Will politi­cians and the pub­lic ever lis­ten to each other

Prairie Post (East Edition) - - OPINION - By Ryan Dahlman

Hav­ing the abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate is an im­por­tant skill to have whether you are talk­ing about busi­ness both with employees and cus­tomers, and per­sonal re­la­tion­ships.

It means more than just be­ing able to be smooth on so­cial me­dia, be­ing po­etic, en­gag­ing or heck, just us­ing proper gram­mar. No be­ing able to com­mu­ni­cate means be­ing able to un­der­stand and truly feel/re­spect/em­pathize what the other per­son is try­ing to tell them.

Hence, this is what is caus­ing all the strife in Al­berta pol­i­tics.

Premier Ja­son Ken­ney sat down in the Steam­ing Cup cof­fee shop in Brooks for an in­ter­view with me July 2. He looks arounds to see how busy it is and smiles. Cus­tomers are en­joy­ing their tasty bev­er­ages in the pop­u­lar small busi­ness in down­town Brooks. He is smil­ing be­cause it is all about busi­ness, com­merce and peo­ple earn­ing, spend­ing money at the grass­roots level. With­out money flow, there’s no so­ci­ety. Po­lite, but not apolo­getic, he knows there’s a back­lash in a lot of sec­tors. There are ma­jor is­sues with doc­tors in ru­ral ar­eas, ed­u­ca­tion seems to be in a state of ma­jor flux with some cuts, so­cial pro­grams have been cut and be­cause of the pan­demic and Al­berta hav­ing to put money into pro­grams to keep the province func­tion­ing, the province is hav­ing to go into deep debt.

No more than ever, the hope is to get the en­ergy sec­tor go­ing with a quick fix of bil­lions rolling into Al­berta cof­fers.

How­ever, things which are nec­es­sary but aren’t bring in money have to be cut back.

Ken­ney in­di­cated dur­ing the in­ter­view that Al­berta pays the high­est per capita in health care and that needed to change. And with a few of his state­ments, in gen­eral is not a fan of unions.

De­liv­er­ing the mes­sage is im­por­tant. Ken­ney is al­ways front and cen­tre in many of the gov­ern­ment an­nounce­ments, COVID news con­fer­ences and now in his Southern Al­berta tour last week: agribusi­ness and en­ergy. Money to­wards the long sought af­ter twin­ning of High­way 3 (im­por­tance: eas­ier trans­porta­tion for agri-busi­ness, en­ergy and pos­si­bly coal from the Crowsnest Pass). Big an­nounce­ment in Oyen with the XL-Pipe­line.

Money money money.

This is it where it comes with Ken­ney. He sees what he sees, rightly or wrongly. He iden­ti­fies a prob­lem, gets fix­ated on it and sees noth­ing else.

That means he blocks out the neg­a­tiv­ity or de­scend­ing voices around him by just not be­ing near the neg­a­tiv­ity other than at the Leg­is­la­ture. The con­tro­versy around his speech­writer, health min­is­ter Tyler Shan­dro and grow­ing list of le­git­i­mate and real com­plaints, doesn’t mat­ter. He does what he be­lieves is cor­rect for the eco­nomic vi­a­bil­ity of the province.

But that’s where the com­mu­ni­ca­tion prob­lem for Al­berta vot­ers comes in.

Ear­lier in the day talk­ing to Dr. Sa­man­tha Myhr, the hard work­ing and ar­tic­u­late spokesper­son for the physi­cians in Pincher Creek, the ex­as­per­a­tion in her voice was ev­i­dent. They had just or­ga­nized a very suc­cess­fully ally, a show of sup­port from the com­mu­nity and re­gion around Pincher Creek for the health care sys­tem and Ken­ney’s re­cent uni­lat­eral changes to the billing sys­tem for doc­tors. Myhr and many doc­tors in the ru­ral ar­eas have said they will be pulling their ser­vices. Ken­ney (who was rel­a­tively close at the time as he was in Leth­bridge mak­ing a huge fund­ing an­nounce­ment for the Leth­bridge Ex­hi­bi­tion Park) and MLA Liv­ing­stone-Ma­cleod MLA Roger Reid both had the op­por­tu­nity to ad­dress the rally… i.e. com­mu­ni­cate but both failed to be there. A lack of per­sonal touch to a mass of peo­ple. A missed op­por­tu­nity to have per­sonal con­nec­tion to those who have some le­git­i­mate pol­icy is­sues which af­fect them di­rectly, namely health, peo­ple were in their ve­hi­cles so not a lot in the way of pan­demic con­cerns.

In­stead, com­mu­ni­ca­tion means hav­ing an an­nual $30-mil­lion bud­get for the Cana­dian En­ergy Cen­tre, aka the En­ergy War Room, where a bunch of hand-picked jour­nal­ists will do well-re­searched sto­ries re­gard­ing Al­berta’s en­ergy sec­tor and ‘cor­rect” dis­sent­ing opin­ions provin­cially, na­tion­ally and world­wide.

Per­cep­tion: one sided com­mu­ni­ca­tion. This per­cep­tion de­spite the fact Ken­ney made it to a lot of dif­fer­ent places last week and while he wasn’t min­gling with large crowds due to pan­demic con­cerns, he was in the area.

Look at the sit­u­a­tion with Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau. Out­side of Al­berta, the ma­jor­ity of Cana­di­ans think he’s do­ing great. Look at the polls, Trudeau, again de­spite all of the con­tro­ver­sies, which is a mind-bog­gling long list, is still pop­u­lar.

Trudeau is still get­ting that check mark be­cause he is com­mu­ni­cat­ing.

For some, the selfie-lov­ing PM is smug and in Twit­ter­verse, the crit­ics will point out all that has plagued him: the re­cent WE Char­ity sit­u­a­tion where Trudeau had ties to it also re­ceived sole-source con­tact to ad­min­is­ter a $912 mil­lion Canada Stu­dent Ser­vice Grant; con­stant bailouts of Bom­bardier in his home province of Que­bec; his con­cen­trated ef­forts for Canada to get on the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil but sub­se­quent fail­ure; the un­for­get­table SNC-Lavalin/Jody Wil­son-Ray­bould sit­u­a­tion etc.

But, for two months Trudeau came out each morn­ing in front of his res­i­dence at Rideau Cot­tage and held me­dia brief­ings. The news con­fer­ences were very con­trolled with few ac­tual me­dia mem­bers on hand but Trudeau would turn on the earnest charm and get his mes­sage across to Cana­di­ans. A few times, he would even ad­dress chil­dren about how proud he was of them to be han­dling the is­sues caused by COVID-19. He would speak humbly and al­most con­trite for the state of the na­tion and the world. He would try to sound re­as­sur­ing.

Per­haps it goes back to his days as a drama teacher or per­haps he just has a knowl­edge­able staff of lob­by­ists, thinkers and strate­gists which re­al­ize the im­por­tance of win­ning over pub­lic favour.

It worked and is rank­ing high in the polls. That is done through com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Demon­strat­ing, whether he truly is or not, that he is one with the peo­ple, re­lat­ing to them, un­der­stand­ing the pub­lic’s con­cerns is his con­cerns. He has a fam­ily, he’s is wor­ried about COVID-19 and health is­sues; here is some money, money for those who were laid off due to COVID-19 etc…

The mes­sage: Ahh, a caring prime min­is­ter. The mes­sage is: he gets what the com­mon per­son is go­ing through.

But Trudeau doesn’t re­ally com­mu­ni­cate with Al­ber­tans? Why? He doesn’t have to garner their mass sup­port. What’s most im­por­tant is na­tional re-elec­tion. Make sure those ar­eas which have the most votes get sat­is­fied first like On­tario and Que­bec.

Trudeau doesn’t need their votes and poli­cies he comes up with doesn’t have to ap­pease the Wild Rose province where he knows peo­ple don’t like him any­way for his­tor­i­cal rea­son (see: Na­tional En­ergy Pol­icy, circa 1981).

All of this could be traced back that great Cana­dian thinker Mar­shall McLuhan’s 1964 phrase of “the medium is the mes­sage” is be­ing proven again, 56 years later.

How is the mes­sage de­liv­ered, is as im­por­tant, if not moreso in this day and age.

Trudeau and his fed­eral Lib­eral bu­reau­crat han­dlers are mas­ters… Ken­ney is still work­ing on it.

Ryan Dahlman is the man­ag­ing ed­i­tor of Prairie Post East and Prairie Post West

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