A warm welcome back to Ottawa to MPs of all parties. I hope you had a great time over spring break, but as we all move inexorably towards October, it’s time to review the rules of the road.
It’s been almost four years since the last federal election and it’s pretty clear that some of you have forgotten past lessons. Like being careful about what you say publicly, and taking care not to shoot off vital body parts with misguided and unfortunate comments. Like forgetting that what might sound OK back home in Upper Mukluk will be considered utterly insensitive, stupid and senseless in other parts of the country, by people with other views, or even members of your own tribe.
You all have been watching your respective leaders pawing the ground and engaging in oratorical flights of fancy in question period and in major speeches around the country. They’re merely preparing the way for the battle ahead, staking out the big ideas and themes, touching base with groups of supporters, trying out language for the hot-button lines and beginning to frame the all-important ballot question for this fall. Sometimes they’re going to be a bit edgy, and they will say things that are controversial.
[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]On “big picture” issues, there is nothing to be gained — and much to be lost — by taking your leader’s comments and embellishing them for the folks back home with a couple of plain-talking homespun examples.[/quote]
Leaders get to say such things because they are leaders, and they’ve usually given some thought to what they say, how they say it, and the precise words they are going to use. One leader might acknowledge a widespread public concern, for example, about the cultural practice of wearing a niqab in Canadian society. Seized by an attack of presentism, another leader might mount an attack of innuendo on those comments by invoking the Komogata Moru and “none is too many.”
Fair game on both sides — but understand that the media will be only too happy to throw gasoline on these mildly provocative musings, reading all manner of hysterical implications and agendas into them.
This is a great time to keep your head down. On “big picture” issues, there is nothing to be gained — and much to be lost — by taking your leader’s comments and embellishing them for the folks back home with a couple of plain-talking homespun examples. Unless you use exactly the same words your leader used, there is an army of media folks out there whose job it is to fit a micron’s worth of paper between you and your leader.
If they can, they will proclaim that you have just embarrassed him or her and insulted a million other Canadians into the bargain. Then you will have to issue a groveling apology and read in the national media for three days about what a doofus you are.
The use of colours is an important aspect of politics — but only when limited to personal apparel. A bright scarf or striking tie can dress up a dark and otherwise boring suit if you are going on television. Usage of any word denoting colour in relation to people is absolutely verboten.
[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]In Canadian politics we have a number of non-threatening words to communicate the fact that Canadians come from a kaleidoscope of religious backgrounds, beliefs, values and yes, colours. These words are “multiculturalism,” “diversity” and “pluralism.”[/quote]
There are no exceptions, and transgressors will be ridiculed, pilloried and made the butt of jokes using words like “stupid,” “ignorant” and “racist.”
In Canadian politics we have a number of non-threatening words to communicate the fact that Canadians come from a kaleidoscope of religious backgrounds, beliefs, values and yes, colours. These words are “multiculturalism,” “diversity” and “pluralism.” Become familiar with these words, understand what they mean — but be very careful in their usage.
“Godwin’s Law” — also known as “Godwin’s Rule of Nazi Analogies” — is an Internet term for the idea that if an online discussion goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Hitler, Nazism or the Holocaust. The online tradition is that once “the Hitler card” has been played, rational discussion is over because whoever played the card has automatically lost the debate through hyperbole.
[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]We are entering the first smartphone/Twitter election any of us has seen, and the risk of gaffes and mistakes is about to go through the roof — along with the potential for damage.[/quote]
It’s also useful to observe that, for strikingly obvious reasons, many Jews consider the invoking of such analogies to be trivializing and insulting.
If you don’t immediately understand why this is the case, do some reading on the Second World War. In the meantime, button it.
Social Media Realities
Canadians are among the most connected people on the planet. Thirty million of us are on the Internet in one way or another and 82 per cent of us are connected to some form of social network. Fifty-six per cent of us have smartphones and, by the end of this year, one-quarter of Canadians will be on Twitter.
[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]Chances are the busiest people in the party war rooms this fall will be the social media clean-up squads, whose job it will be to look out for the latest online outrage and neutralize the culprits.[/quote]
We are entering the first smartphone/Twitter election any of us has seen, and the risk of gaffes and mistakes is about to go through the roof — along with the potential for damage. You, your spouse and your campaign staff all face the prospect of an unguarded comment or an insensitive remark — or pictures of your workers tearing down the other guy’s signs — going viral at any time. And it will all be available to 2.5 billion Internet users around the world. You might want to think about that.
Chances are the busiest people in the party war rooms this fall will be the social media clean-up squads, whose job it will be to look out for the latest online outrage and neutralize the culprits. Loud and messy public executions may be part of the response.
Here’s the final point. You may be able to get away with goofball or off-the-wall comments now; in a campaign, not so much. A “bozo eruption” can throw a national party off its game for 48 hours, 72 if it’s particularly egregious. From personal knowledge, I can also guarantee you that it will make your leader and the national campaign team white with rage and blind with fury.
At that point, you can forget that last-minute leader’s visit to your riding to pull you over the top.
Welcome back and have a great day.
Geoff Norquay, a former senior policy adviser to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, is a principal of the Earnscliffe Strategy Group. email@example.com
Republished in partnership with iPolitics.ca.