By ANGELO PERSICHILLI (The Hill Times)
Sept. 19, 2016
TORONTO – If I had to associate the federal political parties with professions, I would compare the Conservatives to a dentist talking about a root canal, the Liberals to a travel agent talking about sunny destinations, and the NDP to a CSIS secret agent talking about secretive things.
The reality is that the substance of all three of them is similar. In a globalized world, national governments don’t have a lot of discretion in terms of handling the country’s finances and economy, and major sectors like energy and pharmaceuticals. However, there is a lot of difference in how you might present your programs. Nowadays, communications is everything.
The Liberals are the best at this, while the Conservatives are the worst. The NDP is somewhere in the middle as they promote their plans with all the enthusiasm of a funeral home director.
Let’s take a look at the present federal political debate. Health care and the economy are usually at the forefront. However, being that the first topic is more provincially controlled and the debate on the economy tends to be made by economists and central bank governors, immigration gets pushed to the front burner.
If we take the Liberals’ approach compared to the one chosen by the Conservatives in dealing with immigration (the NDP is still MIA), you could write the perfect manual for communications, complete with dos and don’ts.
Let’s take a look at what Immigration Minister John McCallum said last week: “I have been hearing a lot of input, and all the hundreds of people I’ve spoken to across the country, most of them, almost all of them, have advocated [for] more immigrants, whether for demographic reasons or for job-shortage reasons,” Mr. McCallum told The Globe and Mail. Then he floats some numbers and gives himself a couple of months to decide: “But we as a government will not decide our proposal until November.”
First, he gives us no details. Second, he doesn’t express any opinion, but he speaks on behalf of the people of Canada. Third, he doesn’t make any commitment in terms of numbers or timing.
He said his government wants to raise the number of new permanent residents to a level of 300,000 (this was announced 23 years ago in Jean Chrétien’s Red Book and never done) and in this number he includes almost 55,000 refugees, a target of 155,000 economic immigrants, and 80,000 under family reunification.
With this statement, McCallum makes Canadians and future Canadians feel good without giving details and leaving the government free to make whatever decision they want when the time comes, or even make no decision at all.
He is saying nothing new, but it was a masterpiece of communications. He had nothing to say, but he said it very well.
Of course, they cannot keep playing this shell game forever. But no worries. Here come the Conservatives to the rescue, doing exactly the contrary of what they should do—a déjà vu of last year’s federal campaign.
Instead of talking about feel-good generalities, they put on the table a specific program that is easily targetable by the opposition and media, it makes them look anti-immigrant, and the debate moves from the feel-good, do-nothing approach of the Liberals to the nasty Conservative, always-ready-to-bully-someone approach.
Furthermore, while Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch talks about a mechanism to screen new immigrants for “anti-Canadian values,” other candidates, instead of moving on with other meaningful issues, start attacking one of the leading candidates, who, on her part, starts a convoluted explanation about how her proposal can improve the social and cultural relationship between present and new Canadians. I know Kellie Leitch and I know she is pro-immigrant, just like most Canadians and even like McCallum. But in politics, you are judged according to what you say, how you say it, and not about what you think.
Like a dentist, instead of telling people how the root canal surgery can benefit the patient’s health in general terms, such as improving digestion because they can chew better, the Conservatives give details about the root canal itself. That’s not what the patient wants to hear when sitting in front of the dentist with an open mouth.