Communications Strategy Tag - BissettMatheson Communications Sun, 19 Nov 2017 14:17:16 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Concerned that social media is getting away from you? Here's help

When I left the media to do broader based communications 20-plus years ago, social media was just sparkle in some nerd’s eye. Few companies even had websites – in fact thanks to one of our earliest clients, we were one of the first local communications companies to have one (Thanks Glenn and Kim).  But we had little clue what to do with it.


Our focus then, as it is now, was on developing communications strategies to help clients position themselves with the right image and messages, and if they ended up in do-do up to their eyeballs, to help them weather the storm with their reputation as intact as possible.

None of that has changed. But of course what has changed over the years is the increased emphasis on social media. Back when we started, social media would be an afterthought in any communications strategy if it found its way there at all - a footnote at best.

Being old school, I still don’t see social media as the be-all or end-all. But I certainly see where it holds an ever-increasing role in any communications plan, and we wouldn’t for a minute ever suggest a communications strategy to anybody that didn’t have an increasingly heavy social media component. 

What I find exciting now is developing plans where the traditional and social media components are tailored to complement each other. The synergy there can be powerful.


The challenge for us, and I expect for many of our contemporaries, is keeping up. We’re good at strategy, but we don’t pretend to be on top of social media. If it stopped changing we might have had a hope, but since that’s not going to happen, for the sake of our clients we searched out help; someone who could bring that element.


We found one of the best in Jeff Roach and his Saint John based company Sociallogical.  We started working with Jeff after I took his course on social media last year. It was quite excellent in helping me better understand what social media can and can’t do – strengths, weaknesses, how best to use it to advance your business, that kind of thing.

I believe that even if you have someone who does your social media for you, it’s still good to understand more about it yourself. For one thing, it puts you in a better position to know if you are getting all you can out of your social media efforts, not to mention budget.

I am mentioning this because next week Jeff is going to repeat the course that I took. I am not plugging it for any other reason than I believe in it, having seen the value first hand, because some of you may be interested, and because it is a good fit for a blog based on communications, something I intend to get back to now that the election is behind us.

If you want to check it out Jeff’s course:

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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Wed, 28 Oct 2015 00:28:42 +0000
With 3 days to go, a look at the strategies


With the election campaign finally into its last few days, it’s interesting to look at what strategies worked, what ones failed, and what ones failed so badly they actually backfired.

We won’t know for sure of course until we see what happens, but rather than wait, a few observations, strictly for what they are worth. Opinions may vary. 


The biggest strategy failure may be Thomas Mulcair playing it too safe, moving to the centre and in the process alienating some of the NDPs traditional base, and by promising a balanced budget as a way to show Canadians the party can be fiscally responsible. This let the Liberals appear as the real alternative to Harper. Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. After all, he was leading the polls, if we can remember that far back.


Harper's first strategy was to base his reelection bid on the economy and security. But when that wasn't resonating, he needed a Plan B. Enter Australian strategist Lynton Crosby and wedge politics, and consequently the niqab became an issue. Then he doubled down with his tip line that encourages neighbours to watch for “barbaric cultural practices”, a measure aimed at tapping into a perceived fear of Muslims. His politics of division may have worked at first, especially in Quebec and to the detriment of Mulcair but curiously not of Trudeau. It is yet to be determined whether Harper took it too far, to his own detriment.


As an aside, Crosby has now quit. According to one Tory insider it was because he didn’t like Harper tapping into the Ford family to boost his campaign. Others suggest he left to protect his brand, not wanting it to get out that his dirty tricks perhaps don’t always work.  

But maybe the greatest strategic failure has been the Tories “he’s just not ready” campaign aimed at Trudeau. As we all well know, those “nice hair though” ads started airing in what advertisers call saturation rotation long before the formal campaign began. It probably seemed like a good idea at the time, given that a similar tactic doomed both Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff before they even got started.


These ads lowered our expectations of Trudeau. This combined with another strategic mistake – the ridiculously long campaign, allowed people to get to know him a bit more, and see that in debates and elsewhere, he wasn’t the disaster the Conservative campaign had told us he would be.  As Tory strategist Kory Teneycke said about Trudeau prior to the first debate "I think that if he comes on stage with his pants on, he will probably exceed expectations." Strategically, that was a dumb comment to make. Not entirely inaccurate, because the Conservative campaign did lower those expectations. But that was a very stupid thing to do because when Trudeau did show up not only with pants, but with a performance that was at least on par with his opponents, it came as more of an eye-opener than would otherwise have been the case. It prompted voters to take notice.



The best strategy has been the Liberals'. There were some hiccups at first, in fact even before the campaign started, in Trudeau’s support for Bill C-51, the anti-terrorism legislation. This put him at an immediate disadvantage, compared to Mulcair’s forceful opposition to it. It showed Trudeau as putting politics ahead of principle, based on polls at the time that showed widespread support for the measures, and a fear that if he didn't support it Harper would make him look like he was soft on security. But as the campaign went on, Trudeau’s stock rose. This because he didn't slip as the Conservatives told us he would.

Mainly though, he managed to differentiate himself from both the Conservatives and NDP with his position to run three years of deficits to finance a stimulus program to provide jobs. With that strategy, he emerged as more of an alternative to Harper than Mulcair is.

And that is exactly where you want to be when polling tells you that the vast majority of Canadians want change.

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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Thu, 15 Oct 2015 20:41:02 +0000
Targeting Muslims may be good strategy, but it's the worst kind of pandering


I don’t much care for niqabs, but I can understand why some Muslim women want to wear them, and really, whether I like them is irrelevant. But if the government is going to dictate what women can’t wear, I think they should extent their rules to men.


Let me go on record saying I have been considerably more offended by those people who would wear their pants down around their arse showing more underwear than I want to see, than I have ever been by someone wearing a veil over her face. So if the Harper government wanted to ban ways of dressing, why didn’t he go after that?

But that’s not really what this is about is it? This is an election strategy. This was about getting a stalled campaign reignited. Never mind that there have only been two Muslim women since 2011 who refused to take their citizenship oath because it would require them to remove their veil, now it is somehow a big deal.


Related, if the government really thinks “barbaric cultural practices” are a problem in this country, they had ten years to implement measures to deal with it. Isn’t it odd that just two weeks before an election they all of a sudden found it necessary to set up a special tip line, I guess because 911 is too, what, generic? Not specific enough to a particular religion?  

This is all of course the handiwork of Lyndon Crosby, the Australian communications consultant who makes his money by figuring out ways to divert voter attention away from the real issues by getting voters to focus on something else. Inevitably that “something else” is a minority group that he would help his client divide the population over, exploiting any latent bigotry he could find.


Here’s how Boris Johnson, who hired Crosby to help him get elected mayor of London describes what Crosby told him.

"If you're losing an argument, if you're in a weak position, throw a dead cat on the table. Everyone will shout 'Jeez, mate, there's a dead cat on the table!'; in other words they will be talking about the dead cat, the thing you want them to talk about, and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief."

To put that in the current context, the “dead cat” is the niqab so he gets the country thinking and talking about that, so they aren’t thinking about the economy, jobs, the environment, or anything of, you know…..substance.

The sad part is that this strategy not only diverts attention from what matters, but in the process victimizes, in this case, Muslims by playing into the stereotype that they are barbaric and certainly not of “old stock”. In other words – they’re not like us.


Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and former PC Premier Danny Williams, among others, have called the Conservatives out for what they are doing, and good on them for that. But the fact remains that Stephen Harper is OK with using wedge politics to turn Canadians against Muslims for the sake of votes.

The point is that we have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms in this country that says women get to decide for themselves what to wear or not wear. It’s not up to the state to decide how women should dress to take a citizenship oath or any other time.

The fact the Harper government decided to target Muslims may be good strategy, but it’s the worst kind of pandering.

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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Wed, 07 Oct 2015 01:34:08 +0000
Harper, Republican tactics, and the low information voter


It is interesting to watch how the Harper Conservatives are taking a page out of the Republican playbook, not just for the campaign but also over the past few years. The basis is appealing to what American politicos refer to as the “low information voter”.


It’s a concept I first heard about after reading George Lakoff’s book Don’t Think of an Elephant. It was recommended to me after I mentioned I could never figure out why Republicans would get elected, mainly on the strength of poor people voting for them, despite the fact that the Republican Party’s policies were decidedly anti-poor people. The Republican track record of cutting food stamps, school nutrition programs, the minimum wage, welfare and the like hurt the disadvantaged, but still the vast majority of them consistently vote Republican. It never made sense to me, so I was told to read the book.

It was a fascinating read. In it Lakoff, a Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics, explains why. He’s an expert on language and communications in the context of how our brains work, and his point is that Republicans long ago figured out how to frame the language in a way that appeals to people despite their policies being at odds with their best interests. His premise is that people don’t vote their financial interests, they vote their values.


It works because the people it targets are what are known as low information voters. I don’t mean to imply they are only poor or uneducated people as that’s not the case. The common denominator is that they are people who don’t follow politics, will never examine anything a politician says, and will draw conclusions on who they will vote for on the flimsiest of rationale. They are also the most susceptible to being misled. Which is what candidates bank on.


The Harper Conservatives have adopted this. An example is how they give their bills names that sound good but disguise what they really do.

Some examples:

     The act that repealed nearly a dozen of the most significant environmental laws in the country is called the Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act

      Bill C-51, which sanctioned government spying on its citizens with virtually no oversight, was called the Anti-terrorism Act.

      The Protecting Canada’s Seniors Act, has nothing to do with protecting seniors; it’s about tougher sentences for offenders.

      The Union Transparency Act has nothing to do with transparency, and all to do with adding enormous amounts of red tape in order to interfere with a union’s ability to function.


  •       And perhaps the biggest example, the Fair Elections Act, which actually makes elections less fair by making it harder for many to vote, forbids the Chief Electoral Officer from reporting on any election cheating that may surface, and changes election financing in ways that give the Conservative Party an edge.

In all of these examples, the title makes it sound like motherhood, and for people who don’t bother going beyond the name, any government that brings in laws for transparency, protecting seniors, promoting jobs and prosperity, plus fairer elections – well, how could you not be in favour of that?

It’s Republican tactics, moved north.


An even more recent example is Stephen Harper’s comments on the refugee crisis, where he is telling his audiences that both Trudeau and Mulcair want to throw open the doors and bring in tens of thousands of Syrian refugees with no security screening whatsoever, putting our country in danger.

Neither Trudeau nor Mulcair ever suggested that, but it doesn’t matter. To the low information voter, that sound-bite may resonate. 

In election campaigns, as in war, truth really is the first casualty.

The other parties aren’t snow white in this area either, as they try; it’s just that they aren’t as good at it.  

By the way if you are wondering about the title of Lakoff’s book – if someone tells you not to think of an elephant – you can’t. 

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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Mon, 28 Sep 2015 01:11:13 +0000
Seniors 1 Gallant Liberals 0 - But where from here?

I heard it said once – “Whatever you do, don’t piss off seniors. They have nothing better to do than figure out ways to make your life miserable”.

An over simplification for sure, but I expect there is a gem of wisdom in that, that Premier Gallant may take to heart from here on.


The Premier and his Social Development Minister Cathy Rogers had been fighting what now appears to have been an unwinnable battle to change the fees charged for nursing homes.  They aren’t conceding it was bad policy, only bad communications.  What they regret, they say, and the reason they have now abandoned the whole thing, is that it caused seniors undue stress.


It’s safe to assume it caused the Premier and his Minister a lot of stress as well.

But what’s the take away here? That the government is weak for flip-flopping, or strong enough to admit a mistake and fix it? Or, as CBC host Terry Seguin asked Minister Rogers – that if any group gets organized and sustains enough opposition, that the government will back down?  Her response avoided a direct answer.


I guess one take away is never get between a senior and his or her money. It is true that the Gallant government did a poor job of communicating the proposed nursing home changes, and it didn’t help that the Opposition Tories exaggerated its effects at every opportunity.


When those same Tories were the government, they brought in the Shared Risk pension plan, and that change was better explained. But still, despite the fact the effect on seniors would be minimal if anything at all, the seniors mobilized and they went to war. To its credit, the Alward Tories didn’t back down and now the province has a pension plan that is sustainable for all civil servants, including those pensioners. But who’s to say that seniors backlash wasn't at least partly responsible for the Conservatives landing on the opposition side of the legislature.


Seniors making the New Brunswick government back down has somewhat of a tradition in the province. It may not have worked on the pensions issue, but I remember back in the late 80’s or 90’s when the government of the day announced changes to residency rules for New Brunswick snowbirds. Long story short, the seniors would have none of it and fought it until the government caved.

But back to this week’s 180-degree turn on the nursing homes issue. As Premier Gallant so rightly points out, the economic challenges remain.


So what now?  We know serious cuts are still needed. School closures (assuming the legal niceties are attended to), hospital closures, civil service cuts, program cuts? People will protest. Will they take inspiration from the senior’s victory this week and put up more of a fight than they otherwise might?


And what about the government? Will this slap down make them gun shy about future restraint announcements? They spent a lot of political capital on this one, and got nothing for it. And no, the announcement of working with seniors to develop a sustainable aging strategy isnothing more than face-saving.


The Gallant government seems to have this uncanny knack for digging itself into a hole. As Britney Spears so eloquently put it – Oops, they’ve done it again. Well, that’s not exactly what she said, but close, you get the drift.

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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Fri, 11 Sep 2015 02:11:37 +0000
Syrian crisis shows definitive difference between Harper and the others - but to who's advantage?

For 24 hours the other day, the most trending topic on Google by Canadians was “How to sponsor a Syrian”. It continues to rank high. That speaks volumes to the Canadian reaction to the Syrian crisis, forced into our collective consciousness by that terrible but powerful photograph.

And because it grabbed our country’s attention, it also took over the election campaign over the last few days.

All the leaders, while genuine in their emotional response to that little boy’s image and what it represents, are as well trying to define how their party’s position is the one that best lines up with what Canadians desire. And that process underlines a definitive difference between Stephen Harper’s Conservatives and the other parties.


The communications challenge may be greatest for Harper because despite his speaking points, the evidence is that his government's response to the Syrian refugee crisis has been inadaquate. Under the program, Canada has accepted less than 2400 Syrian refugees, or about one-fifth of the number it pledged to accept quite some time ago. So upping the number in the midst of the increased focus on the crisis may not be taken too seriously. It’s a credibility thing.


The bigger difference though, is in regards to our military intervention.  Harper takes issue with the other parties because they oppose the policy of Canadian air strikes against ISIS. Harper’s point is that humanitarian aid without a military dimension isn’t enough.

According to the polls a majority of Canadians support Canada’s military effort against ISIS targets, but in tying the Syrian refugees crisis to ISIS he is not being totally truthful.

But it may work for him. Because it is easy for voters to grasp that ISIS is evil, so therefore attacking them in Syria is good.


That’s a much easier concept to grasp than the truth that the refugee crisis is the result of that country’s brutal dictator Bashar al-Assad mercilessly barrel bombing his own citizens over four the past years in retaliation for rebel forces trying to end his oppressive regime. Much easier to just blame ISIS.

It is complicated. The upheaval caused by the ongoing civil war created an opportunity for ISIS to establish a stronghold in parts of Syria to forward their particularly nasty brand of intolerance against anyone who isn’t exactly like them. But al-Assad has killed many times more Syrians than ISIS has. And by launching air strikes against ISIS, Canada is actually helping al-Assad’s dictatorship and by most accounts the air strikes are doing little if anything to help the Syrians caught in the middle.

But especially in an election campaign, the need is to keep it simple because most voters will not take the time to truly understand anything complicated.

So Harper is trying to take advantage of this by being critical of his challengers for their position against our military intervention. And given that it is against ISIS, it’s an easier case to make than trying to explain the nuances, as referenced above. 


The Liberals, NDP, and Greens realize that explaining why our air strikes against ISIS in Syria isn’t black and white is a non-starter, so they probably won’t even go there. Instead, they will try to keep the focus on the refugee effort. On that front, they know Harper is vulnerable.


The unknown is whether the interest Canadians are now showing for this issue will continue throughout the rest of the campaign.


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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Mon, 07 Sep 2015 03:06:35 +0000
Is the Fair Elections Act giving Stephen Harper an unfair advantage?


When Prime Minister Harper went to the Governor General over the long weekend to trigger the longest federal election campaign since John A. MacDonald in 1872, he inferred it was a decision with safeguarding of taxpayer money in mind. Not to put too fine a point on it, but if that didn’t make his nose grow, nothing will.


In fact, this campaign will cost taxpayers many millions more than any previous campaign, because of its length combined with the new rules brought in by Harper’s majority government.

The salient point is that Harper, a brilliant tactician if nothing else, is gaming the system.  To him, any amount of taxpayer dollars is a small price to pay for reelection.

He has set the table, through what in true Orwellian fashion his government has called the Fair Elections Act.


The Conservative Party is overflowing with money, and the rule changes they pushed into law on spending limits allows them to use more of it than election spending rules ever allowed before. The other parties could too of course, but that’s a moot point because they don’t have as much.  But to suggest it is party money not taxpayer money isn’t true. Taxpayers, you and me, will subsidize by fifty to sixty cents, every dollar spent. We are talking tens of millions of dollars here.

But that’s only part of how Harper has changed the rules to give his party an advantage.


Pretty much everybody with expertise in this area agrees that the Fair Elections Act will result in voter suppression, particularly among demographic groups that aren’t inclined to vote Conservative. The act also makes it illegal for the Chief Electoral Officer to encourage people to vote. This means it is now illegal for his office to do the outreach it has done in the past to encourage voting by groups who don’t usually bother. The biggest example of this is the Student Outreach Program designed to encourage students to vote when they turn 18. In 2011, 500,000 Canadian students voted through this program. But now, with the Fair Elections Act, it is illegal for the Chief Electoral Officer to do anything that would encourage anyone to vote. Does that sound like a restriction you would want in a progressive democracy?

But does it matter? This is where the communications becomes especially interesting.

Harper and his advisors are banking on the fact that generally speaking Canadians are indifferent. That this is about process and they believe most Canadians don’t care about process. They are banking on the fact our democracy being eroded is a non-issue compared to things like unemployment, tax levels or the economy.  They may be right. Maybe if you are unemployed it is hard to be concerned that some fellow Canadians may be deprived of their right to vote, or that scientists are being muzzled or that any of the other ethically questionable initiatives of this government matter.

So the Harper strategy is to focus on discrediting his opponents through wall-to-wall attack ads while trying to convince us his party is the best choice for the economy and to keep us safe from terrorists. The problem is that the track record shows that Harper’s economic record isn’t good, and that Canadians aren’t buying into the manufactured fear tactic.

But that’s just so far and it is going to be a long campaign.


(cartoon credit, Brian Gamble, Globe & Mail)

His communications challenge is to convince us that we need him. And not all that many of us. All he needs to win is to pick up 10 percent support to add to his base. And that, it goes without saying, is quite do-able, especially with the way he has changed the rules to help make it happen.   

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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Mon, 03 Aug 2015 21:10:04 +0000
Is the Senate proving itself irrelevant?

There has been a lot of talk since Mike Duffy, Pam Wallin and company, and more recently the Auditor General’s report, about what to do about the Senate. It’s kind of the same talk parents have about an out of control teenager, but with fewer viable options.


Constitutionally, it would be a tough thing to abolish the senate because every province would have to agree and based on our history of provincial cooperation, we can’t even agree on lunch. But nevertheless Tom Mulcair and the NDP, perhaps sniffing some political opportunity here, have decided to make abolition an election issue. Strategically, playing to people’s frustrations is usually a pretty rewarding way to go.


In this case he is getting help from where you would least expect it – many of the very senators who have been identified by the Auditor General as making claims on taxpayer money that they shouldn’t have. By continuing to shoot themselves in the foot by blaming the Auditor General rather than taking any smidgen of responsibility, they have made it about credibility.

All those who feel the senators have more credibility in this than Auditor General Michael Ferguson, raise your hands. Not seeing any.


For what it’s worth, I was never for abolition. I always saw value in the senate’s function as a chamber of sober second thought – a forum for careful reflection on legislation that passed through the partisan House of Commons, by a group that could put their partisan affiliations aside in the best interests of the country.


Well, that theory was blown out of the water just this week when the Conservative majority in the Senate passed Bill C51, the anti-terrorism act. If ever there was a piece of legislation that cried out for sober reflection, it was this one.


Nearly 250,000 Canadians spoke out against this bill in the weeks leading up to this week’s vote. Former Prime Ministers, the Canadian Bar Association, members of the judiciary, academics who are experts in terrorism, experts in privacy, civil liberties groups, and the list goes on. The public support it enjoyed when it was first introduced on the heels of the shootings on Parliament Hill eroded after people educated themselves on what was actually in it. One of the biggest criticisms is the assault it represents on civil liberties without providing any added level of security, and with a lack of oversight. That oversight part alone should have given the senate pause, but partisanship prevailed. It was rubber-stamped.

This begs the question just what does the senate actually do that benefits Canadians? I’m hard pressed to think of anything. 

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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Fri, 12 Jun 2015 01:19:53 +0000
When governments break promises


Back when I was a reporter covering the Richard Hatfield government I remember a day when it concluded that it couldn’t keep an election promise it had made. So they broke it.


I can’t remember what the specific promise was, but here’s the thing. They held a news conference to apologize to the people of the province and explain why they were breaking it. In other words, they took breaking a promise seriously.


Contrast that with the Brian Gallant government. Yesterday, the CBC broke the news that the Gallant government is going to break two election promises, to give tax breaks to those looking after seniors and people with special needs in their home, and to provide daycare subsidies for low and middle-income families.


But rather than any kind of contrition or explanation, when asked why these items weren’t included in the department budget after they were promised, Education and Early Childhood Minister Serge Rousselle replied “Can you read me that part?” This suggests he either wasn’t aware these were promises made, or like his leader on the issue of nursing home costs two weeks previous, a suggestion that if it wasn’t in writing it doesn’t count.  

Either way, it is a sad commentary, when promises are taken so lightly the Minister in charge wasn’t even aware of them, or that it might have been a verbal one so could be even more easily dismissed.

The problem isn’t simply breaking a promise. Governments do that. Sometimes there is a good reason for it, sometimes not so much.

The problem is that governments don’t even seem to care anymore.


But how many times can party leaders go to the well with “My word is my contract” as David Alward did before his party broke some of its promises, or “We’re going to keep our promises by making promises we can keep”, as Gallant kept repeating during the last campaign.

Breaking a promise is one thing, but to have so little respect for voters to not even explain why and in some cases even pretend it wasn’t really a promise, or make some weasely after-the-fact changes to it, makes it that much worse.


It’s sad because it just adds one more reason for the public to be cynical, to feel they have been played once again. It increases the disconnect between the people and the process, and provides yet one more reason why the credibility of politicians is just one notch above that of psychics.

Politicians should be concerned about this, but they don’t seem to be. Otherwise the communications around breaking a promise would reflect that by taking responsibility for it, explaining why, and showing that it wasn’t a decision taken lightly.

By not handling the communications around breaking a promise this way, the message they send instead, is one of indifference. 


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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Thu, 21 May 2015 01:35:56 +0000
The PMO's trifecta of blunders in Iraq is a communications fiasco


When a company or organization does something it shouldn’t, and its reputation has taken a hit, it’s usually because of a lapse in judgment. In these cases a sincere apology and a genuine effort to put things right is enough to address the issue.

The bigger mistake is when the guilty party refuses to admit it did anything wrong, offers a half-assed apology, or worst of all, tries to avoid responsibility by lying.

Its not unusual to see a company or organization commit one of these sins, sometimes two, but when it is three, it can almost always be traced back to terrible management, incompetence, or arrogance. And usually coupled with inexperience.

So it is surprising that none other than the Prime Minister’s office committed the latest trifecta.


First, during the Prime Minister Harper’s visit to Iraq last week, the PMO ignored a Department of National Defense directive not to publicly show the faces of Special Forces personnel by doing just that in videos prepared for purely partisan purposes.

If it was an honest mistake, it should have been immediately admitted with an appropriate, unqualified apology. It still would have been bad, especially given that the PMO was told about this security protocol in two separate briefings before the trip. But the way the Prime Minister’s Office handled it only made it worse, much worse.

There is a lesson here in responsible, ethical communications. Consider how it played out, and see if you don’t agree that at every turn the PMO dug the hole deeper.


When criticism of showing the faces of Canadian soldiers on anti-ISIL missions was made, the PMO first brushed it off, saying they hadn’t violated any security rules.

When pushed further, the PMO said the Department of National Defense cleared the videos for use.

The DND was quick to say absolutely no way would they ever allow such a thing as it puts the soldiers in additional and unnecessary danger.

That was lie Number 1.

When they were cornered on that, they continued to try to minimize the breach, saying there were concerns over “a few specific images” and so they took the video down from the Prime Minister’s website so the protocols could be reviewed. and after a second review it was decided the videos should never have been posted.

That was lie Number 2.

There was never any second review. The protocols are crystal clear. The faces of Special Forces personnel cannot be shown. No exceptions.


In short, the PMO blew it big time by posting the videos, and then made matters worse first by denying they did anything wrong, then by their inability to be honest in dealing with it, and then falling short with their weasel-like apology.

There’s a number of effective communications rules that were ignored here, but even more basic, it goes back to what our mothers taught us, or at least tried to - when you mess up, fess up, and above all, be honest.

Isn’t it funny how doing the right thing is also the effective communications thing? The PMO has yet to learn this.  Or maybe it just did. 

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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Mon, 11 May 2015 04:36:34 +0000
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.


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.


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.  


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.


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. 


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 Matheson) Blog Thu, 23 Apr 2015 19:36:20 +0000
Is Premier Gallant crazy like a fox? A look at the communications around the seniors and nursing homes issue


Is Premier Gallant crazy like a fox, really doesn’t know, or is he simply bad at communications? Either way, he’s got seniors worried about their futures, over his budget measure of removing the cap of $113 a day for residing in a nursing home.

The government says the vulnerable will continue to be protected but that they want those who can afford to pay a little more to do so.  But the lack of any kind of substantive response in the face of questions, from the Opposition and from organizations that represent seniors, has done nothing to alleviate these concerns.

The government accuses the Opposition of fear mongering, and no question the rhetoric on this is in overdrive.


Interim Opposition leader Bruce Fitch calls it an “attack on seniors”. That’s mild compared to comments from the NDP’s Dominic Cardy who calls it an attack on the most vulnerable, adding “New Brunswick seniors have worked hard their whole lives to build up their own contingency funds and are now having them stolen by the Liberal government”.

That may be a gross exaggeration, but it is consistent with what is being said on social media by the hundreds.


In Question Period, the Opposition has been pushing – asking exactly how much money does the government want to collect from seniors through this policy change? Responses range from the Premier saying that will all come out when the legislature reviews the department’s estimates, to Social Development Minister Kathy Rogers saying those policies haven’t been developed yet.


Again, nothing there to put seniors worries over this to rest.

There was an interesting back and forth during Question Period between the Premier and Fitch yesterday on this business of the details being held back until Estimates. Here’s an abbreviated version:

Gallant: We will be glad to go into detail about the costs during estimates

Fitch: He is hiding secret numbers that he cannot or will not give today. It is a general question that should be answered here in question period.

Gallant: I have been the Leader of the Opposition, and I have asked questions that would be similar, to get the numbers during question period. I can tell you that I was told I would have to wait for estimates.

Fitch: When the Premier was in Opposition, he continued to say: I will do government differently. If he is accusing us of hiding behind the estimates, he is doing exactly the same, and we expected more.

So what we have here is the Opposition saying – you are as bad as we were, and that we expected you to be better. Really?

Not sure who wins that little bit of sparing. But back to the more important point.


The government’s explanation is that all this amounts to, is asking those who can afford it to pay a bit more for nursing home care to do so. That idea isn’t flying.  In the absence of solid information, middle class seniors are wondering if they will be considered capable of paying more and if so, how much will the government take, and will all their savings eventually be depleted?


There are only a couple of reasons why the government would make this budget announcement and then let seniors spin in the wind while waiting to see whether they will be spared. It’s either because they haven’t worked out those details yet, as the Minister suggests, or because the Premier’s strategy is to allow them to continue to think the worst, and then when the hit isn’t that bad they will feel relieved. It’s an old Premier McKenna trick. For what it's worth, I doubt this is the case, but it's hard to fathom why the government wouldn't do more to alleviate seniors' worries, and silence the critics.  

Whatever the reason, what’s lost amid the angst is the government’s message that it is being fair and transparent.

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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Thu, 09 Apr 2015 01:01:16 +0000
The anti-terrorism bill and the communications challenges and opportunities it represents


In the next federal election, as always, I want to cast my ballot for the party that best reflects my values. I expect you are the same. But how do you do that when the party's positions are based on polling as opposed to conviction?

Prime Minister Harper’s anti-terrorism bill is the biggest current example of this.

Look at what we have.


We have the Harper government positioning itself as the party that is tough on terrorism by championing a bill that, by all indications, is overkill and an assault on our civil rights.


This is an opinion shared by four former Prime Ministers, five former Justices of the Supreme Court, a former RCMP Watchdog, academics and many others who have a lot of expertise in this area. They see problems with the wording, which they see as overly broad, and they warn that the bill lacks effective oversight.  In other words, it is a seriously flawed bill.

But to the Harper government, this is secondary because they have polling that shows widespread support for it. And that support is the result of Harper convincing Canadians that terrorism is a threat that demands this action. It’s a page directly from George Bush’s playbook, who won an election by exaggerating the terrorism threat in the U.S. and convincing Americans that only his party could protect them.  

With the sinking price of oil taking away Harper’s argument that the economy is great because of him, he needed something else to go into the election with, and so terrorism it is.  The fact the bill could result in peaceful protestors being treated as terrorists is not a big concern to him, because he doesn’t see Canadians caring a whole lot. That’s his gamble.


But what of the others? Justin Trudeau, apparently more concerned about being seen as soft on terrorism than as standing up for civil rights, agreed to support the bill before his party even had time to properly review it.

Strategically, that may be wise politically because it denies Harper from being able to position the Liberals as opposite anti-terrorism. I’m sure his support is the last thing Harper wanted to see.


So Thomas Mulcair and the NDP are the odd man out, the only party, aside from the Greens, coming out opposed. That’s the role of opposition and he is making valid arguments against the bill.

But the communications challenge is whether Canadians are listening, or will they simply not get past the simplistic Conservative messaging that to oppose this bill is to be reckless and not understanding of the threat terrorism poses.

Mulcair’s position is consistent with a party that had traditionally placed a lot of value on civil liberties, so therefore does represent his party’s values. But strategically, and this may work for him politically, with the Liberals on-side with the government, it positions the NDP as a true alternative.

What this anti-terrorism bill has done is really quite fascinating. From a communications point of view it will be interesting to watch unfold.

The Harper government has already moved to limit debate in an effort to lessen the amount of time it remains in the media.

But if Mulcair and all the others who see it as problematic are successful in getting Canadians to look at it closer and this diminishes public support, it will be interesting to see to what extent the Liberals will try to backtrack and distance themselves from it. This could be tricky given they were so quick to say they will support it, but then, Justin Trudeau recently embraced Eve Adams, a political opportunist if there ever was one, so they may get practice trying to distance themselves from that.

It would be good if the parties simply stated what they stood for and then let Canadians decide, but that is just so Pollyanna isn’t it?


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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Sun, 22 Feb 2015 22:07:40 +0000
Premier Gallant’s SOTP short on details, but a win regardless

I didn’t make it to the State of the Province speech. I was out of the country, but I did watch it online, and while it’s not the same as being there, it was pretty easy to see, even from a distance, that this is a man who has already developed into a great communicator.  Watching the way he owned the stage with nary a note was pretty impressive.

But like many, I was looking for the meat. Not to put too fine a point on it, but ours is a provincial economy heading toward the brink.

During the campaign, none of the major parties dared say how far they would go to meet this considerable financial challenge, only that it was necessary to meet it. As an election strategy I get that.

But now with the election decided, and given that for some time now the Premier and his government have been sending signals aimed at readying New Brunswickers for difficult decisions, I thought maybe he would take the opportunity of the speech to lay out some specifics.

He didn’t do that. He hinted that tough decisions are coming, but that was all.


But what he did say is equally important. And from a communications perspective he deserves full marks for a well-crafted speech that did focus where it should have, instilling a sense of optimism and a vision of what’s possible.

Relaying that while we have challenges, we also have reason to believe we can have a bright future, if we play our cards right, is an important message for a leader to give, especially at a time when optimism isn’t something that springs immediately to mind when you consider where we are financially and on the jobs front. In short, it was the right speech at the right time. Kudos for his sense of occasion.

He did say his government will make the tough decisions and that he would like all New Brunswickers to be part of this effort.


From what I gather from social media, letters to the editors, and from the coffee shops, the majority of people are good with that. They get that it is necessary and if anything are crossing their fingers that Premier Gallant is not only serious but also has the courage to do what needs to be done.

But here’s the thing. While the government may take encouragement from this apparent widespread support, I wonder how many of those same people will change their tune when the cuts hit close to home. Not change their tune altogether, but protest that their pet thing should be the exception. It’s pretty easy to support cuts that affect other people.

It is when these cuts are announced that the government’s resolve will be tested, and no question it will take resolve. The former government made good progress in cutting spending but in the end failed to show the resolve necessary to make any really tough decisions, to the chagrin of Finance Minister Higgs.


Will the Gallant government be different? If people like Donald Savoie, Richard Saillant and our Auditor General Kim MacPherson are to be believed, it better be.

On the communications front, Premier Gallant did himself a solid with his State of the Province address. His communications challenge now is to show that whatever restraint measures are taken are indeed fair and based on objective as opposed to political criteria.


There’s also a communications challenge here for the opposition Conservatives. While it is normal in our system for an opposition to jump onside with whatever groups form to protest what particular government cuts they oppose, The Tories will have to tread carefully or risk a backlash from a population that sees the cuts as necessary for the greater good.

It will be an interesting next few years. 

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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Fri, 30 Jan 2015 03:28:45 +0000
Ghomeshi, sex, public reputations and PR strategies


Talk about your interesting case study in crisis communications - this Jian Ghomeshi story has it all.

I mean, what a mix – a well-loved, high profile celebrity, the cornerstone of the CBC’s effort to appeal to younger listeners, a firing that nobody saw coming, followed by the pre-emptive strike of a Facebook entry of revelations about kinky but consensual sex. But then maybe not consensual, with allegations of three women half his age who claim he sexually abused them, as well as allegations of sexual harassment within the CBC.

And as if that isn’t enough, enter a high priced, high-powered PR/crisis communications agency, a multi-million dollar lawsuit, and a twitterverse divided over who the victim or victims is.


It’s not for me to say if Ghomeshi is the victim of a smear campaign by a jilted ex-lover of the “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” variety, or whether he is a sick puppy who is finally getting his comeuppance. Lord knows, there has been enough rush to judgment on both sides already.  

But unlike the hundreds or thousands of people who know for sure, I don’t. So I’ll focus on the communications strategies at play here.

First, there’s the rare Sunday afternoon news release from the CBC, which said “information came to our attention recently, that in CBC’s judgment, precludes us from continuing our relationship with Jian Ghomeshi.” And then they said they would have nothing more to say.

That was crafted solely to keep lawyers happy, not to explain why the CBC fired him. It’s tantamount to my going into a room where you and your friends are gathered and saying, “I heard what you did and it’s disgusting and I don’t want to ever have anything to do with you again”, then turning around and walking out.

All that does is fuel the fires of speculation, and if you don’t say something, those fires are going to run rampant. So CBC pretty much forced his hand.


And respond he did, in spades. A fifty million dollar lawsuit, then an apparent tell-all of a Facebook entry, no doubt crafted by Navigator, the PR firm retained to salvage Ghomeshi’s reputation and in the process try to bring public opinion around to the point where CBC could see their way clear to rehire him. That last part is a long shot, but hey, Michael Vick is back in the NFL after being convicted of involvement in an illegal dog-fighting ring. This guy hanged and drowned dogs that didn’t perform well and that didn’t kill his career, so there you go. Strange things happen.

As crisis communications goes, strategically the Facebook essay was bang on for several key reasons.

1     It allowed Ghomeshi to get ahead of the story; to get his version out there first.

2     It positioned him as the victim.

3     It also positioned him as courageous, with the detail he provided seeming to lay bare his private life, especially when he framed it as his choice rather than taking the CBC offer to go away quietly.

At this point, judging from what I was seeing on social media, most people were on side, condemning the CBC for unfairly firing him because “it was nobody’s business what he does in his bedroom with another consenting adult” and supporting him against the vindictive former girlfriend.

And that’s probably where it would have stayed if not for the Toronto Star. The Star story, which had been in the works since the spring, changed the narrative completely. Through interviews with three different young women, a story emerges that paints Ghomeshi in a much darker light; in fact as an abuser, throwing doubt of the suggestion that the bedroom antics were in fact consensual and all in good fun.

With this story out there public opinion turned dramatically. He still has his supporters, but a big percentage seems to be siding with the three women, even though they are unidentified and have never brought complaints to the police. Usually, that would hurt their credibility, but their explanation of fear of being victimized again by public opinion, resonated with many.


An interesting point is that the Star wasn’t ready to run the story because it didn’t have proof, and only did because of Ghomeshi’s Facebook essay convinced them it was now in the public interest. So as well crafted as his entry was, publishing it may have backfired. But that’s simply conjecture, because the story may have come out eventually anyway.

So what now? Well, watch for more revelations. Maybe other women will be prompted to say they too were abused by the former CBC host, or maybe the PR firm he hired will find something that discredits their stories.

And then there’s the CBC which may have to deal with failing to act on a sexual harassment complain against Ghomeshi by a woman who worked on his show and has since left. And then there’s that $50 Million lawsuit.  I expect there may be a morality clause in his contract but that hasn’t been established yet either, but I would think that that would quash any legal action, but what do I know, I’m not a lawyer. 

It’s a high stakes reputational power play, and there are many hands to be played out yet.

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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Tue, 28 Oct 2014 02:29:01 +0000
Now that the dust has settled, some post-election thoughts


Policies and platforms are one thing but politics is also about people, and sometimes it takes good people and chews them up and spits them out.


I felt for David Alward as he expressed disappointment and announced he would resign as leader. No question that was necessary; it has become convention when you lose. But I know him as one of the most decent men I have ever met through politics and while his policies and track record made his re-election an unattainable goal, no one should ever question that his every effort was for what he felt was the best interests of the province.

He’s not the first nor will he be the last political leader to fall out of favour with the people who put them there – they pretty much all do eventually. So goes the ebb and flow of the democratic system.


So the people have spoken and we have a new Premier-elect. Brian Gallant won despite having an inferior campaign. I realize it is hard to knock success but the adage is true – Oppositions don’t win elections, government’s lose them.

And in this case, the combination of everything from the secret forestry deal and the Hanwell liquor store fiasco, to pensions and patronage appointments to a stubbornly high unemployment rate and broken promises served to alienate the Alward government from the public. The Tory campaign, which was all in on shale gas represented, strategically, Alward’s best shot, but it wasn’t enough.


The real loser though, is the NDP. Appreciate that this was their shot. This opportunity, of an election where the governing party has fallen so much out of public favour combined with a leader of the Opposition who failed to inspire any but the staunchest of party loyalists, may not come around again for many years. The fact that despite a solid platform they couldn’t win one seat speaks either to the faulty strategy of trying to form government rather than focusing on a few winnable ridings, or it means Dominic Cardy simply didn’t resonate as a leader.

Because of this, despite registering 13% support across the province, which is more than ever before, they are relegated to 4th place behind a party that managed only half that many votes. It begs the question – who gets a seat at the table for the next election’s debates?  It also suggests pretty loudly that the time may have come to look at some type of proportional representation.


But that is down the road. More immediately, the NDP will have to get used to David Coon and his Green Party being the third voice in New Brunswick politics.

Credit to Coon and his team for organizing an army of UNB and STU students to vote. It’s understandable that some people who live and pay taxes in Fredericton South feel a little put out that their representative was chosen mainly by students who are only in the riding temporarily, and don’t pay taxes. But that is totally within the rules and the bottom line is that he won, and for what it is worth, I think it is good for the system to have a third voice in the legislature. 

One final thought, and it concerns our considerable debt problem and policy analyst Richard Saillant’s concern, echoed by other policy experts such as Donald Savoie, that politicians aren’t taking it seriously enough and as a result, we are marching toward bankruptcy. Premier-elect Gallant has committed to finding $250 million dollars in cuts per year. STU Political Scientist Tom Bateman, on CBC, says to meet this, he will have no choice but to look at closing under utilized schools and hospitals. And he makes the point that most of these are in the north, where populations are shrinking. But he notes that as a result of the election, just about all those northern ridings are now Liberal.


Point being this is not going to be an easy thing for Gallant. It begs the question is he going to prove himself tough enough to do what needs to be done? It also prompts speculation that facing the financial realities, he may find fracking palatable sooner as opposed to later.

None of the party leaders in this election managed to inspire much enthusiasm in the electorate, which may explain the record low voter turnout.

This means the bar for Gallant isn’t all that high. But the stakes for our province certainly are. It’s a curious dynamic, and one that affords him the opportunity to surprise a lot of people.

Postscript: Since this campaign started, the political junkie and former journalist in me took over, prompting me to blog on it, usually on the communications strategies involved. Now that the campaign is behind us, I expect to go back to blogging on a wider range of communications issues. But I am humbled that these campaign blogs did gather a considerable following and I want to thank you for taking the time to read them. Please consider subscribing, and continuing to read this blog. Can’t promise there will be cake, but I’m pretty sure from time to time there will be politics. 

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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Wed, 24 Sep 2014 01:00:25 +0000
cheap stunt or inspired tactic - NB election down to the short strokes

When an NDP staffer disrupted Brian Gallant’s news conference by handing him a calculator wrapped in an orange ribbon yesterday, it was a successful hijacking of the Liberal leader’s event.  Proof is that she ended up being interviewed and became the story. Her comments critical of the Liberals infrastructure-spending platform made the news. Once more, the NDP got to make its argument that the Liberal plan is a bad idea. Does anybody know what the Liberal leader’s message was for calling the media together? Me neither.

Whether it was a cheap stunt or inspired tactic depends on your point of view, and while there was some risk, I suspect the NDP are much more satisfied with the way it played out than the Liberals are.

It was also a signal that if they weren’t off before, with just a handful of days left, the gloves are certainly off now.

It’s a mad scramble to shore up whatever votes are still up for grabs. The NDP and the Conservatives are doing their best to capitalize on what has been a rough week for the front-running Liberals, as Gallant’s campaign continues to stumble.


But while the polling shows the Liberal lead has shrunk from 19 points ahead two weeks ago to 11 as of last Friday, that’s still a comfortable lead, so what are the chances they can be caught? Hell if I know, but a look at research on the likelihood of voters to change their mind once they have made it up shows there definitely is a chance.


Research by Université de Montréal Political Science Professor André Blais looked at the likelihood of voters to change their mind throughout a 30-day campaign. He found that in Canada, 19 per cent of voters who intended to vote for a certain party at the beginning of a campaign changed their mind, and 10 percent change their mind on the actual voting day.

I must admit I have done that in the past. In fact I remember once changing my mind after I entered the voting booth. I do that in restaurants too, ordering food, thinking I know what I want and then changing my mind from the time the waitress starts at the other side of the table.

Not to say everyone is that fickle, but this slice of human behaviour underlines the importance of, and the reason for, the parties pulling out all the stops for this home stretch.

The tightening of the race also sets the stage nicely for the CTV debate this evening. While there is certainly validity of the criticism of CTV for excluding the Green and People’s Alliance parties, I have to admit I’m looking forward to a debate with just the three main leaders. The exclusion may not be fair, but the event will make for better television. For whatever that’s worth.  

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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Thu, 18 Sep 2014 03:39:51 +0000
A look at the NB Elxn campaign with 6 days to go


One of the cool things about the Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival, aside from the music, is that people who go inevitably reconnect with friends they haven’t seen in a while.  This has always been my experience, and it certainly was this year. This includes friends pretty strongly connected to the three major parties, either as candidates or people working to elect candidates.

Having friends in the blue, red and orange camps means I get it from all sides, and depending on who I choose to believe, the Liberals are in panic mode with their polling lead all but evaporated, the Tories may be completely shut out, and the NDP are on the verge of winning big.

Maybe they all take me for an idiot, but I like to think it is more that they are all now in full campaign spin cycle, and they can’t turn it off no matter who they are talking to.

But you take what they say with a huge grain of salt – can you even say that – a “huge” grain of salt? But you know what I mean – there is usually some truth in these comments, even if it is hard to find amid all that exaggeration.


In this case – there is little doubt the lead the Liberals had at the start of the campaign has eroded. How much? The latest poll on released yesterday shows the Liberals lead down to 11 points from 19 just two weeks ago. But panic? No, wouldn’t go that far. But they continue to make strategic gaffs, and the fact the Tories and NDP are both shoving out Brian Gallant’s Harry Forestall CBC Newsmaker interview through social media speaks volumes of how they want as many New Brunswickers as possible to see it.


The Tories are continuing to flog resource development with a laser focus, which really does distinguish them from every other party, but whether that argument is catching on to the point they need is growing more and more questionable.  If they get re-elected, it will also be because Brian Gallant scared otherwise Liberal voters out of their wits with his plans to add $1 billion to the debt.


Interesting though, that even some Liberal and Tory friends admit the NDP platform is better than either of theirs, and while the “new” New Democrats have created a buzz, and while they do have a shot in two or three ridings in and around Fredericton, plus I am hearing there is one on the Acadian peninsula they could win, I am not hearing the same kind of enthusiasm from elsewhere in the province. But that is dangerous to say because in Fredericton being the seat of government, we sometimes live in a bubble and don’t realize what is going on anywhere else.

In this final week, one thing to watch for is whether the Liberals will start messaging that a vote for the NDP is a vote for the Tories. If so, this will be an indication they fear that the NDP could take away enough Liberal votes to allow the PCs to win some ridings on a split vote. They have already turned their attack to the New Democrats, it is just a matter of to what extent Cardy and not Alward will become the focus of their energy over the next six days.


Interesting strategic move by the Liberals to bring up the fraud charges being dropped against candidate Andrew Harvey. Who knows what the timing of the charges coming out and then dropped within the campaign timeframe was all about, but Gallant holding a scrum on it was about taking the focus away from his announced tax increases and off-sets and his fumbling the numbers on how many would be affected. As a strategy, it worked. Obviously they felt the downside of reminding voters one of their candidates had been charged with fraud was worth it to change the focus.

Not sure how long it has been out but I just saw a new (to me anyway) Liberal TV spot that associates Alward with Stephen Harper. Strategically, that’s not a bad thing for them to do, low perhaps, but I get it. After all the PC ads clump Gallant with Shawn Graham so I guess you work with what you’ve got.

At least we can take solace in the fact no one’s ads here in New Brunswick are as negative or dirty as the ones for the Senatorial races in the U.S. you may have have seen on TV recently. At least that’s something.

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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Mon, 15 Sep 2014 23:22:58 +0000
Some thoughts on leader's communications challenges pre-debate


Talk about conflicting interests. What’s a blues loving political junkie to do in a week like this? Been waiting for the first leaders debate and now I find it competes with Emilie-Claire Barlow’s Harvest kickoff show at the Playhouse tonight. Since we already bought our tickets, Barlow it is. But the PVR is set so I’ll catch the debate a little later. And I am not going to miss David Clayton Thomas on Thursday night either, so that will be a PVR thing too.

While I am looking forward to the debates, especially tonight’s, if past ones are any indication they will not equal their hype. They hardly ever do.

Here’s what I will be watching for. As a solid frontrunner, Brian Gallant needs only survive it without taking any serious blows, and I expect he’ll do that easily.

The real pressure is on Premier Alward. Just surviving is not good enough. He’s too far behind. He needs to score decisively. This will be a challenge.

It will be interesting to see how Dominic Cardy performs. I expect he’ll win. He is a good debater, quick on his feet, and his platform is the best of the bunch with common sense, creative planks. His target will be Gallant, not Alward, and his challenge will be to get his message across that Gallant represents reckless spending that will make our precarious debt situation worse. Watch for Cardy to lecture us on the folly of forever switching back and forth between the Liberals and Tories, and strongly suggesting it is time to try something different, because the past hasn’t worked. And he will do his best to show distance between the old NDP and his “new” NDP by stressing the new philosophy that fiscal responsibility comes first.

Speaking of the platforms, I can’t remember the last time there was this much difference between the Tories and Liberals.

Here’s the Tories, predicting $10 billion in private investment, mainly in resource development, compared to the Liberals who say you need to spend money to deal with the debt, and their plan is to borrow $900 Million for infrastructure upgrades. I wonder who will mention that first – Gallant or Cardy?

Of course this is an oversimplified view of their platforms, and all parties have some good ideas, but after reading them, my overall impression is that the Liberal platform does seem pretty much like a return to the Shawn Graham days, except that Gallant is promising 10 thousand jobs while in 2010, Graham promised 20 thousand. The other parties aren’t specific in job promises, although the NDP, in some clever wording say economists, who are not identified, say their tax credit plan will result in 15 to 20 thousand jobs. (Note – these economists may have been identified somewhere, and I missed it, but not in the platform)

The thing is, promising a specific number of jobs may make for an effective sound bite or newspaper headline, but you can pull any number out of the air for that. No one knows, and there is no consequence for being wrong. You just blame it on economic conditions and say that at least it is better than you did back when you were in power, and you move on. Cynical? Yes. But it’s also a pattern that has played out for years.

Anyway, this evening is coming. Enjoy the debate. Or the music.

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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Tue, 09 Sep 2014 13:38:59 +0000
Communications failures makes for rough start for Liberal campaign


With the huge lead they had in the polls going into the campaign, this election was the Liberals to lose. It may still be, but I can’t imagine they are satisfied with the way the campaign has gone so far.

Campaigns are very much about communication. They are about crafting your message and presenting it in a way that catches people’s imagination. They are about having people see and listen to the leader, and conclude that he, and his vision will serve us best over the next four years.

That said, let’s look at the communications of each of the three major parties over the first week of the campaign.


The Conservatives – full marks for staying clearly on message, positioning itself as the only party fully committed to shale gas and other resource development. Their gamble is that that message resonates with enough voters.


The NDP – this is by far their most impressive campaign ever. You know their message that they are not the “old” NDP is being noticed when the Telegraph Journal calls them the voice of financial sanity. The party has done a good job of focusing on their commitment to fiscal responsibility, supported by platform planks that re-enforce that, such as their pledge to stop corporate welfare. For voters of a certain vintage, that congers up the ghost of former national NDP leader David Lewis and his “corporate welfare bums”. But nothing wrong with that.


The Liberals – if the polls are right and the Liberals win, it will be because voters are disillusioned with the Alward government, but not ready to embrace the New Democrats, and it will be in spite of whoever is in charge of the Liberals campaign strategy.

That promise to spend $900 million on infrastructure projects has the potential to derail the whole campaign, the way car insurance did for the PCs in 2003. Not saying it will, but it has already thrown the Liberals off their game and forced them onto defense, with opposing parties viciously attacking the promise as reckless and irresponsible.  

The amazing thing was the ineptness of leader Brian Gallant to defend it. I don’t know if he’s getting bad advice or he’s not listening to it or what, but when the best he can come up with is to call Premier Alward a hypocrite because he is a Canadian Premier, and the Premiers are asking the federal government for 50-cent dollars for infrastructure upgrades, that shows a problem.

First of all, Alward never said infrastructure maintenance isn’t important. But to suggest asking for 50-cent dollars is the same as going $900 million in debt is dangerous territory. As Dominic Cardy put it “We don’t have any money. You can’t keep talking about spending billions of dollars we don’t have.”

And therein lies the danger. The opposing parties have succeeded in framing this election promise as another example of Liberal spending run amuck, not unlike Atcon.

So in announcing this major spending strategy, the Liberals have seen their signature platform plank linked to the party’s biggest albatross, perhaps with the exception of the ill-fated NB Power sale.

That’s quite a leap, comparing a public works infrastructure program to Atcon, but the Liberals are doing a terrible job of countering it.

In short, the Liberals have lost control of their own message. This because they didn’t frame it right in the first place. They positioned it as a job creation initiative, something NDP candidate Kelly Lamrock jumped on with glee, doing the math and working it out at half-a-million dollars a job, and then stressing that these are only temporary jobs. And in the process, probably scaring a whole lot of people who are concerned about our precarious debt situation and especially at the prospect of a Liberal government adding substantially to it. As a result they may now be questioning Gallant’s judgment.

What the Liberals should have done, is framed it not as a job creation strategy but as necessary work that if not carried out now will cost us five or six times more down the road, as suggested in a report by the Auditor General. Then it is seen not as reckless but prudent. Then it wouldn’t be nearly as easy a target as it has turned out to be.

Why they didn’t do this is a good question. Poor communications strategy is the only reason I can think of. And further, what’s lost here is that that $900 million over six years is pretty much in line with annual budgets for infrastructure in many of the past years, even though it would be in addition to current amounts. But you’d never know that based on the PC and NDP reaction, and the Liberals apparent inability to effectively make that point.

So this, combined with that release on microbreweries, pledging to reverse a policy that had already been reversed, may sow seeds of doubt in Gallant’s abilities as he tries to present himself as ready to govern.

They do have time to turn it around of course, but it will take smarter strategy than they are displaying so far. Fun to watch though, isn’t it? 

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]]> (Duncan Matheson) Blog Sun, 31 Aug 2014 20:07:15 +0000