November Subscription Drive
1. McNeil’s pricey PR people suck at their jobs
Yesterday on Facebook, Graham Steele posted an analysis of the McNeil government’s reaction to the collapse of negotiations with the teachers union. Steele’s entire post is worth reading, but I was most struck by this:
The government’s communication strategy is poor. Key information was being tweeted by the premier’s principal secretary. The red-bathed Liberal ads are more scary than reassuring. The premier’s tone is all wrong. It’s the angry, combative tone he uses in the legislature. People remember tone long after they’ve forgotten content. He needs to take a deep breath and be statesmanlike. One thing’s for sure: this dispute is not going to be resolved by running down teachers.
The usual political playbook is that the premier lets his ministers carry the freight, and steps in only when a dispute is very close to resolution. Then the premier takes credit as the peacemaker. In contrast, Premier McNeil has sidelined his education minister and is fronting the communications just when the dispute is at its worst. If the teachers go on strike, he’ll wear it personally. That’s not good politics. I don’t understand the strategy.
I couldn’t agree more. When the Liberal ads came out, I noted that:
Here’s the first ad:
Boy, does that hit the wrong note. Note to Liberals: when discussing education you need a nice soft, touchy-feely voiceover, not some deep throated guy who sounds like a mafia fixer threatening to kneecap you if you don’t pay for the protection insurance.
Since then, McNeil has doubled down on the anger at teachers. Steele says it’s a poor communications strategy, but it’s not obvious to me that it’s a communications strategy at all; McNeil and his team seem to be winging it on the PR front.
But how can that be? McNeil has surrounded himself with former journalists commanding unprecedentedly high salaries, presumably because their talents were up to the challenge.
I was called a sexist and worse for daring to question McNeil’s hiring of Laurie Graham, spouse of the saintly Ray Ivany, as the Principal Secretary to McNeil, at the astonishing salary of $160,000 annually. But there are also:
• Marilla “get rid of about half of the communications machine” Stephenson, hired into the communications machine in the newly created position of “managing director of corporate and external relations” for the Executive Council Office at a salary of $106,000;
• former MITV anchor Laura Lee Langley, transferred earlier this year from Communications Nova Scotia to become the deputy minister of the Office of the Premier. I can’t find her current salary, but it’s no doubt more than the $183,342.38 she was paid last year at CNS;
• former CTV reporter Jackie Foster, hired in February to become the “policy and outreach advisor” at the Executive Council Office (I can’t find her salary this morning);
• former Chronicle Herald reporter David Jackson, hired as the “senior advisor media relations” in the Office of Premier, also at an undetermined salary.
That’s at least five successful journalists who have been hired into highly paid positions in McNeil’s inner circle for, as McNeil himself noted, their expertise in communications:
Asked… what Nova Scotians should make of the spate of hirings McNeil said “they’ll recognize that the premier recognizes the great talent that’s in the press corp.”
This “great talent,” however, is leading McNeil right down a disastrous communications path with regard to the teachers.
All of these PR people were highly regarded as journalists. (Of the five, I only dealt with Foster firsthand, and found she had excellent instincts.) So what went wrong? Did McNeil surround himself with a team of capable communications experts only to ignore their advice? Or is it that, contrary to the truism, journalists don’t really make good government PR hacks?
Whatever the reason, as evidenced by the failed communications strategy with regard to the teachers’ issue, these five former journalists suck at their jobs.
How much is this failed communication team costing?
Well, McNeil is throwing out numbers like “half a billion dollars” for the teachers’ ask and “about $1.2-billion in compensation across the entire public service” should the teachers’ request for a two per cent raise be applied to all government employee unions. It’s unclear where those numbers came from; as Steele notes:
The government documents don’t spell out how they [the McNeil government] calculated the cost of the NSTU proposals. Heck, they don’t even list what the NSTU proposals were. We need to be cautious of accepting, and then repeating as fact, numbers that are not well explained.
But one of the PR people, Graham, tweeted out some limited context:
Talks broke off with NS teacher's union after an ask of almost 500 million for teacher's alone. #nspoli
— laurie graham (@lauriegrahamNS) November 25, 2016
In response to a reporter’s question about where that number came from, Graham tweeted:
@MariekeWalsh NSTU ask:500M over 4 yrs – salary, retirement bonus,working conditions. More details tomorrow.
— laurie graham (@lauriegrahamNS) November 25, 2016
Well, maybe, but this is obviously misdirection. With her first tweet, Graham implied that $500 million is the annual cost of the teachers’ ask. Even with the qualifying info in the second tweet, that it’s the cost over four years, Graham is still implying that the additional cost of the teachers’ ask is $500 million, where clearly that figure is the total cost of existing pay and benefits plus the ask. And since she doesn’t provide the cost of existing pay and benefits, the $500 million figure is completely meaningless — we have no baseline to compare it to.
(And can I just point out that reporters are trained to illuminate, give context, and, well, tell the truth, whereas Graham is here doing the complete opposite: she’s shading the issue, avoiding context, and giving incomplete truths.)
Still, if a contract lifetime cost is good enough for Graham when calculating the impact of giving teachers a raise, then it’s good enough for us when calculating how much the super-duper basketball squad of McNeil’s inner circle of communications experts is costing us.
Between Graham and Langley alone we’re talking $350,000 annually. Throw in 106K for Stephenson and (I’m guessing) 100K each for Foster and Jackson, and we’re talking ballpark $650,000 for just the first year, and all we got was this failed communications strategy T-shirt and red-washed ads threatening to kneecap us.
Project the five’s salaries out 10 years, and we’re talking $6.5 million! — and that doesn’t even include the inevitable annual salary increases that are given administrators but that McNeil wants to deny to union workers.
This is of course a ridiculous conversation, but that’s what happens when McNeil throws out bullshit numbers like a half-billon dollars and $1.2 billion for the purpose of baldly stupid political posturing. Too bad he doesn’t have any competent communications professionals around to advise him not to.
2. Examineradio, episode #89
On this, episode 89 of Examineradio, we speak with long-time Halifax journalist and journalism professor Stephen Kimber. Over a wide-ranging interview, we look at the very real possibility that Halifax could become the largest city in Canada without a daily newspaper of record.
Also, Halifax’s White Elephant has its opening date pushed back yet again, throwing dozens of conventions into chaos. This week also saw the city’s 12th homicide of 2016, and we wait to see if the newly-elected council’s commitment to a living wage ordinance has any teeth.
Finally, if you’re a regular user of TuneIn for podcasts, radio shows and radio streams, Examineradio is now available to stream there.
3. Peter Kelly
“It appears Charlottetown’s CAO is going to be on probation a little while longer,” reports TC Media:
Sources have told TC Media that the city has extended Peter Kelly’s probation another six months while a review is conducted in Alberta.
One source TC Media spoke to Friday said everyone wants to clear the air.
“He’s done by all reports a fabulous job (as Charlottetown’s CAO), but we’re making sure that everything is clean and clear for him and that he operates under no shadow,’’ the source said, requesting anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak about it.
For new readers, here’s an abridged history of Kelly’s public service:
Remarkably, even with this history, the city council of Charlottetown hired Kelly as the city’s CAO. When Russell Gragg and I interviewed some of the councillors for the Examineradio podcast, they excused the hiring by speaking of “those inbreds in Alberta” and other non-issues.
I’ve been telling anyone who will listen in Charlottetown that it’s only a matter of time before their burg erupts in Kelly-related scandal.
4. Trussler to retire
The city this morning issued a Request for Proposal for a head-hunting firm to hire a new fire chief. Current chief Doug Trussler recently told me that after he retires he intends to stay in the Halifax region.
The RFP also includes the recruitment of a division chief in the fire department. I don’t know if someone else is being replaced or if this is a new position.
Update 10am: City spokesperson Brendan Elliott writes:
Hi Tim, just saw your morning bulletin. The other person leaving is our Emergency Management Office co-ordinator Barry Manuel. A huge loss. His institutional memory dates back to 1985 when he first started doing EMO work. He is an expert in his field, and was involved in the Swissair disaster, Hurricane Juan, White Juan, and several other events affecting the Halifax area. He retires on April 30. The hope is to have someone in the job before he retires so he can pass on his decades of knowledge.
5. Centre Plan
The Centre Plan is the next step in the city’s planning process, applying the same sort of planning guidelines that were applied through the HRM By Design process for downtown to the rest of the “capital region” — the entire Halifax peninsula and Dartmouth inside the Circumferential Highway.
As regular readers know, I’ve been cynical about the Centre Plan because I fear it will reflect the two primary shortfalls of HRM By Design. The first is that so many exemptions were written into the thing that it allowed construction of the Borg, the humongous and ugly Nova Centre that has destroyed the architectural spirit of downtown. The second is that there is not the political will to enforce the thing, so connected developers will convince politicians to side-step the planning rules and sign onto development agreements that otherwise wouldn’t be allowed.
And now the city has published a list of 19 development proposals that have been submitted since the Centre Plan process was started. As with the Nova Centre and HRM By Design, these are proposals that may be written right into the Centre Plan as exemptions to the Centre Plan’s otherwise supposed worthy guidelines.
I haven’t had time to meticulously go through the list. Some of the 19 appear to be non-controversial, but others are very, very large — there are 20- and 26-storey buildings on the list — and will have untold effects (positive and negative) on surrounding neighbourhoods.
See the whole list here. The list does not say what is allowed by the existing land-use bylaws and planning regulations for each site, which might be an indication that staff is leaning towards recommending approval for each proposed project.
1. The Ghomeshi verdict isn’t Marie Henein’s fault
“The danger in having conversations about sexual assault and how it should be dealt with in the criminal justice system without someone like Henein involved,” writes Stephen Kimber, “is that such a discussion becomes insular and circular, and gets us nowhere.”
This article is behind the Examiner’s paywall and so available only to paid subscribers. Click here to purchase a subscription.
2. Conquered people don’t need treaties
Robert Devet points out that the legal brief claiming that the Sipekne’katik Band is a “conquered people” and so therefore their appeal of the Alton Gas project does not apply is merely a reflection of a broader court argument made by the province:
In June, in the same case, [Justice Departmetn lawyer Alex] Cameron also argued that treaties don’t apply.
The treaty of 1752?
“Courts have consistently found that the treaty of 1752 was terminated by hostilities shortly after 1752,” writes Cameron in his June submission. “In sum, the courts have held that the Treaty of 1752 did not survive. The applicants have no claim to rights under it.”
The treaties of 1760 – 1761?
“In sum, while the Applicant claims aboriginal title and treaty rights, the law does not support such claims in respect of title at Shubenacadie and rights under the 1752 Treaty, and casts considerable doubt on claimed rights under the Treaties, 1760-1761.”
No offending words this time, but same outcome.
Districts 7 & 8 Planning Advisory Committee (4pm, City Hall) — now that the horse is out of the barn, the committee is going to try to close the door on Young Avenue demolitions.
No public meetings.
Gene editing (9am: Theatre D, Tupper Building) — a symposium on the science of gene editing and its social, cultural, economic, and ethical implications; presenters aren’t named in the event listing.
Senate (3pm, Theatre A, Tupper Building) — 15 minutes is being allotted for “Dentistry update on the Taskforce Recommendations.”
Gattaca (7pm, ground floor of the Halifax Infirmary) — a public screening of the 1997 sci-fi film written and directed by Andrew Niccol and starring Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, and Jude Law; a panel discussion on the science and ethics of human gene modification follows.
In the harbour
5:30am: Dalian Express, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk
6am: Atlantic Cartier, ro-ro container, arrives at Fairview Cove from Antwerp, Belgium
3pm: NYK Meteor, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
3pm: Vera D, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Lisbon, Portugal
3:30pm: Atlantic Cartier, ro-ro container, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
5:30am: Oberon, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Southhampton, England
1pm: Vera D, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for Mariel, Cuba
4pm: Oberon, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
I don’t like flying. I like trains.