I just got back from an overnight canoeing trip on the Miramichi with a couple of ED buddies. By my count, we spent about 13 hours straight talking about economic development. I felt like Russian dissidents circa the 1970s plotting the downfall of communism (although our issues in NB are not nearly as grandiose).

But I am not going to talk about that discussion. I want to talk this evening about communications in government. I know it’s an old theme on this blog but I want to revisit it in light of several conversations I have had lately.

First, I think we need to completely rethink how government ‘communicates’ with its public. Right now the only communications is pried out of government officials by the media or served up via highly sanitized and vetted press communiques. In fact, sometimes I think the role of the communications people in government is to restrict the information that the public sees on its activities.

And that is crazy. The government of NB spends $6 billion tax dollars each year and you would be hard pressed to find a handful of people that actually know what the government does.

I would flip it on its ear. I would encourage the Premier to write a blog – a heartfelt communication with the public. Not the crap we hear now. An honest personal assessment from the guy about the challenges and struggles of trying to change things in this province. I would have BNB employees writing “dispatches from the road” where they tell the public about recent trips to Prague and Dallas and some of the exciting things they are working on. Not private information or confidential company names but the things they are doing on a daily basis to try and make things better for all New Brunswickers.

And I would apply that to every department and agency of government. I would start an ongoing and personal dialogue with the people.

Now some are going to say that it would be a waste of time and money. That only a few people would ever read the stuff and it would take valuable time away from ‘real’ work. I say that is bullcrap. Ask the average New Brunswicker. They will tell you that the government almost nothing and has no real impact on their daily lives. Why? Because they haven’t a clue what is being done.

And even if only a few folks tune in. So what? I have always thought that we need a ground swell of support from the people for a real economic development agenda. One that causes pain in certain areas. One that will require risk and one that will require far more focus from across government and its agencies. That is why you need this interactivity.

Cripes. Between Communications New Brunswick and the dozens if not a hundred or more communications types in each and every department of government. What is the point of their millions of dollars spent?

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0 Responses to Communication

  1. Anonymous says:

    I would agree with you if we had smart and responsible politics in the province. It doesn’t matter which party is in the opposition, anything that the party in power would say candidly would be used for cheap criticism. It takes only a brief look at what has been going on recently (French immersion, post-secondary education, etc.) to get an idea of what it would happen if any politician would speak candidly about any issue.

  2. richard says:

    ” I would have BNB employees writing ..”

    I think that is not only a good idea, it is an essential part of democracy. In this country (and this region of it particularly) we have far too much deference to the ‘big boys’, whether government or corporate; blogs from some senior employees on topics like this would certainly generate dialogue. Of course there will be negative feedback (what in heck are doin’ in Prague anyway? Get back here and get to work!), but the real impediment will be the increasing desire on the part of politicians to control all communication with the public.

    Our current PM is a fine example of that, and how it works against democracy. We have a few politicians who are not interested in dialogue, because they already ‘know’ the solutions to all our problems.

    So the blogs will have to start with the Premier, and he has to set the example.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Interesting but a band aid solution for poor leadership and inadequate opposition. It would turn into yet another forum for minority interests to dominate while detracting from the work our leaders should be getting done.

    Elections are the time for communicating policy and in between government should be executing.

  4. richard says:

    “Elections are the time for communicating policy “

    You could not be more wrong. Elections here and elsewhere rarely are about communicating policy. Elections are about getting elected.

    Policies are almost always developed AFTER the election and can be influenced by various parties at that point. Thus communications of the type David is recommending are essential in a democratic society.