NDP HQ emailing their talking points for twitter?

Momentum is building!

Here, it seems, the NDP collective is tweeting what they are being told. The following tweets are not retweets, they are “independent” singular tweets:

Journalist shows up at wrong event, writes juicy story for Ottawa reporters

One of the favourite narratives of the Ottawa media is that the Prime Minister doesn’t talk to them on enough occasions. This, of course lazily and unfairly extends to “doesn’t talk to reporters”. However, while some in Ottawa may yearn for more face-time with the PM, the PM’s comms focus has always prioritized local and regional news to get the story told outside of the “Ottawa bubble” and outside of the pack mentality of some in the Ottawa press gallery.

Yet, here’s a local reporter, getting a lot of buzz in Ottawa this morning among my fellow flacks and hacks on Twitter. Brad Bird’s story about a Prime Ministerial “snub” at a shellfish research centre in BC fits the Ottawa press narrative but has me a bit puzzled because it goes against the PMO local media outreach strategy. Or does it? Local reporter Brad Bird wrote,

For the media it was an odd dance, since no talking with the PM was permitted, and he allowed but that single comment to acknowledge them, during the quarter-hour allowed.

“Give ya 30 bucks if ya ask a question,” one scribe said to another. But it wasn’t that easy. He was too far away for that, and engaged with others. Interrupting would have been rude.

Reporters gathered for an event and no questions? Why? Here’s the event notice from the PMO that went out to all reporters,

September 7, 2010
Ottawa, Ontario

Public events for Prime Minister Stephen Harper for Wednesday, September 8th are:

Deep Bay, British Columbia

1:00 p.m. – Prime Minister Stephen Harper will Tour the Vancouver Island University Centre for Shellfish Research. He will be joined by James Lunney, Member of Parliament for Nanaimo-Alberni.

Vancouver Island University
Deep Bay Field Station
Deep Bay, British Columbia

*Photo Opportunity Only

There are no questions at photo ops of course, but can we really have a PM that only does photo ops? Oh wait. There were two media avails later that day. From the same notice,

Nanaimo, British Columbia

3:00 p.m. – Prime Minister Stephen Harper will make an announcement at Nanaimo’s Cruise Ship Berth. He will be joined by Stockwell Day, President of the Treasury Board and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway; and James Lunney, Member of Parliament for Nanaimo-Alberni.

Nanaimo Port Authority – Assembly Wharf
11 Port Way
Nanaimo, British Columbia

*Open to Media

NOTES:

• Media are required to present proper identification for accreditation.

Victoria, British Columbia

6:00 p.m. – Prime Minister Stephen Harper will deliver remarks. He will be joined by Stockwell Day, President of the Treasury Board and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway; and Gary Lunn, Minister of State for Sport.

Hatley Castle at Royal Roads University
2005 Sooke Road
Victoria, British Columbia

*Open to media

NOTES:

• Media are required to present proper identification for accreditation.

From Bird’s article,

This wasn’t Jean Chretien, who enjoyed engaging with media.

Chretien would come over and talk to us. Sometimes he’d get all choked up about it, or someone else would, he was that intimate.

If Bird remembers the days of Chretien, surely he’s enough of a press vet to know the difference between a photo op and a media avail?

UPDATE (2/25/2011): Brad Bird sends me an email and I’ve received his permission to publish it below.

Why political comms staffers exist

Today, a press release from the department of foreign affairs – received via email from dept:

Oops, the content of the press release didn’t seem to match the headline did it?

It is likely that two people with two different views wrote the release (one the headline, the other the body) stating what was supposed to be the position of DFAIT.

A corrected version was then sent out:

Good thing the error was caught.

A process story you’ll probably only hear about in the blogs…

Michael Ignatieff’s new Director of Communications has an interesting background

“Everything old is new again” is the buzz coming from Liberals and journalists in Ottawa. Peter Donolo’s the new boss of the OLO shop (the Dunno-LO as one journalist told me weeks ago) and today we’ve learned that he’s finally put some new key players in place after the wholly awkward ejection of Davey/Fairbrother.

Among the “fresh” faces is Michael Ignatieff’s new Director of Communications, Mario Laguë, a man the CBC’s Rosemary Barton tells us is among the new gang that “[knows] Quebec inside-out”.

But, a Lexis-Nexis/Informart plunge into the past tells us more!

It appears that Mario Laguë was not only hired by Paul Martin to put a brave face on the sponsorship scandal, but Ignatieff’s new D.Comm was also part of a three-man panel with Chuck Guité that hired then Public Works Minister Alfonso Gagliano’s Chief of Staff to replace Guité, who was retiring. Stephen Harper, then opposition leader, criticized the hire saying the sponsorship scandal could have been stopped if a senior bureacrat was hired in the position instead.

Affidavit shows how Guité was replaced Document reveals membership of team that chose boss for sponsorship program — The Globe and Mail, October 18th, 2005 by Daniel Leblanc.

OTTAWA — An affidavit prepared by the Public Service Commission for the Gomery inquiry sheds new light on the controversial hiring of a former Liberal aide to head the sponsorship program in 1999, including the role of a federal official who would become an aide to Prime Minister Paul Martin.

The inquiry heard conflicting testimony about how Pierre Tremblay, then the chief of staff to then public works minister Alfonso Gagliano, was hired to replace retiring bureaucrat Chuck Guité. Mr. Guité said he rigged the process at Mr. Gagliano’s behest; the former minister denied any political interference.

The affidavit, which went unnoticed when it was tabled in May, shows that Mr. Tremblay’s hiring was approved by a three-member selection board made up of Mr. Guité, Public Service Commission executive resourcing consultant Michael Carey, and Mario Laguë, a long-time Liberal supporter who became Mr. Martin’s first director of communications when he became Prime Minister. The affidavit said Mr. Tremblay was hired “based on the recommendation of the selection board.”

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said yesterday the problems with the sponsorship program could have been stopped if an experienced civil servant had been hired in 1999 instead of Mr. Tremblay. The problems continued until an RCMP investigation was launched in 2002, but by then Mr. Tremblay was working in another federal agency.

When Prime Minister Paul Martin was in office he hired Laguë to “cover-up” the sponsorship scandal according to opposition Conservatives at the time.

Assistant to PM contributed to cover-up, opposition says Mario Lague included in strategy sessions when problems first surfaced, e-mail says; Mario Lague included in strategy sessions when problems first surfaced, e-mail says — The Globe and Mail, February 20th, 2004 by Campbell Clark

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Paul Martin’s communications director was a key player in the Chrétien government’s efforts to put the best face on serious problems in the sponsorship program in 2000, government records show.

Opposition politicians focused many attacks in the Commons yesterday on Mario Lague, Mr. Martin’s communications director, insisting he was involved in efforts to “cover up” the sponsorship scandal, which saw millions misused from 1996 to 2002.

Mr. Martin fought back, asserting that Mr. Lague “was not involved in the management of the sponsorship file.”

However, records show that Mr. Lague was included in top-level meetings to plan strategy when problems began to emerge. An e-mail from September, 2000, obtained by an independent researcher and provided to The Globe and Mail, indicates that Mr. Lague was one of a small group of senior officials and political aides who plotted to put the best face on a damaging audit.

He said “tar baby”? Who else did?

Today in the house, Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre said,

“On that side of the House, they have the man who fathered the carbon tax, put it up for adoption to his predecessor and now wants a paternity test to prove the tar baby was never his in the first place”

This caused a stir on the opposition benches and caused Liberal House leader Ralph Goodale to ask Poilievre to withdraw and deemed the term “racist”.

Here are some recent uses of the term by journalists including Chantal Hebert.

“The nasty legal squabble over who owns the cash-strapped Phoenix Coyotes and whether they can relocate to Hamilton is hardly the first such tar baby the NHL has dealt with, and it won’t be the last.” (John Mackinnon, Edmonton Journal, May 18, 2009).

“It’s a Tory/Liberal tar baby and I’ve lost faith that they can do anything but keep changing the minister and pretend everything’s under control.” (Ralph Surette, Halifax Chronicle Herald, February 14, 2009).

“At this stage, the McTeague bill looks more like a Liberal tar baby than a party brainchild.” (Chantal Hebert, The Toronto Star, March 12, 2008).

“Along the way, Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois has got herself in trouble with the usual suspects as she fumbles with the language tar baby and prepares for one of those gawdawful national council meetings the PQ caribous use to exasperate and humiliate the unfortunate chief of the moment.” (Norman Webster, Montreal Gazette, February 17, 2008).

“Marois’s effort to shake off the referendum tar baby is good news…” (Editorial, Cynical PQ bid to rebrand party, The Toronto Star, Friday, March 7, 2008).

“Same-sex marriage has generally been treated like a political tar baby over the past few years, with most parties reluctant to whip up highly sensitive arguments touching on religion and deeply rooted social values.” (Susan Delacourt, Martin could exploit gay-marriage gift, The Hamilton Spectator, Friday, December 10, 2004).

“Nobody is saying you toss over your U.S. relations. Of course you don’t. But it doesn’t mean to say you have to become slavishly connected like some kind of tar baby with them.” (Lloyd Axworthy, Canada’s new leader to improve U.S. ties, Detroit Free Press, Thursday, December 11, 2003).

h/t: David Akin

We’ve been seeing a lot of the Prime Minister as of late. Why?

The Prime Ministership of Canada, by its very nature, is an all encompassing and busy job. Some note that this Prime Minister is hands on with a number of portfolios, taking ownership of a number of issues as they arise. Yet, this Prime Minister still must see some interview lights in order to present his case to the Canadian people. After all, at the end of the day, they have been and will remain the final judge of his record.

There is some tricky balancing to be done with the job and the public perception of the office. While the Prime Minister must do his best to show a good face to Canadians, he cannot appear to eager, or rather, too available to do so. This Prime Minister is handling Canada’s stake in the shaky global economy and therefore he can’t be yukking it up with Rick Mercer too regularly or be doing too much superficial glad-handing while Canadians are concerned about their economic future. In fact, as far as busy leaders go, Barack Obama was recently criticized for over-exposure for appearing on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno (a first for any President) while the bailout package was under full debate in Washington.

Though this observer notes that we’ve been seeing a lot of the Prime Minister of late in the sense that he’s been making himself a lot more available to media for one-on-ones. Canadian reporters will scoff at this observation, noting that they’re left holding the bag (or rather the remote and the mouse) as they watch the PM do interviews on CNN and Fox and read him on the website of the Wall Street Journal. But yet, while the PM’s message comes back to Canadians across the border through the CRTC-approved cable packages of Canadians, at least to the PMO, it does so more easily than it would if it had originated and filtered through a scornful yet context-aware Canadian news outlet. Yet, despite the PM’s American news tour, we are still seeing more of the man through Canadian news avails as well.

Why is this?

When Stephane Dion was leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, the Conservatives did their best to define the man and then allowed that definition to shine through the Conservative-adjusted lenses of the news media and electorate. Too much of the PM on the “leader stage” would provide too much distracting glare from the well-crafted stage show of Mr. Dion, presented by the Conservative Party of Canada.

Now, the Conservatives are dealing with a new leader in Michael Ignatieff. Though Mr. Ignatieff is still prone to gaffes and debates himself in public, he is a more serious opponent. As a leader, he is not so easily discounted by the news media and electorate. And while Mr. Ignatieff may stumble at times, he does so coherently without the media finding itself trying to explain what he really meant (again, Mr. Ignatieff does this well enough on his own). With Dion, Conservatives would have been glad to buy the hapless leader his own airtime, but to Hill watchers, Mr. Harper finds more of a competitor on the same stage — a stage he blissfully occupied alone until now.

Mostly unopposed, Mr. Obama is a leader largely crafted by publicity and the peripheral glamour of politics and for the US President the Tonight Show appearence was as strategy to do what had worked in the past. For Mr. Harper, the past was a stage gleefully given to Dion. The present, however, compels him to occupy the spotlight and enunciate his plan.

Getting caught up in the syntax

Yesterday, I wrote a post with some general musings about political communications and how it complements politics and the public policy process.  In short, I argued that when one criticizes the method by which another releases news instead of the substance of the news itself, it’s already a lost battle.

The example I brought up yesterday was Ontario Premier Dalton’s McGuinty’s unsurprising leak of Ontario’s budget shortfall projecting an $18 Billion deficit over two years.  I suggested that we would be more productive debating how we got to this fiscal position and how to remedy it whereas the cheap and easy solution is to criticize the communications strategy of the leak (as the federal Liberals did when the Conservatives did this with the federal budget).

Today’s example is this business about the seal hunt and federal fisheries minister Gail Shea’s use of ministerial resources to put out partisan messaging.  The substance of the message is the suggestion that Liberals are against the seal hunt.  To be against the seal hunt may bring nugatious satisfaction to urban-dwelling self-styled sophisticates who would croak that such an industry is “dreadful” and “appalling” while it is the causus belli of the constituents of a block of Altantic ridings.  Even Stephane Dion recognized the political disaster that would come from speaking out against the hunt.  But the Liberals are not wisely measuring the risk of their latest moves against the Conservatives on the peripherals of this issue.

Yes, Gail Shea’s office made a mistake but it is perhaps a larger – yet characteristically instinctive – mistake for Liberals to criticize the method when by doing so they force wider the path to highlight the substance of the release.  While Ottawa people get caught up in the fact that Stephen Harper’s minister didn’t dot her i’s and cross her t’s in the proper and polite procedural fashion, the real folks in Atlantic Canada look right past the syntax snafu and have another news cycle to consider that the folks in Ottawa that may be taking away their livelihood and according to this “press release scandal” those folks are Liberals!

For the Liberals, this is a classic example of not seeing the forest for the trees or in this case the seal hunt for the jobs.  Instead, they’re getting caught up in the syntax of it all.

Politics is at times a sport, but should always be a serious business

Yesterday, Ontario finance minister Dwight Duncan ‘leaked’ the news that Ontario would see a budget deficit of $18 Billion over the next two years.

We’ve been hearing hints of an Ontario deficit for a little while now. Of course, this is a communications strategy for mitigating bad news.

Just as the federal Conservatives did prior to the release of their own budget, PMO director of communication Kory Teneycke passed on the detail that the budget would be projecting deficit.

Strip the bad from the budget day headline and frontload some tax cuts and the other ‘silver lining’ elements on the day of the budget announcement. By that time, deficits are yesterday’s news and the media is biased towards reporting what’s new.

The federal Liberals protested when their Blue friends on the government benches did just over one month ago, while their provincial cousins are doing the same thing. Provincial Conservatives should avoid the same temptation.

Communications is necessary to move dry, plain or just ugly policy through the emotional and human crucible of the public forum. However, to burn at communications as a method instead of policy as substance is often too easy and while it may produce a bright flash, the flame is short and does nothing to get at the essence of debate.

We should not, however, dismiss real debate and positioning on issues. Some bemoan that politicians are ‘playing politics’ at a time of economic crisis. But, politics is getting to the core of an issue and at the methods by which it should be addressed. Let’s get past the bright flash and get down to it.

Michael Ignatieff is a control freak!

…and other opinions we won’t hear from the Ottawa Parliamentary Press Gallery anytime soon.

Jane Taber:

Ian Davey is Michael Ignatieff’s principal secretary and he admires Stephen Harper’s steely control over the national media and the Conservative caucus.

More than once, Mr. Davey has dismissed a reporter’s attempt to get behind the scenes of a Liberal decision, noting the Harper Tories do not allow the media that kind of access.

Tearing a page from the Harper playbook is revolutionary for a Liberal. For years the Grits have suffered from very public in-fighting – battles which landed on the front pages of newspapers, aiding and abetting the party’s demise – while not a peep has been heard from the Tory caucus since Mr. Harper became leader.

“It’s worked for Harper,” Mr. Davey said, suggesting that iron discipline over caucus members and keeping the media at arm’s-length are the keys to victory.

Cue Don Newman!

Cue Bruce Campion-Smith!

Cue Tonda McCharles!

Cue Chris Cobb!

Cue Bruce Cheadle!