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.