08 November 2012

We get the message just fine, Jerome #nlpoli

“No, I don’t think that we have done a great job of communicating this,” natural resources minister Jerome Kennedy told the Telegram editorial board last week.
“I can give you a couple of examples myself that I’ve done. One is, ‘No debate! No debate!’ Then a week later, ‘OK, let’s have a debate now.’ That’s not good communication.”
The Telegram editorial on Wednesday then mentioned the provincial government’s general message to critics of the Muskrat falls project.  The editorial paraphrased it as “You’re all idiots, you don’t know what you’re talking about and you’re all wrong.”


A bit of an exaggeration, but not much of one.

With all due respect to the newer, calmer Jerome Kennedy, the provincial government doesn’t have a communications problem.

Kennedy and his colleagues have had no problem telling people what the provincial government is doing.  Every person in the province heard him loud and clear argue against a debate.  We heard him loud and clear when he argued a day or so later for a debate.

The message about the rapid, unexplained,  and contradictory shifts of position got through.  That is not a communications problem.

It’s a management problem.

And if Kennedy is right, if the radical shift of direction is something he did all by himself, then we have a big clue as to what the management problem is.  The 180 degree flip-flop looked like a decision made in haste and without adequate consultation.

If that was the only example, Kennedy’s mea culpa could be the end of it. But it isn’t.

Bill 29.  What Jerome and his colleagues said in the House last spring while Kathy Dunderdale was at a MUN alumni fundraiser in Calgary is exactly, word-for-word what the premier told the Tory convention in Gander.

Experts.  What Kevin O’Brien told callers to VOCM Backtalk on Wednesday is the same message Kathy and the rest of the Tories have sad for months:  We don’t need experts. We know it all.  We just need to get this done.  Do what we tell you and that’s all.

We are right.  We know better.  Everyone else is wrong.

Much the same as the core message in Kathy Dunderdale’s Bill 29 rant, isn’t it?

That same message comes across with all its inherent closed-minded, arrogant, dictatorial tone when you look at the Tory response to collapse of the discussions about the special debate that Jerome and Kathy supposedly wanted.  That would be the special debate that figures prominently in the householder that arrived in mailboxes across the province this week.

Darin King  - speaking on behalf of his colleagues – told the other two parties in the House of Assembly that the special debate could only happen if they accepted exactly what the Tories wanted.  Period.  That’s the attitude he took into a meeting on Tuesday.  New Democratic leader Lorraine Michael caved in quickly.  The Liberals stuck to their insistence on having expert witnesses. Compromise on other things but stick to that one.  Tories:  accept what we said.  Period.

Everyone who heard King, understood what he said and what it meant.

Not a communications problem.

A million dollar campaign of householders, organised news conferences delivering the same information from hired consultants that the same advertising company has helped Nalcor and the provincial government deliver for the past two years.

Not a communications problem.  We heard it all the first time.

Think management problem.

The management problem is that the Tories actually don’t realise they have a management problem in the first place.  They have misdiagnosed their crappy polls.  They don’t know or can’t admit they are in a hole

Think about the breast cancer scandal.  One of the problems for Eastern Health and government at the beginning of the crisis was that they didn’t realise they had a crisis on their hands in the first place. They just kept doing more of the same stuff they usually did.  Things got worse.  They did more of the same.  Rinse.  Repeat

This is a public relations problem
Public relations is the strategic management of relationships between an organization and its diverse publics, through the use of communication, to achieve mutual understanding, realize organizational goals and serve the public interest.
The government needs to figure what is agitating their key audiences and figure out how to address those concerns.  They haven’t done that.

People are worried about the cost of the project to them and about the price they will have to pay.  Cost escalations don’t help that.  The promise of more cost escalations don’t help that.

People are worried about what they will pay and what others will pay.  Telling them their rates will go up, just not as much as it would with oil doesn’t help.

Telling them you want them to pay to give free electricity to Nova Scotia?  Not a help.

Telling people you want them to pay so mining companies can get a break on electricity.  Not a help.

Telling people they will have to pay way more for electricity, while Nova Scotians get free power and miners get a big break while people in Flower’s Cove have to accept cuts to government spending doesn’t help.

Telling people you haven’t been looking after their interests - unsustainable public spending - is such a way to inspire confidence. 

Jerome Kennedy saying the same thing in a calmer tone of voice is just Jerome Kennedy saying the same thing in a calmer tone if what is putting you off is that you want assurance about something Jerome isn’t talking about.

If the provincial government couldn’t get the best outcome when Jerome Kennedy laid down the law to the opposition, sending Darin King to do and say the same thing isn’t likely to work any better. 

What King produced is the worst possible outcome. They are obviously more afraid of letting people hear from credible witnesses who are critical of the project than of telling their own story.   And if you are out here and want to hear Ed Martin explain Muskrat Falls in the House of Assembly because you support the project,  you wonder why the provincial government flatly refuses to let their own experts testify in a House of Assembly debate.  It looks chickenshit.

Put that together with the bizarro shifts of direction Jerome copped to last spring and you still have a bunch of people who want to spend billions of dollars on the biggest capital works project in the province’s history and yet who cannot seem to act like they know what they are doing.

People who don’t seem to know where they are going don’t have a communications problem.

They have got a really big management problem.