Kevin Donovan, to work with him. So there was more digging, but the story was put on hold because they couldn’t prove the allegations by the four women they talked to, plus, they wanted to remain anonymous.

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What happened next is incredible. The timeline is important here as it speaks to why the story came out when it did. (The following is paraphrased from Brown’s latest podcast, which also offers up some interesting insight into the working environment on the Q show. You can listen to it here)

In June, Brown and Donovan confronted Ghomeshi and his lawyers with what they had, looking for his side of the story. The response was the threat of a lawsuit. But as well, this prompted Ghomeshi to go to CBC management and tell them that a story may come out that suggests he abused some women in non-consensual sex. He confessed about his strange sexual preferences, but insisted that it was always consensual and that if anyone says differently, it would be a lie.

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Then, as you can imagine, Ghomeshi likely checked the Toronto Star every morning, looking to see if they published anything. It wasn’t there and it wasn’t there.

Jump ahead to October 20th. Brown tells listeners to his podcast that he had information that, in his words, is a “monster story”, a huge revelation that will be worse than embarrassing.

Brown, considering the timing, assumes that this is what prompted Ghomeshi to present CBC management with the evidence that apparently he felt would exonerate him, but in fact that CBC saw what he showed them as the last straw, and fired him that weekend.

But here’s the kicker. Brown says when he was hinting at a monster story, it wasn’t about Ghomeshi at all, it was about CBC reporter Terry Milewski.

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As a result though, Ghomeshi got fired and posted his Facebook confessional, and this is what prompted the Toronto Star to run its story, which started the whole chain of events of more and more women coming forward, a police investigation, and now it has grown even bigger by opening up a whole dialogue about women and sexual abuse. But as Brown says, that Toronto Star story wasn’t imminent. If not for Ghomeshi assuming that October 20th podcast was a reference to him, none of this would ever have surfaced, at least not at this time.

Talk about the power of social and traditional media. This is a great example of the two communication forms complementing each other. And in the process, taking something that is very ugly, and transforming it into something that just might lead to some positive social change around the way women who are sexually abused are treated. Dark clouds and silver linings come to mind.   

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duncan@bissettmatheson.com (Duncan Matheson) Blog Mon, 03 Nov 2014 21:48:15 +0000
About that fracking moratorium promise http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/premier-gallant-s-first-real-credibility-test http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/premier-gallant-s-first-real-credibility-test

 

It’s fair to assume that many people who voted Liberal in the recent provincial election did so based on Brian Gallant’s campaign promise not to allow fracking until he’s convinced it is environmentally safe.  In fact their respective positions on fracking was the defining difference between the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives.

Some may have taken that promise seriously, but many others were convinced it was just a play for votes, and speculated that after realizing how desperate our financial situation actually is, and after a reasonable amount of time has passed, he would discover that fracking is environmentally safe after all. 

Many figured it would take a about a year.

Now, we may wonder if the time line may be moved up considerably. 

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The problem, and it is hard to imagine this comes as a surprise because it was made perfectly clear during the campaign, is that the potash mine in Penobsquis outside Sussex relies on natural gas supplied by Corridor Resources. Corridor gets that natural gas from 30 wells in the nearby McCully Fields, all fracked. And by the nature of fracked wells, they eventually run dry and new ones need to be fracked.

You can see the dilemma. If Premier Gallant sticks to his word of a province-wide moratorium on fracking, that would mean the natural gas to run the potash mine may run out or become prohibitevly expensive. PotashCorp New Brunswick’s General Manager says losing this energy source would have “profound implications”. Not sure what that means but the potash mine, with its brand spanking new facility, is a major employer in the Sussex region. I guess we are free to draw our own conclusions.

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Premier Gallant’s fracking moratorium pledge came into question recently when his Energy Minister Don Arsenault suggested the government might make an exception, maybe only have the moratorium for other parts of the province.  The Premier has distanced himself from that comment, but this problem isn’t going to go away anytime soon. And add to that, the potential lawsuit if Corridor has to stop operations. 

So far, the Premier is sticking to his guns. He says Corridor can continue to supply the mine from wells that have already been fracked, but it is unclear how long that will be a viable option. 

There may be another alternative, using a replacement fuel, but that would come at a big price both financially and environmentally because that replacement fuel would be imported oil.

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As an aside, this may be a dilemma for the environmentalists too. The natural gas from the past ten years of fracking replaced oil and all the greenhouse gases that ten years of its use would have produced. Would they really prefer a return to oil? But that’s another issue for another day.

It is apparent Premier Gallant has division within his cabinet on the moritorium issue. It seems pretty obvious his Energy Minister would make an exception for the potash mine in a New York minute. 

The now Opposition Tories have been very quick to tell voters “I told you so”. That may be premature, but you can bet they are not going to let up on it.

For the new Premier, there is no question it is a problem. The only question is how immediate a problem is it? 

Promises should mean something, and it is sad that many voters simply assume politicians break promises all the time. They don't. But sometimes the cost of keeping them is at the expense of what is best for the province.

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For example, former Premier Bernand Lord stubbornly keeping his ill-conceived promise to remove highway tolls has cost New Brunswick taxpayers dearly, and continues to do so, as cheques for the shadow tolls continue to be cut.

As a friend of mine once said - we would be setting a very dangerous precedent if we held politicians to the stupid promises they make to get elected. Wow that's cynical. But he makes a point.  

Did you find this blog worth reading? If so please consider "liking" it above, and/or "rating" it below, and a reminder RTs are always appreciated. Thanks.  

 

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duncan@bissettmatheson.com (Duncan Matheson) Blog Fri, 31 Oct 2014 01:29:54 +0000
About that decision of the government not participating in the CBC debate http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/about-that-decision-of-the-government-not-participating-in-the-cbc-debate http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/about-that-decision-of-the-government-not-participating-in-the-cbc-debate

I have been letting this blog slide while I was taking a bit of vacation, but back now and wow, no shortage of communications-related topics cropping up on the provincial election, now that it has entered its formal and final stage. Lots of grist for the mill from the Tories opening the purse strings for the city of Moncton which kind of flies in the face of the spending restraint message, to the ongoing  Hanwell liquor store fiasco, to the Liberal leader’s decision to return the most wealthy but at the same time hundreds of small businesses back to a higher tax rate, to the First Nations challenge to the forestry deal and on, and on.

Fort someone who writes on communications issues, this is like a mile-long buffet.

But I have to pick one, so - what do you think of the decision of the government to boycott the CBC debate because the Green Party and the People’s Alliance will be participating?

From a communications strategy perspective it is curious, and with a considerable risk attached. This risk includes the Premier and party coming off as unfair, or scared, or leaving the impression it is just an excuse to avoid being challenged on broken promises or the economy or whatever.

I have no idea what the reason is aside from the one given, but I do know this – political debates hardly ever serve the interests of the incumbent government because by their very nature, a debate puts the government on the defensive.  But they have long been a part of political campaigns and they aren’t going to go away any time soon, so incumbent governments deal with it. Not usually by walking away mind you, but by limiting the number of debates it will participate in and influencing the format, that sort of thing.

Maybe this was somewhat of a power play with CBC, for which the party has no love lost. But while the Tories are taking a risk by not participating, this is no victory for the CBC either, as a debate without the government involved threatens to be somewhat of a dud.

So far, the CBC is hanging tough, saying it will go ahead with or without the government. OK, but what if it does. Who will watch? Or more on point, will it make a difference.

There is the rare case where there is a knockout punch, like Brian Mulroney’s – “You did have an option sir, you could have said no” to John Turner on the issue of patronage appointments. That was a knockout, but that was in 1984 and there hasn’t been one since. The point being, debates rarely have any effect on an election.

So on that level, there shouldn’t have been a whole lot for David Alward to fear. But the biggest fear isn’t the knockout; it’s how he comes across in comparison to Brian Gallant and Dominic Cardy. For what it’s worth, I think he could hold his own, but that’s neither here nor there.

But what if it goes ahead without him? Then you have four party leaders all scoring points at the Premier’s expense, without him there to offer any counterpoint. The problem isn’t the audience hearing the debate – they don’t have big ratings anyway, the bigger concern would be the next day’s headlines.

The PC Party strategy is to go all in on resource development, especially fracking. And it would appear they don’t want to talk about much else. But without the Premier at the debate, it’s a safe bet that the pro-fracking argument will not be made, but arguments for not proceeding right away sure will, and they will not be challenged. How can that possibly serve the government’s re-election effort?

That’s the risk. Debates may be a no win prospect for most governments. But you know they have to really be serious about avoiding any situation where they can’t control the message, to give up an opportunity to defend itself or push Liberal leader Brian Gallant to take a stand on anything controversial, something that so far, he has managed to avoid.

As far as strategy goes, a no show by the Premier threatens to serve his opponents better than it serves him.  The optics are terrible, and the reason given, that it is because David Coon and Kris Austin will be there, is pretty lame. 

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duncan@bissettmatheson.com (Duncan Matheson) Blog Thu, 21 Aug 2014 19:04:45 +0000
Weird Al proves why I always liked him http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/weird-al-proves-why-i-always-liked-him http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/weird-al-proves-why-i-always-liked-him

 

I have always been a fan of Weird Al Yankovic. Always appreciated his sense of humour but even more so his turn of phrase. His parodies of pop songs were in many if not most cases, more inspired writing than the original. Also liked that he never felt any need to be vulgar. Everything he ever put out was family-friendly and genuinely funny.

But now, my appreciation of his talent has not gone up a couple of more notches, with not one but two of his new parodies because he takes on two of my pet peeves, poor grammar, and corporate speak.

The grammar one first. I’m not a purist in this regard (as evidenced by the first sentence in this paragraph) because I see English as an alive, ever-evolving language. Because of this, what is acceptable is a moving target. But that’s not license for anything goes; because you should have to know the rules before you break them. They teach us in school, or they used to anyway, that you should never begin a sentence with the word “and”. You can of course, but when Hemmingway did it, he knew what he was doing. Too many people today don’t. And that is a huge difference.

We’re talking literacy, and this is where the brilliance and delight of Weird Al has most recently shone.

Coming from the generation that made “I can’t get no satisfaction” one of the most famous song lines of all time this may sound a touch hypocritical, but it’s not. Jaggar did it for effect. Too many of those breaking grammar rules today simply don’t know any better.

Which brings us to Blurred Lines, a song by Robin Thicke that rose to Number 1 last year. It’s somewhat misogynistic and while the feminists are upset about that, others take issue with its poor grammar.

Enter Weird Al, who takes this somewhat dark song and turns it into a triumph of fun for those of us who still have an appreciation for proper English.

Here’s Word Crimes, the most entertaining grammar lesson ever.

If you enjoyed this blog, come back in a day or two for my blog on his parody of an old Crosby Stills and Nash song in which he turns his focus to corporate speak.   

You can rate this blog below, like it above, share, or add your thoughts below. Thanks for reading. 

 

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duncan@bissettmatheson.com (Duncan Matheson) Blog Tue, 22 Jul 2014 00:10:21 +0000
What? He wasn't serious? Who knew? Talk about your communications fail http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/what-he-wasn-t-serious-who-knew-1 http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/what-he-wasn-t-serious-who-knew-1

It’s no secret that I am not a fan of Sun News. I find their bias and lack of balance an affront to professional journalism. And yes I realize the CBC has its biases as well, but not anywhere to the scale that Sun does.

This blog is about a communications fail that is actually pretty funny. And it is at Sun News’ expense.

It has to do with an on-air interview they did with Scott Vrooman. Vrooman is a Canadian economist turned comedian working in Los Angeles. I wasn’t familiar with him but some may know him from his TV show Picnicface or from his character as a right wing commentator on This Hour Has 22 Minutes. He has also written for CBC Radio’s This is That.  

The reason I enjoyed his Sun interview so much isn’t because he is funny, but mainly because the people at Sun were so eager for someone, apparently anyone to interview who spoke ill of the CBC, that they didn’t get that he was being sarcastic.

In fact they kept the interview on their site apparently until somebody told them. Then they took it down, pretending I guess that it never happened. But it did, and it is a delight.

I’m pleased to copy it here, but first you should read his essay that prompted a producer at Sun to call him for the on-air interview in the first place. It’s something he wrote for iPolitics more than two years ago, prompted by Conservative MPs who had presented a petition calling for an end to taxpayer funding of the CBC.

While Sun didn’t get that it was dripping in Stephen Colbert-like sarcasm, I’m sure you’ll have absolutely no trouble. Enjoy http://www.ipolitics.ca/2011/12/08/what-not-to-fund-the-cbc/

So based on that, Sun News lined up the interview.  Here you go.

After Sun discovered Scott wasn’t being serious, and in fact was kind of making fun of them, they removed the interview from the site. This prompted him to write an open letter, asking they repost it. The letter is pretty funny too. http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2014/05/28/why_did_sun_news_network_censor_my_comments_on_the_cbc.html

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duncan@bissettmatheson.com (Duncan Matheson) Blog Wed, 25 Jun 2014 00:54:28 +0000
My experience researching elevator speeches http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/my-experience-researching-elevator-speeches http://bissettmatheson.com/index.php/blog/entry/my-experience-researching-elevator-speeches

In advance of one of our recent media training workshops one of the participants asked if I could spend some time on elevator speeches.

We pride ourselves on customizing our workshops to best meet the needs of participants, so as long as it is communications related, we do this. Usually it is a request to focus on one media or the other, or crisis situations, or how to go about getting good publicity, that kind of thing.

This is the first time we were asked to spend some time on elevator speeches.

What we teach about messaging are skills that are quite transferable from dealing with media to public meetings to one-on-one, and of course elevator speeches would be included.

But I wasn’t terribly comfortable that there aren’t specifics to elevator speeches I wasn’t aware of, so as part of my preparation I hit Google to see if there were any words of wisdom or techniques I should be aware of.

I did find a bit to add to my content but what struck me more than anything else is the amount of crap I found. Some of the advice defied common sense and it was obvious whoever wrote of this stuff had no clue whatsoever about effective communications.

I actually read that in an elevator speech, the most important thing is to make sure you highlight your biography, where you went to school, who you worked for, list your accomplishments, yadda yadda yadda. Can you imagine? Other advice was along the same line. This coming from people who apparently own or work in media consultancies.  That’s scary.

The problem with this, of course, is that people without a communications background may believe it.

I know it’s impossible but as I read from some of these sites I couldn’t help wishing there was some kind of standard people who purport to be authorities on a subject have to meet.

The take away, and no surprise here, is don’t believe everything you read. Or, maybe more on point, if it sounds stupid, that’s because it is.     

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duncan@bissettmatheson.com (Duncan Matheson) Blog Tue, 24 Jun 2014 02:22:02 +0000