Will politicians and the public ever listen to each other
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