22 November 2013

There is only do #nlpoli

Truly effective communication is often more about what you do than what you say.

That’s a notion that screws up lots of people.

They get fixated on the mechanics of things.  They think if you say the right thing over the right medium, then they’ve aced it.  Job done.

But think about it for a second:  you text message your daughter that you’ll pick her up after school.  She texts back that she got the message and will be waiting at three o’clock.

Some people would be high-fiving at that point because the technical bits for effective communication are there:  message, sent over medium, received and confirmed.

And then you don’t show up.

You get home and your daughter is pissed off at you.  Communication problem, obviously.

So next day you call AND text the same message, which she dutifully confirms.

And you don’t show up again so she has to walk.

You can see the problem:  the action of picking up your daughter confirms that you meant what you texted.

Not picking her up sends the message that you didn’t mean what you promised.  It’s really another way of looking at that famous old Danny Williams quote about unkept promises:  there’s no greater fraud.

Bear that in mind as you check out this CBC story about Premier Kathy Dunderdale and public disclosure of leadership campaign donations for political parties in Newfoundland and Labrador.
"I don't have a problem with full disclosure ... Certainly it's something we can look at, … I don't have any difficulty with the people of the province knowing the sources of the funding for political parties — no, no problem."
Something we can have a look at. Not a ringing endorsement or any serious commitment but, you get the idea Kathy Dunderdale likes the idea.  In the Telegram account of the same scrum, Dunderdale talks about how the Conservatives have spending caps and reporting requirements in the party constitution.

It all sounds marvellous.  Kathy had a message and communicated it in English. Her communications people could even have cracked  open a cold one to celebrate.

Where Kathy falls down is in the action that would give that statement some meaning you could have faith in.  You see, back in 2003, Kathy Dunderdale and her colleagues didn’t just say that campaign finance reform was something they’d think about.  It wasn’t something they’d have to study a bit, to ponder.

They solemnly promised to do it.

They have had a whole decade in power to deliver.  

They did nothing.

So Kathy Dunderdale’s positive statements about campaign expense disclosure don’t just ring hollow, they gong the truth across the land.

What’s more, Dunderdale talked up her own party’s constitution.  She neglected to note that the past two Conservative leaderships were the result of back-room deals to avoid an actual contest.  So pledges to report expenses  - as the party constitution says - mean nothing at all if the whole process is rigged, thereby avoiding the rules on disclosure.

Then, of course, there is the fact that the requirements in the Conservative constitution only require reporting inside the party, not to the people of the province.

Actions and words go together.  When they don’t, there’s a credibility problem.  There’s a sincerity problem.

It’s like another quote that turned up at the end of the CBC story.  During her speech to the people at a $500 a plate Conservative fund-raiser, Dunderdale told the audience that when “you start running government like you're running a popularity contest, which we did far too long in this province, and sometimes far too long in this country, then we get our people in trouble."

What she said is true.  The provincial government is in a financial mess due to the Conservatives’ admitted financial mismanagement.  They overspent as part of their deliberate efforts to manipulate public opinion polls.  All along they have insisted they were good stewards of the public trust, that things were in good shape.

As Kathy Dunderdale herself admitted in 2011 and again in 2012, that’s not true.  The people of Newfoundland and Labrador are in serious  trouble not because of what the Conservatives said, but what they did.  They said that they were being responsible.  They did something else.

But now Kathy Dunderdale doesn’t believe in polls.  She is just doing what is right.


We believe that.

Now that the Conservatives are not popular, that’s her line.  Back when the Conservatives were popular, Kathy loved polls. Her grins in every interview told you so. Conservatives would tell anyone who listened that the polling numbers were high because people agreed with what the government was doing. We are popular because we are right, they’d say and right because we are popular.

But, as we all know now, the Conservatives spent huge amounts of time and considerable amounts of public money manipulating poll results.

A decade of inaction on campaign finance reform makes you doubt the sincerity of Kathy Dunderdale’s commitment to reforms.  A decade of action to manipulate polls pretty convincingly demolishes the credibility of Kathy Dunderdale’s claim that she doesn’t think polls matter.

The connection between words and actions is so obvious that you can only be amazed when people don’t seem to understand that actions always speak louder than words.