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Friday 17 October 2014

Ideas + 1

For the next installment of my short series on ideas to make NL a better place to live I thought I should explain the two types or levels of ideas that I like to talk about. First is the practical on the ground and generally tangible type. It could be a simple Gov program, a new funding source, a slight shift in approach or adding a new planning angle to something that is already in operation. These ideas tend to be easier to implement and cost comparatively little as well. The other type of idea is on a larger scale that could involve a significant directional shift in how we do things. This ideas can be much more difficult to implement and potentially very expensive. In this piece I'll provide one of each.

Homemade Bread to Baker's Fog 
Today I'll start with an idea that has been brewing in the back of my head for quite a long while. I have read and heard about how people feel that Newfoundland and Labrador is such a unique and wonderful place because of the unusual economic and cultural landscape that encouraged our independent and resourceful spirit. Besides a few very rural and tourism related exceptions that unique culture and the related skills are being lost at an alarming rate. I think we need to raise the level of importance of our cultural heritage and start actively preserving it.

Can you bake a batch of bread from scratch? How many students who graduated high school this year can bake bread, or knit a par of socks, split a cod, pip a squid, play an instrument, spin a yarn? Or even understand some of our basic traditions, history or language? Unless we work to continue to spread those cultural attributes they will be lost to history. Now I'm not saying that those skills are essential for survival, however they can still provide important cultural lessons and transferable skills that we should celebrate.

What we need is a Newfoundland and Labrador Cultural Institute. This NLCI could capture and offer these key aspects of our history and culture and offer them up in various formats for those who wish to learn more. I want to learn to knit, but I don't have any immediate family members who are able to teach me. What if there was a place I could turn to where I could learn to knit a pair of mitts or vamps? It could be a combination of digital and concrete resources that would act as a repository of information and a learning resource for everyone. The focus would have to be on collecting and sharing the skills, stories, history, pastimes, languages and anything else that has helped NL become the place it has become. And yes I do include Labrador specific and aboriginal specific information. Why not collect and share all that amazing cultural information? This idea needs more fleshing out and I'm certainly not clear on every detail, but I do think it is certainly worth the time and effort to take a closer look at it.

Close to Home
It seems to be the general idea that many successive governments in NL have felt that consolidating services and offices is the best choice because it saves money. I would argue that saving money is not always the primary goal of government services. So over the years as we have seen decision making bodies move further and further away from the people who are most directly impacted, we have seen both the level of service and the quality of the decisions made erode significantly. I think that what we have seen is quite the opposite of what we need. Our decision making bodies should in fact be as close to those impacted as practical, and most of my larger scale ides focus around that very theme; as local as practical.     

One of the most ridiculous moves the current Government has made that is the complete opposite of my line of thinking was the consolidation of the school boards. There was a time when important school decisions were made by those in the community where the school was located. Then it moved to a regional basis with some consultation with communities, and now local community leaders and school administrators wait together while bureaucrats in the capital region decree the latest mandated changes.

Of course the Department of Education must set main education criteria and province wide policy, but with the English school Board taking in 99% of provincial schools why do we need two giant bureaucratic administrative bodies with so much overlap? Why not just scrap the school board and let the Dept of Education handle it all? Or why not do the proper thing and go back to the sensible approach of letting local people make decisions about local schools? It may cost a little more but isn't it worth it? Healthcare and education are always chosen as the top two priorities of taxpayers, so if we're going to spend the money then why don't we get some real local value out of it?

Stay tuned...     

You can read Ideas Part I here.

Monday 6 October 2014


There are many characteristics that a good leader can possess, and one of the most important is the willingness to explore new ideas. Albert Einstein supposedly said "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them." If that is indeed true then we need to change the way we seek to make our society better. We must not focus on our problems and then try to solve them, but instead look at our assets and explore what we can achieve with them.

As the next election draws near I hope we hear new ideas that will help develop and improve our society. Even a simple idea can have a profound impact over time. I have certainly voiced my share of complaints about the current government over the last number of years but on a couple rare occasions they have been willing to try something new. The highway moose detection system was actually an idea worth exploring. It should have been only a trial in one location and all additional costs should have been borne by the company who completed the installation, but it was worth exploring. We must be willing to explore and attempt new things if we hope to improve our society.

In the vein of sharing ideas in an attempt to improve our province I thought I'd post a couple of thoughts here over the next few days and see where they go.

1. Provincial Government Help Line.
Those who live in St. John's would be familiar with the 311 phone number as a first point of contact with the City. Its not always perfect but at least its a starting point for contact. Having worked with the Provincial Government and having dealt with various departments I can easily say that the key to getting proper help is knowing who to talk to. For many residents their first point of contact is their MHA's office, and while that can work it's adding an extra step that shouldn't be required. Having one contact number for the Province where you could reach an office dedicated to helping you reach the proper person or office could provide a simple direct link between residents and their government.

2. Idea Warehouse.
Even when I was a manager with the Provincial Government I found it very difficult to find any real interest in new ideas and approaches. In fact it was the continued resistance to ideas for change that eventually led me to resign. Even understanding the politicized nature of government there should always be a sincere and open forum for people to bring forward new ideas. We need every opportunity to explore every idea that could benefit us as a province. We should have a public repository where everyone is invited to submit and comment on ideas that could improve services, save money, or benefit any part of society.

3. Substitute Teachers on Retainer.
Currently substitute teachers are all tossed into a pool and schools develop a call list of teachers that the use on a semi-regular basis depending on their availability. For a few lucky teachers this can lead to good relationships with one school that can develop into replacement or even full time work eventually. Unfortunately for most substitutes it simply leads to years of jumping from school to school without any real ability to develop a proper relationship with students. What if substitutes were hired on a retainer basis with a school? They would make a base amount for being on retainer and then extra money for days when they were called into work. They would consistently be dealing with the same staff, school and more importantly the same students. It would help reduce the disruptive nature of bringing in a new substitute and help develop the teacher - student bond.

Those are the first three that I'm throwing out there for discussion. Of course they need to be developed more fully but they are a starting point of looking at some things a little differently. Could they work? I certainly think so, and I'm open to discussing any thoughts any of you might have.

Note: If you have any interesting and unique ideas you'd like to share please feel free to post them in the comments section or send them along in an email and I'll post them if you'd like.  


Thursday 18 September 2014


Every so often I hear a word and wonder about the origins. Did it start as a slang term? Did it come from another language? Is it something truly unique to Newfoundland and Labrador?

One of the earliest I can remember wondering about was coleslaw. I could see someone eating this tasty but unusual side and commenting on how it was basically cold slop and it could have evolved from there! Of course that's not where the name comes from. It actually originated with the Dutch word for a cabbage salad: koolsla. Now you know.

Another word I often wondered about was dandelion. It always seemed to me that it could be a French word meaning lion's tooth, based on the shape of the pointy jagged leaf. Turns out I actually got that one right. Not that it's a stretch to see that dandelion could come from dent de lion. This is really only where the interesting notes about dandelions in NL gets started.

I was lucky enough to grow up with my grandparents and as such they provided me with a link to a more traditional side to NL culture and language that I would have otherwise missed out on. When it came to dandelions my grandmother would often say her mother called them "piss-a-beds." This just sent me in a burst of laughter as a boy. How could it not? A while ago I was thinking about my nan and dandelions came into my head and how that always made me laugh. Then I started to wonder about where piss-a-bed could have come from?     

I'm not sure if I actually looked it up in french or if I happened to see it written but I was pretty surprised when I found that the french word for dandelion is not dandelion but is actually pissenlit. So not only is the regular english name derived from french but so is the Newfoundland word! To make it even better the Newfoundland word is a mix between french and english. The beginning is similar as pissen becomes piss-a but the funny part is how the end of the word gets translated into english as lit translates to bed. 

We are incredibly lucky in Newfoundland and Labrador to have such a mix of traditional culture and language. From english to french to aboriginal, we must to continue to explore and celebrate our cultures. They help us understand where we came from and indeed can help shape our unique future in a world of homogeneity. Isn't it more fun to call them piss-a-beds then boring dandelions!  

Friday 22 August 2014

More Bill 29 Fallout

The latest opportunity for the current Government to show its lack of ability to get anything right was taken full advantage of by Minister Sandy Collins and his senior staff this week. He firmly establish this Government's lack of ability to take responsibility, and their complete lack of reasoning for moving ahead with Bill-29. Or perhaps it shows that they are willing to allow a public bloodletting from a guy who in all likely hood have nothing to do with the original bill but now shoulders the responsibility. It's the continuing saga of a Government/Party that has passed its expiration date. 

Check out more over here at The Sir Robert Bond Papers

Thursday 24 July 2014

Mea Culpa

In case you haven't heard about this recent news story take a moment and head over to CBC and read this. Does it make you angry? Upset? Frustrated? Why? Have you had a similar experience with Marine Atlantic or some other Government service provider?

 Throughout the private sector business' have their own customer service struggles, but they generally can't hold a candle to government offices or crown corporations when it comes to bad customer service. Generally speaking government offices like Motor Registration don't care if you leave happy or frustrated just as long as you leave. Don't misunderstand my comments as an attack on government employees. I have been served by some very pleasant government staff in various departments and crown corporations at both Provincial and Federal levels, including Motor Registration. Their focus is very rarely on customer service and Marine Atlantic is often the epitome of this unfortunate missed opportunity.

Crown Corporations seem to see their objective as providing basic service for minimal cost, period. Marine Atlantic is a tough sell to folks even when they make positive news cycles for any number of reasons usually related to lack of funding, but the funny thing is that good customer service generally doesn't cost money and yet they still repeatedly screw it up.

To get back to this most recent fiasco Marine Atlantic has managed to once again piss off a huge number of people for something that could have easily been avoided. A certified service dog traveling with a veteran was almost denied entry to the ferry and then harassed continuously for the duration of the voyage. Once the story broke this was bad news for the PR folks at MA but bless their hearts they went and made it worse.

After hearing of the incident MA senior staff should have immediately contacted the gentleman in question and profusely apologized and then went to the media with their mea culpa. Take the blame and the responsibility for what happened, say that policy will change and it will never happen again. End of story. Right? Wrong.

Instead of begging for forgiveness the MA VP for "customer experience" (whatever that's supposed to mean) spoke to CBC to say things like "
"At its root, we do not have a clear definition of what a service animal is," said Barnes. 
"We talked a lot about the need for a better understanding of the issues involved and the struggles and challenges faced by people with PTSD and this whole new emerging area of service animals for atypical or non-traditional kinds of support."
He said that while most people are familiar with service dogs working in the role of a seeing eye dog, some people are still learning about service animals providing other types of support.
Barnes said that Marine Atlantic front-line employees receive training every two years on how to support passengers with disabilities.
His comments should have been heavy with apology in every fashion possible, but they were not.

The public can be fooled by slick campaigns and fast talkers for sure, but most of the time a genuine apology will take care of all but the most egregious customer service problems. It costs nothing but honesty and sincerity. Unfortunately it appears that those are a couple of things Marine Atlantic just can't afford. 

Wednesday 16 July 2014

Early Summer News Blotter

First up is this silly little number out of Plate Cove East. 
Money was invested to help restore the river pool back to its pre-Igore state and ever since then Service NL has told them it's illegal to operate it. It's a river pool in a small community so any discussion is just stupid. The safety argument does make sense but use at own risk still applies. 

Next up is trails and tribulations. 
It looks like the Prov Gov has suggested a private company should be allowed to use bikes on the ECT without the approval of the actual East Coast Trail Association. What a surprise. I hike the ECT a fair amount and I've seen a few mountain bikers along the way. There are certainly sections where it could work but they then to be the areas that are former access roads or the more open areas. Some sections of trail are difficult on foot and bikers would be carrying their bikes for sure. 

And then its the City of St. John's looking for "regional cooperation"
This isn't the first time we've heard this tune from St. John's. Former Mayor Wells was know for his attitude for the "brow baggers" who worked in the City but resided outside of it's sacred limits. The skinny here is that as the Capital, St, John's benefits from a readily available work force, government offices everywhere, retail establishments in all corners, and they all choose the City as their location to better access the residents of the entire region. Bottom line is that St. John's benefits far more from those who travel to work there then it looses on road maintenance servicing the arterials in and out of the City. Suck it up.

Where is Batman? Or superman?
No links required here as you've all read the news stories of gunshots, bear spray, knife attacks and general havoc in and around the downtown area as of late. Does this indicate a rise in crime or more unsafe streets in our fair capital? Do we nee to flash the Bat symbol into the fog? Maybe not just yet, but we should keep an eye on it. I'm not convinced our streets are really less safe but it is hard to deny the increasing frequency of newsworthy incidents. We are becoming a more affluent region and that extra money brings nice cars, expensive restaurants and organized crime. We haven't been overrun just yet but we need to keep control of the situation before it gets out of hand. The police can only do so much and always deserve our support, but we also need a shift in our approach to justice that reflects our new reality. An approach that streamlines court proceedings for non-violent crimes and minor issues like small claims court, while creating special responsibilities for those tasked with keeping our streets safe from the real and growing threats. 

Drive through St. John's, go for a hike and a swim and don't do drugs!   

Monday 16 June 2014

Don't count your chickens, sharpen your axes.

News today of "the man who would be king" Frank Coleman's move to step away from the opportunity to become Premier was a shocker to many. There had been rumors in some circles for some weeks that it would be a bad strategic move for him to continue on to take the top job based on his luke warm public reception, bad communications choices, and the faltering condition of the PC Party. If we take Frank at his word, and really how can we not, then it was a family emergency and not the building stress related to his upcoming coronation that led to his departure. So what then of the PC's?

Since the later days of Dunderdale's reign many have been touting that the tide will turn from blue to red for the next general election. I've heard this from interested but non-partisan folks as well as from a good many big "L" Liberals. The fortunes for the PC's seem to just keep getting worse with every cycle of the moon and it's difficult to say what it might take for them to get a credible leader following this latest foolishness.

After all Coleman was supposedly hand picked by the great DW himself despite what each had said publicly. Now Dan's man has stepped aside and we are left with some folks who didn't feel strongly enough to take a run at it just a couple months ago. Good with that I say.

Then, of course we are just coming off the heals of the Liberal convention in Gander which was apparently very well attended. I didn't make it out myself but luckily Facebook and Twitter kept me in the loop for most of it. You can bet that even before this Coleman pull-out Gander was chocked full of Liberals who feel it's all just a matter of time before they're vacuuming the blue out of the carpets and spreading the red around. It certainly is true that the liberals have had a very good public profile, positive poll results, and some known candidates express serious interest in running for them.

But lets not forget the debt. As opposed to the PCs who have buckets of cash the Liberal Party is still rolling pennys. On top of that is that fact that the tories could still get a relatively strong leader, and they get to choose the date of the election. Plus they hold the public purse strings until that election is called. And finally it would be very unwise to assume that because the sky seems to be falling on them right now that they are too stunned to do anything about it. While most of the elected PC members won't be joining Mensa anytime soon they do employ people who know how to develop a strategy, and deliver a message.    

This race is far from over. The tories will seriously have to get their act together if they expect to make a real run at holding government. At the same time the Liberals can't expect this to go down without a battle.

At the end of the day I do think the people have had enough of the current crowd, and it is largely do to their own hubris that they will lose. But the Liberals should fight tooth and nail to prove that they are worthy of the responsibility to form a new government that actually listens to the people and not one that dictates to them. At least that's my hope.

Sunday 20 April 2014

Engage Us!

The Hard Road
Democracy is messy and hard. That is if you're doing it right. Its setup to allow participation by all who wish to take part and provide an arena to debate ideas. Unfortunately many democracies do not welcome all, nor do they provide open arenas for debate. The general public recognize this in some forms and begin to loose interest in all but the most radical scenarios, and they get called apathetic or lazy. While there are certainly some who simply don't care there are many many more who do care but feel that their involvement is not wanted.

Here's a video of Dave Meslin presenting on the idea that most people are interested but the system is usually set up to keep them out using "intentional exclusion."

Engage Me!
The idea seams simple enough doesn't it? If you want people involved then you have to do things to get them involved. If there are no significant actions that are intended to genuinely engage people then it must be concluded that there is no intent to actually involve people. Recently there has been some public discourse regarding youth engagement in municipal politics, and you can find my thoughts on the matter here. When I look at the three levels of government in our country I see very few examples of genuine public engagement. 

When the Government of NL launched the Office of Public Engagement I admit that I had hope that this was a sign of something new. A sign that they actually wanted input and participation from the people of NL. I hit Twitter and congratulated them for the move and mentioned how much I was looking forward to seeing how they would work toward actually engaging people. Unfortunately the OPE appears to be a branding exercise and not much more. Take a few minutes and click on the link and poke around the site. Try to find the new avenues they are using to "engage" people. You will find few if any. As of now the OPE has become a collection of initiatives that didn't fit anywhere else. Like the Rural Secretariat, Privacy protection, and training for the volunteer sector. These initiatives may indeed be worthwhile but they do not constitute public engagement.

Consultation Consternation. 
One of the best examples of a process that could be a useful public engagement tool but is terribly misused is the annual farce of Pre-Budget Consultations. This is where the current Finance Minister travels around the Province to listen to presentations from groups and individuals on where our public money should be spent. Sounds like a decent idea right? Well it might be if the budget hadn't already been decided upon, thus making the entire process a sham. These "consultations" take place early in the new year while the budget is decided by the end of the previous year. The really sad part is that most everyone knows this yet we all still play along as if it actually meant something.     

Now What.
While part of my intention is to point out that we have very little real public engagement happening I do want to cover some of the ways it is being done and can be done properly. As I indicated above it comes down to intent. Most governments and partys say they want your involvement when want they really want is your quiet support. So is anyone doing anything right? Are there better ways to get people involved? Of course, but it requires the genuine desire to get people involved.  

It starts with sharing. Some of the more impressive municipal councils in NL share almost everything via newsletters, websites, email lists, Facebook and Twitter. And I'm not just talking about the "gee aren't we great" stuff or the fluffy stuff. Some towns lay it all out, from the budget to the minutes to the staffing to the operational programs. The idea is that you provide the information and those who want to use it will use it. Too many councils share very little beyond fluff and it doesn't show any intent to engage because they simply are not interested in actively involving residents.

Some councils regularly invite people to sit on committees and attend council meetings, while others do very little and want very little input. At the Provincial level I would guess very few MHAs would want you to show up and watch a sitting of the House of Assembly. Simply for the reason that many of them act like spoiled children who continuously shout and mock each other. Plus there are the incredibly ridiculous rules for sitting in the gallery for the general public. Like the fact that you are not allowed to take notes, or use your phone, or even remain standing. I was in the gallery for some of the Bill 29 debates and after getting tired of sitting I stood to watch for a while. I was told that if I did not sit down I would be asked to leave. I almost refused just to see if they would remove me for standing.

The bottom line is that if you really want to get more people, youth, women, new people involved you have to mean it, you can't just say it. You have to take every opportunity to bring them them in and get their input. We have a representative democracy where you vote to give your vote to someone else, and the least they can do is to have you involved in the decision making process. The people of NL are pretty damn smart, and we care what happens in our governments. Open the doors and let us take part, we can handle it. Engage us!   

Sunday 13 April 2014

How about some real municipal reform?

The Municipalities Act was rewritten in 1999 and is occasionally amended to improve the original legislation. One example of a positive amendment was in 2007 when section 219 was updated to modify the ability of municipalities to engage in joint ventures for the purposes of service delivery. That's the kind of updating the act requires, changes that help modernize the Act and the sector to keep pushing municipalities toward greater accountability while also providing better resources.

On April 7th the Provincial Government sent out this release that indicates two new amendments. Specifically the text reads as follows:
 The first amendment will allow councils the discretionary authority to permit their councillors to attend meetings remotely. This will enable flexibility for councillors who are balancing council participation with family commitments, or who work from non-traditional locations or on an irregular schedule.

 The second amendment will allow councils the discretionary authority to appoint one or more youth representatives to council. These individuals, while not voting members, will bring the voice of youth to the council chambers and will add a new and important perspective to deliberations.
The complete text of the Bill can be found here. The unfortunate side of these amendments is that one is completely not required and the other simply enables struggling municipalities to remain on life support instead of performing the life saving surgery they desperately need. 

Redundancy is redundant.
Engaging youth in any democratic process is always a good idea. The average age of councillors in NL is reflective of the the high average age of the population across the province. So what's the issue with that first amendment above? Actually there are two issues with it. The first is that it is appointed so the council can choose anyone they like. Not exactly democratic. But my main issue is with regard to the fact that it is entirely unnecessary.

Section 25 is designed to allow councils to appoint anyone they want to any committee they want in order to ensure the proper operation of the town. This includes youth. Any council at any time could appoint an entire committee of youth specifically to provide the youth perspective. And this committee can have a chair who attends all council meetings and provides the youth perspective on any and all issues before council.

Bottom line is that legislation should be sharp and precise and not cumbersome and unnecessary. Encourage councils to use the ability they already have instead of doubling up on voluntary options.

Absence makes the votes go longer.
The second section of the proposed amendment will likely make quite a few councils pretty happy. There have been ongoing issues with getting enough people to serve on councils across NL and some towns have found that the Alberta job market has pulled away some folks who would, and have, serve on council. So this opportunity to attend council meetings via some kind of remote technology sounds like just what the Dr ordered right? Not exactly.

Again there are two issues here. First up is the idea of someone who for all intents and purposes barely lives in a community but still gets to make vital decision on how it runs. As long as a persons permanent residence is located in a community they are eligible to serve on council, even if they spend 80 or 90% of their time in another province. This is a little disconcerting for "local government" and I don't think it sets the right precedent. For emergency situations remote attendance is perfect but how many councillors will be attending the majority of their meetings from another province?

The second, and much larger issue here is that this is a stop gap measure that simply covers up the larger issue. The municipal sector has been in dire need of significant reform in NL for decades and Governments of various colors have been pretty much ignoring it all along. If it were one or two councillors that required the ability to attend remotely on occasion that would be one thing, but the number people on councils who work out west combined with the difficulty in getting people to serve on councils is just a small indication of the fundamental, and structural changes needed in the sector. This amendment is like putting a band aid on a broken leg.    

This "Bill 6" will likely pass and there will certainly be some councillors and councils who support it. It is worth noting however that as I write this it appears that Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador (MNL) does not support at least one portion of the bill. My guess is that Municipal Affairs came up with these amendments without actually checking with the sector representatives if they made any sense. The bottom line is that this bill doesn't help engage youth and it doesn't provide for the sustainability of municipalities in NL. In fact it does pretty much nothing of any use at all. 

As reported here at VOCM MNL is clearly not in favor of at least part of the amendment.

Saturday 22 March 2014

Media and The City

The recent blow-up about the media being banned for open a public meetings held by the City of St. John's has raised some interesting debate about the role the media plays with regard to getting information into the hands of the people. Of course the main item to catch the attention of the media was the idea of calling a meeting public without allowing the media to record the event.

Keep in mind that this item comes at a time when many residents have felt shut out of Provincial Government information sharing due to a bill that they themselves have now admitted may not have been the best choice for openness and transparency. See the latest on that here. So with that in mind lets have a look at the arguments presented.

The media began to pick up on the story mid week about a public meeting the City was holding regarding development of parks and green-spaces within the City as noted in this release. The story got rolling when the media were informed that they would not be permitted to record the event on audio or video. Then all hell broke loose. The media started yelling about how can it be an open meeting if the media are not free to attend. The specific response from the city went like this:
“Members of the media are welcome to attend any of the scheduled sessions as participants and ward residents,” it said, “however, the sessions and comments by participants may not be videotaped and/or recorded for broadcasting or reporting. Reporters interested in arranging interviews with (the consultants) or any representatives of the city may do so by contacting the city’s communications and public relations officer.”
The media began running stories about how the meetings could not be considered open and they stated that it was an important role of the media to act as a conduit to transfer the information to those people who could not attend. The CBC has this story on their website including a quote from a communications "expert" at MUN as follows:
"I don't think they have a room that would actually fit everyone in the community, so they have to have some sort of an outlet to let the greater community know what's going on, and that clearly isn't happening here," Warkentin said.
Then the City Counsellors jumped in. With both feet. Councillor Galgay was quoted as supporting the media's ability to attend and record in the CBC story as follows:
"To start off limiting the media and participation is certainly a wrong step forward, and it's something I am not willing to support,"
There seemed to be a lack of unity on the decision, or the perceived decision to ban the media and to make matters worse the media were being directed away from communications staff and toward Councillor Dave Lane to find their answers. Councillor Lane posted in his blog about how there was a misunderstanding about what happened and that media were indeed welcome to attend and he linked to this CBC piece that say that the media will now be allowed to record the event. Flip meet flop.

Why was this such a big deal, and what went wrong along the way?

First lets look at the City's response. Councils set policy and staff implement policy. Apparently there was a breakdown in that pretty simple process here. It still seems unclear if this no recoding thing is or ever was an actual policy or just some random idea. Communications staff are paid to manage communications demands. Again a breakdown occurred. Either the staff did not want to respond to the media, or they are being micromanaged into not responding, but either way its not how it should be done. Hire people you trust and let them do their job. There were questions about who was at fault here, wether it was a bad policy, a recommendation from a consultant, or inept staff. The bottom line is that those discussions should have happened behind closed doors and not in front of a microphone.

Now for the media. This was barely a real story so it must have been a slow news week. Asking the media not to record residents individual comments for broadcast does not mean the meeting isn't public. That was a stretch. It only got traction because of the mess the Provincial Government has created over openness and transparency. Thats just the nature of news, no big deal there. What was a big deal was when some media folks climbed up on that high horse and claimed that it was there responsibility to act as a conduit for information to those members of the public who couldn't attend. This is simply not the case. The media do indeed pass on important information to people on a daily bases but it is important to remember that they decide everyday on what is "newsworthy" and that significantly impacts what gets reported, and how.

Public meetings are a great example. Were it not for this media banning incident the meeting would have garnered very little coverage. A couple of minutes on the evening news and maybe a small online story, at most. So how could they disseminate the pertinent details of what could be a 2 hour meeting in 3 or 4 minutes. Simply not possible. Plus consider that if a fight were to break out at the meeting the focus of the story would shift to accommodate the more newsworthy happening. I fully understand that all media are directed by someone to cover stories that are interesting. After all the line "if it bleeds it leads" is certainly the truth. But the responsibility for disseminating the required information to the residents who couldn't make it to a session is the responsibility of the City. Plain and simple. Wether they are up to that challenge is a matter for another conversation, but even if they are not, it is not the responsibility of the media to fill that gap.

One final point. I have taken part in and facilitated hundreds of meetings of various sizes and I can say with absolute certainty that having the media present to record a conversation changes the nature of that conversation, and not in a positive way. Some people are very hesitant to voice an idea that they feel may be unpopular, even if its a great idea. Adding a microphone and a camera to the mix means some people will just listen and not contribute. Thats not what public meetings are about.

Does the City of St. John's have a policy preventing media from rebroadcasting residents comments at public debates or events? Who knows, but maybe they should.

Thursday 6 February 2014

No choice at all

In recent weeks the Liberal Caucus has been growing by leaps and bounds. It was no shock to any who were paying attention to see the 2 former NDP MHAs slip on a red jacket and join up with the party currently topping the polls. Some are asking if it was a good move by the two amigos or by the welcoming party?

For Mitchelmore and Kirby there were really very few options. It certainly appeared that they had drawn a line in the sand at Lorraine's feet and they were not willing to kneel before her and kiss those feet. So they couldn't go back. They had spent nearly every waking moment since their election bashing the current Government/Party so if they had any hope of holding on to a shred of integrity they couldn't go blue.

The only options that remained were to remain as independents or to join up with the crew at the top of the polls. As independents they would have limited resources and severely limited abilities in the House of Assembly. Plus running in the next election, even as incumbents, they would still face a full slate of candidates from the NDP, PCs and Liberals. On the other hand they could move to the Liberals. A party that has been riding a rising wave of public support for nearly a year, including a very surprising defection of a well know PC mouthpiece in Paul Lane. In addition moving from the far-left NDP to the just-left-of-center Liberals isn't a huge ideological leap. Partially since political ideologies are almost nonexistent in Nl on a practical basis, despite the rhetoric at election time.

In the end the switch from Orange to Red makes so much sense its a wonder Lorraine herself hasn't been looking for a deal! Then again, maybe she has...