Dispatches from the road: On spin doctors

I read in the newspaper that McKenna era Maurice Robichaud was being brought back as chief spin doctor for the provincial government. He’s the new head of Communications New Brunswick.

That bought my thinking back to a topic I have blogged alot about but not that much recently: The role of the spin doctor.

Is the role of the spin doctor to always try and put a good face on a bad situation? That certainly has been the role under former Premier Lord and seems to be continuing under Graham. Comb through a sea of bad news and pick out a few good things and spin the crap out of them.

I have a thought. What if Robichaud and company (i.e. the hundreds of spinners up in Freddy Beach) got in a room and realigned their spinning around the task at hand. No more glossing over bad news. No more canned boiler plate language about how ‘encouraged’ the Minister is about the economy.

Rather, the new goal for all spinning out of PNB is to convince New Brunswickers of the enormity of the task at hand. Further, all spinners will get a bonus if they can turn the poll figures in that direction. If the CRA or Bristol polls of consumers in New Brunswick start putting economic self-sufficiency, job creation, attracting immigrants, etc. at the top of their list of concerns, the spinners will have succeded.

It’s easy to gloss over the truth and spin out the message you want. Most media types (except Robert Jones at the CBC and a few other journalists with a bee in their bonnet) are perfectly content with transcribing the press releases coming out of government. Minister x says things are great – so they must be.

The truth is that based on the Census out yesterday, there were less people living in New Brunswick in 2006 than in 1996. The truth is that we have had more people move out of the province than in for 14 straight years. The truth is that many of our bedrock industries of the past are in decline. And, in my opinion, one of the most worrying things – the call centre industry which has been the backbone of the little economic growth we have seen in the past 10 years seems to be peaking. Over 7,000 call centre jobs were created in Bernard Lord’s tenure as Premier. It is likely that only a fraction of that will be created in Graham’s tenure. 17,000 call centre jobs, we are told, in total since the early 1990s. Where are those 17,000 jobs coming from over the next 10 years? We need it just to maintain status quo.

So to the spinners I would ask you to deprogram yourself. Good marketers can influence what they want their target audience to think. We don’t need the ‘target audience’ thinking everything’s fine and dandy. We need the target audience to wake up to the challenges of the next 20 years.

So, for the spinners, here are a few proposed headlines that I would have used in recent days:

New Brunswick’s population declined from 1996-2006 – the first decline in the province’s history. Minister says this proves the need for bold and decisive action.

New Brunswick’s labour market sheds over 9,000 workers. Minister says problem is acute and demands immediate action.

Nova Scotia lands another 1,000 financial services back office jobs. Minister says New Brunswick needs to ‘pull up its socks’ in the area of industry attraction.

New Brunswick’s need for Equalization rises to almost $1.5 billion per year. Second highest in Canada on a per capita basis and more than 2. 5 times the amount received by Quebec. Further, our dependency on Equalization is increasing every year*. Minister affirms growing national resentment and says reducing Equalization over the long term is key to self sufficiency objectives.

*by the way, it won’t be long before we catch PEI for Equalation per capita. How’s that for a Prosperity Plan target.

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0 Responses to Dispatches from the road: On spin doctors

  1. Anonymous says:

    How about some good news for a change…here’s from the T&T yesterday and will help keep at least one maritimer from needing to collect welfare or EI. All we need is about 200,000 new ideas:

    Cocagne inventor strikes gold with Painter’s Mate
    By Brent Mazerolle
    Times & Transcript Staff
    Published Tuesday March 13th, 2007
    Appeared on page C2

    It all started when Cocagne’s Paul Richard was nursing a bad back.

    A house painter, Richard was struggling one day to move his paint tray around and started thinking there had to be a better way.

    He came up with one, a wooden cart that would allow the paint tray to be easily moved around, and now his product, redone in plastic, is for sale at the more than 1,000 Home Hardware stores across Canada.

    The Painter’s Mate hit the shelves three weeks ago. It is being manufactured and marketed by the hardware giant as an aid to handy men and women of all sorts. The product, which Richard had originally called Painter’s Buddy, the Back Saver, retails for $19.97 and Richard will receive a royalty for each one sold.

    While the money hasn’t started flowing in just yet, the local inventor said yesterday he feels lucky to have come so far in developing an invention without expensive startup costs – and lucky to have the assistance of two area businessmen.

    First was Alvin Leger, owner of the Home Hardware stores on Elmwood Drive and Mountain Road in Moncton, as well as Dieppe Home Hardware. Richard and Leger had a passing acquaintance and when the inventor asked Leger to have a look at a prototype, Leger agreed.

    And when Leger, whose Elmwood Drive location was named Canada’s best Home Hardware in 2004, was impressed by what he saw, he called the company’s head office in St. Jacobs, Ont.

    “Alvin called me and said, ‘you should hear from someone this week,'” Richard recounted yesterday. “Five minutes later my phone was ringing.”

    Richard and his wife quickly hopped a plane to Hamilton and went to St. Jacob to give a demonstration to company officials. They got a positive response, aided no doubt by a professional looking prototype fabricated at Plastech in Notre-Dame.

    “I haven’t even paid him for it yet,” Richard said of his agreement with Plastech owner Paul LeBlanc. “Paul told me, ‘when you get your first cheque from Home Hardware, then you come see me.'”

    While he waits for that first cheque, he continues to use prototypes in his own business, Ty Jay Painting.

    He said many of the tradesmen he has shown it to have started adapting it to their own uses. Auto mechanics, for instance, can easily remove the handle and slide it laden with wrenches under the cars they’re repairing.

    While Home Hardware is selling it with other painter’s supplies, they too are marketing its usefulness for moving tools of any sort or even cleaning products from project to project around the house.

    Richard will be demonstrating his invention at the Home Hardware booth at this weekend’s Moncton Home Show, and he also recently shared his story with students at L’Odyssée High School after their teacher called Fredericton patent agent Mario Theriault and asked him if he knew of any local inventors.

    Richard’s invention may take up just a little space on page 76 of Home Hardware’s 2007 catalogue but it’s been a longtime labour of love for Richard, certainly not a get-rich-quick scheme.

    It’s been a dozen years since he built his first wooden version, two years since Plastech made a plastic prototype, and now a year since he signed a contract with Home Hardware.

  2. Spinks says:

    Not my same take but the spin cycle is in high on the budget and I’m glad to see someone else noticed.

  3. Wendy Waters says:

    Maybe NB’s government needs some tough love. In many provinces welfare recipients after a certain number of months and years on the dole must be taking active steps toward finding work if they are deemed able to do so, or will see their benefits reduced or eliminated.

    Similarly, many banks and creditors will help you out if you over-extend yourself, provided that you have a plan to get back on your financial feet.

    Maybe transfer payments need to be tied to a long term sustainable plan to balance the budget.

  4. David Campbell says:

    “Maybe transfer payments need to be tied to a long term sustainable plan to balance the budget.”

    Geez, Wendy. That’s what I have been saying all along but then ‘economists’ and bureaucrats say that Equalization has nothing to do with economic growth or about balancing the budget. In fact, they say the opposite. That Equalization was designed for poor provinces that can’t balance their budget (i.e. provide government services) without it.

    But that’s the ultimate incentive to do nothing. Every own source dollar raised is clawed back. We need a long term plan to reduce Equalization and that will come through a rational approach.