Herman Cain & Rick Perry's Nightmares

 Welcome back!
After a short hiatus from my blog -  time I spent doing media, presentation and crisis communications seminars with Laura [Peck] from Los Angeles to New York to Ottawa and then on to Alberta. So it's time to catch up with the world of politics. And the word 'nightmare' comes to mind with the Presidential campaigns of Herman Cain and Rick Perry.

It's hard to believe, but going into this week's Republican debate all eyes were on Herman Cain and how he would handle the revelations about the sexual harassment charges leveled by four women against him. Instead, the internet and media coverage ended up chock full of commentary on Rick Perry's debate disaster. Ouch!
Herman Cain: How Not to Respond in a Crisis 
1. The Politico journalist called the Cain campaign with a heads up on his story of two sexual harassment allegations settled by the National Restaurant Association on Cain's behalf in the 1990s. What did Mr. Cain do? Nothing. He sat on it.
2. When the news broke he met the media on his way out of a Sunday Morning talk show and claimed he didn't know anything about it. He even demanded the names of the two women who had signed the confidentiality agreement!
3. His story began to change - first denying it; then waffling about what the agreement was; calling one of the women a 'liar' [thus triggering her demand to be released from her confidentiality agreement]; then labeling it racism, a political smear job by the Democrats etc.

Instead of a forthright and clear statement at a news conference from the outset, he ensured that it was at the very least a ten day story [or much longer]. Remember one of our 10 Principles of Crisis Communications: 'Get all the bad news out at once. Have a 'bad day' - otherwise you'll have a bad week, a bad month or a bad year!'
Overcoming Panic and Fear:Risk and Crisis Communications

Gov. Rick Perry's 53 Second Nightmare
After Wednesday evening's CNBC Republican debate, all of the media and bloggers' focus was on
Rick Perry's Painful Memory Lapse.
The big question is: how damaging was it? In the short term, it is certainly embarassing to him and his supporters. The timing was particularly damaging. All he had to do was show some improvement over his previous less-than-stellar debate performances. Instead, his self-inflicted brain cramp over the names of the three Agencies he would cut was a delight to the media commentators, 24 hour news channels, and particularly on YouTube®, Twitter®, Facebook® and the blogosphere.

It's too early to say if the damage is permanent. He has moved quickly - appearing the next morning on the morning TV shows and the next evening on with the Top Ten Rick Perry Excuses showing he has a sense of humor, rather than rolling over and playing dead. [I had said first thing in the morning that is what he should do and I was blown away when it was later announced that is exactly what he was scheduled to do!] It looks like the Perry campaign's disaster recovery strategy is textbook on how to do it.

In the meantime, Mitt Romney remains largely untouched, graciously responding when invited to feast on Herman Cain's problems, by avoiding the temptation to pile on. Romney is watching his opponents rise and fall back, as his slow but steady campaign rolls on inexorably towards his [increasingly likely] nomination.

I was on Don Martin's Power Play on CTV News Channel on Thursday talking about all of this. Who says politics is boring?
Remembering Our Veterans

November 11 is Remembrance Day in Canada and the British Commonwealth; and Veterans' Day in the United States. As the son of a World War II veteran, I know how much we owe them - and how much. They've asked so little of us. We salute them all and thank them for their courage and service.

Until next time.....


Change vs. More of the Same?

Welcome back!
We are in the middle of crazy travel criss-crossing North America. Since my last post, Laura and I have been doing seminars in Edmonton, Alberta, Kelowna B.C., Washington DC, Los Angeles and Ottawa. Next week, Laura is in Nashville while I'm in New York and there are several stops in between. As a result, I have been somewhat remiss in my postings. However, it is the ultimate season for politicos and sports nuts everywhere, isn't it? The World Series is under way, hockey is in full swing and we're deep into football. It's sensory overload for people like me.
Canadians Choose Stability Over Change  
In Provincial Elections in Ontario, Manitoba, Newfoundland & Labrador and Prince Edward Island, the incumbent governments were re-elected. Although mostly by reduced margins and - in Ontario's case - the McGuinty Liberal government was reduced to a minority (by one vote...a 'major minority' as Premier McGuinty called it.) So what was the deal with those results? What happened to all the anger and the desire for change that many had anticipated?
In spite of pockets of anger - such as the 'Occupy' movement - Canadians could have been persuaded to change, if they felt that there was a strong alternative on offer that would benefit themselves, their families and their communities. For the most part, that didn't happen. Even though the Progressive Conservative parties and their leaders in Ontario, Manitoba and P.E.I. put up a spirited fight, they could not overcome one of the most powerful forces in politics - the desire to maintain a steady course in choppy economic waters.
There is no question that the voters in those elections are nervous - particularly as the Europeans grapple with their bail-outs; and the Americans' struggle with the debt, deficit, foreclosures and unemployment. Ultimately a voter will make one of three decisions when anxious about their futures: 1. Stay home. The majority of voters chose not to trudge to the polls and cast their votes. [By the way, I would love it if reporters were to ask the 'Occupy' protesters if they bothered to vote in the last election.]
2. Go with 'change'. That change must be compelling, clear. The Party and Leader must drive a message that you really care about. In these elections, it wasn't about taxes, it was about jobs and economic growth. There were big voter shifts in most of the elections, but not enough to topple the incumbent governments. Attack campaigns work, but they also require a solid alternative view that resonates with the values of your voter universe.
3. Stay with the Party and Leader who represents a 'steady hand at the tiller'. That was what the Conservatives under Prime Minister Harper did in the May federal election as they moved from minority to majority government, and it was what the winning Provincial Premiers did in their wins.  It is using incumbency for its maximum benefit - namely, to portray stability and a solid plan for the future. It's often labeled 'better the devil you know than the devil you don't' - and there is some truth to it However, the fact is that campaigns matter and the winning campaigns were able to use the 'air war' [ads and earned media] with a strong 'ground war' - with troops on the ground, door-to-door, telephone canvas etc.] In a solid campaign it all comes together.
What's at Stake in the Las Vegas Republican Debate?
The Las Vegas edition of the traveling Republican debate circus provides an important opportunity to test the ability of Herman Cain to gain continued momentum or fall back like many before him. Can anyone else move up the chain to stunt the seeming inevitability of a Mitt Romney nomination victory? As the Republican candidates fight for positioning, it's intriguing to watch the rising and falling fortunes of their individual  campaigns.
First Gov. Sarah Palin's slow flame-out as people saw more of her, they began to really question, and then conclude, that she was not Presidential material. Having just read The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin by Joe McGinniss  like it or love it, it paints a picture that is unsettling to say the least. Rep. Michelle Bachman appeared to inherit the Palin mantle, rose quickly and then faded as her 'sound bites' began to reveal a lack of depth.
Then it looked like Gov. Rick Perry was going to be the one to take out Gov. Mitt Romney. After several lackluster debate performances, and one or two embarrassing events and comments, his star faded too - leaving businessman Herman Cain in a neck-and-neck race with Romney. [Although it's intriguing that Gov. Perry doesn't seem to mention his success in reducing the numbers of people sent to prison for minor drug offences, even closing prisons and getting people into drug rehab programs. Perhaps he has calibrated that it won't ingratiate him with Tea Partiers, but he has to remember that he has to build on that base, not just cater to it.]
Does Cain really have a chance of knocking Romney out?
Based  on the evidence, no. While he has an appealingly open charm and a lot of credibility in the business world, he is making a lot of rookie mistakes - joking about immigration 'electrical fences that could kill illegal immigrants'. He has a bold slogan '9-9-9' but he has not laid the groundwork for it well enough and has not addressed the problems with it. His proposed 9% flat tax for individuals and companies, along with a 9% sales tax are highly controversial but he has done nothing to alleviate the greatest attack - that his plan is unfair to those who are most vulnerable. Although he could offer a minimum threshold for his income tax, and a sales tax refund for low income people, he has not addressed how to make it more fair. Cain has to realize that as he nears the top of the pile, everything he says will be under the spotlight and there is no room for jokes about serious issues.

While Romney can come across as too slick by half, nevertheless, he has been tested on the national stage for six years. That experience and long-term exposure is critically important to a serious candidate. His Mormon religion is still an issue, but he has reached the stage where anyone [or surrogate, as Rick Perry has learned] who attacks his Mormonism does more damage to his or her favored candidate - than good. Romney's greatest vulnerability is that many still wonder what his true values are, as he appears to have shifted them based on his actions as Massachusetts Governor compared to today - particularly on health care. Romney is clearly the man to beat for the nomination. He just needs a steady, solid performance tonight - in keeping with his 'steady' campaign manner. It's not going to create excitement;  nevertheless he's beginning to emerge as a steady and clear alternative to President Obama.

And remember, steadiness and stability can be highly attractive in unsettling economic times!

Technology Companies in Crisis...RIM Learns a Lesson
For Blackberry users such as me around the world, it was a frustrating week. RIM had to learn again what so many organizations have learned the hard way. Get out ahead of the crisis. Make sure your CEO [in RIM's case, two co-CEOs] is visible. RIM sent out their Chief Technology Officer and held back on their CEOs until a day later. I got caught in L.A. without my Blackberry operating for a day. Although it was an inconvenience, many consumers were more angered by the slow communications response than the triggering incident. Again, another lesson to be re-learned.
 The Perils of Communicating Health Risks
Health care is a risk issue. How you handle difficult or controversial issues in the health care field must be handled carefully. The goal is to raise awareness so that the public will take action to reduce further risk, while avoiding inflaming. Questions have arisen about the handling of a potential health risk through lack of appropriate infection control procedures by a doctor and a public health clinic. The announcement by Dr. Isra Levy, Ottawa's Medical Officer of Health was seen by many to be inadequate as he withheld the name of the clinic and the nature of the procedure in his first news conference. That decision not to release that information while issuing the public warning raised criticism.  However, even though it was delayed by 48 hours, the proper information was released by the much-respected Dr. Levy and he ably defended himself before the media and City Council.  The lesson to 'get as much bad news out as possible - right away' would be helpful for all Medical Officers of Health facing similar challenges in the future. In this CTV National news item in which yours truly was interviewed, see for yourself how the issue came across [fast forward 4 minutes into the newscast].

Until next time, remember, what happens in Vegas....stays on YouTube!


The Psychological Voter 'Drivers'

Welcome back!
"Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedies." —Groucho Marx
Groucho probably had that about right, but - hey - that won't stop us from exploring one of my favorite sports, politics!
I can't believe it's been nearly three weeks since my last posting. The craziness of the fall season is well underway, and I've traveled from one end of one country (Canada) to the other end of the other (United States). In between seminars and consulting I've kept a close eye - with some media interviews - on politicians, debates, elections and scandals thrown in for good measure. Within the next week or so, there will be provincial and territorial elections in Canada and in the U.S., Republican candidate debates. And to make it really fun and games....it's World Series time!!!! So let's get started with this week's subject...the psychological 'drivers' of voters.
The Psychological Voter 'Drivers'
If every political campaign could understand the psychological state of their voters, they would hold the victory within their grasp. For if you understand your voter, you learn what motivates them and may ultimately get them to the polls to mark an 'X' next to your candidate's name [or 'yes' or 'no' on your ballot initiative].
Although I am not a psychologist - nor have I played one on television, but...... based on providing strategic communications advice, training for media, debates and campaign speeches for dozens of campaigns, I venture the following analysis:
Driver No. 1. Voters can be highly volatile in their opinions. Their opinions can change fairly rapidly based on specific arguments that make sense to them, if they resonate with their collective experiences. For example, whether a 10% tax middle class tax cut is a good thing or not, is a matter of opinion, on which reasonable people may disagree. It's what the cuts are associated with [the connotations] that matter: for those opposed to the cuts, the campaign might focus on the cuts to health care, education etc. while those in favor might focus on jobs and opportunities. What voters supported two or four years ago, don't assume that they are going to support it this year.
Driver No. 2. Connect with the slower-moving prevailing public attitudes - broader than any one issue, attitudes are more powerful than trading opinions. For example, tax cuts is only one of a basket of issues - "unfair tax hikes' and "lies", "waste" and "giveaways" etc. They can form a hardened powerful public opinion. In turn, that can generate a wave of anger and protest [witness the current Wall St. daily protests spreading elsewhere]. While slower to shift than opinions, prevailing attitudes do change and they can end up throwing leaders and governments out of power. Clearly this is what Ontario's PC Leader Tim Hudak and the NDP's Andrea Horwath are counting on as they race towards what appears to be a minority government situation. [By the way, I wonder what kind of ink Premier McGuinty's pledge to not form a coalition government was written with? Just asking.]
Driver No. 3. Connect with the core (very-slowly) changing values of 'voters'. Values - family, community, justice, protecting the environment, protecting borders etc. can be the most powerful motivators of all - when they are under attack. Like a mama bear, values can lie there unstirred and taken for granted. But when that bears cubs are threatened, don't be surprised if it lashes out angrily to protect its young. So one of the rules of politics is, don't press the 'values' button unless you are sure that your voters competing values are stronger and can be marshaled in your favor. Every election is ultimately a fight for a large piece of the voters' value set. Who gets a hold of that, is often the winner.
Driver No. 4. Connect with the leader/candidate. The voters don't have to love the candidate or Leader [but it definitely helps]. The key is respect. Stephen Harper counted on 'respect' from the voter in his last two elections, not necessarily 'love'. The love that millions of voters had for Barack Obama in 2008 needs to be translated into 'respect' if he hopes to be re-elected in 2012. If the candidate makes embarrassing comments, in the Twitter-verse world, he or she runs the danger of becomes a running joke. Some move quickly to apologize or explain or - even better - poke fun at themselves, such gaffes can be overcome, so long as they can relate to the candidate. As the 'fitness-challenged' Gov. Chris Christie [Rep. NJ] contemplates throwing his hat into the Republican Presidential race, it signals that the public no longer have an idea of the 'perfect' candidate in mind. Instead, they seem to want a candidate whom they could 'have a beer with'. They want someone to connect with. Not to worship, but someone who really gets them and speaks up and asks for them.
Driver No. 5. A powerful message, powerfully communicated. 'Change' is an over-used but powerful message. Alberta's Alison Redford, came from behind to win the leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party this past weekend in the run-off election and is now the Premier-designate of Alberta. She represented change in the status quo. Hard to beat that! In Manitoba, after one of the nastiest campaigns on record, if the PC's Hugh McFadyen succeeds in taking down NDP Premier Greg Selinger it will demonstrate once again that 'change' trumps virtually everything else.

So, what does all this mean for this week's elections in PEI, Ontario and Manitoba? I won't predict as they are three very different campaigns, but it is clear that change is in the air.  The other five psychological 'drivers' will come into play in their own way and how strongly they do will tip the balance. It's important to remember that momentum and get-out-the-vote [GOTV] are critical to paying off on your voter analysis. So no matter who your party or candidate is, exercise your hard-won right and get out and vote! Or even better, volunteer for the candidate or Party you believe in. You are more important to democracy than you think. Pass it on!

Until next time.......


10 Years After

September 11, 2001 -
I remember vividly where I was at 8:46 a.m. Laura and I were in our office, welcoming Federal Court judges to our media seminar. Chief Justices of the Superior Courts from every province were filing in for their day before the cameras. The television was on in our large reception area in our office in the heritage building, known as the Central Chambers, overlooking Ottawa's Confederation Square. A day so achingly beautiful. Little did we know that it was to be the last day of our innocence.

As we gathered around the television, trying desperately to comprehend what we were looking at.  Then the double hit - of the plane hitting the South Tower at 9:03 - and any thoughts of an 'accident' were obliterated. Although I didn't feel like it, I suggested to the judges that we begin the seminar and that we would stop at lunch to see what has transpired. To my amazement, we continued the seminar and I look back on it and sometimes think of how our brains can shift into another gear under terrible circumstances. We did indeed stop at noon to learn that Flight 93 had been brought down in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and that a plane had crashed into the Pentagon.

Looking out the window, there was a troubling sign - yellow tape surrounded our building. Were the judges in our office under threat? The thought crossed my mind, but I didn't share it. We learned from the radio that a suspicious truck was found outside the Parliament Buildings, raising serious questions about everyone's safety in buildings such as ours.

I recall in the aftermath that Canadians were ahead of their own government in their desire to reach out to America, to demonstrate that we were united with them in their grief. Besides the 24 Canadians who lost their lives at the World Trade Centre, Canada lost more than that. We lost our innocence too. We remember not just those who perished or the brave firefighters and policemen and women. We pay tribute to ordinary people in towns like Gander, Newfoundland who opened their hearts and homes for 6600 Americans when their flights were grounded and who spent days waiting for the skies to re-open; to NavCanada professionals and the aircrews of those 239 diverted aircraft who brought them to safety in airports across Canada. Ambassador David Jacobson's visit to Gander on this 9/11 is a tribute which brings home how the United States and Canada were united as one in one of the world's darkest hours.

The 10th Anniversary memorial broadcast included beautiful pieces by Yo Yo Ma, Paul Simon and James Taylor with his beautiful piece, Close Your Eyes. It's an example of how music can reach us when words fail to capture the devastation - and yes - the strength of the human spirit to endure.
Let's just say 'thank you'. We remember and we will never forget.


5 keys to Success in a Campaign

Now that Labour Day has passed, voters begin to turn their attention to one of the ultimate fall  'sports', and that is politics. Here in Ontario, as well as a number of provinces across the country, that means the looming elections. With the October 6th Ontario election as a prime example, let's examine the "keys to victory" for the winning Party.

1. Control of the Issue
Pundits claim that there is no real 'defining issue' in this campaign. However, as often as not, an issue does emerge which galvanizes the voters and drives them to the polls. Unfortunately for the Ontario PCs in the 2007 election, the issue which emerged was their support for expanding taxpayer support for religious schools. Dalton McGuinty and the Liberals leaped on that like manna from heaven (no pun intended) and drove it relentlessly to victory. The old saying, "he who defines the issue will win the war" is a truism that should always be front and centre for all campaigns. In this election, Tim Hudak must make "change" the issue.

With his ad buy in full gear, Dalton McGuinty is already trying to make change 'scary'. Expect to hear Mike Harris named as often as Tim Hudak. For Andrea Horvath, she needs to position the NDP as the vehicle for change in the way politics is conducted. The Opposition parties must remember that their real role is to continually hold the government's feet to the fire. In other words, to make the Government the issue. They need to ensure that, while they must have a solid plan with a clear alternative to the status quo, they don't need to over-reach on the policy front

2. A Focused Campaign with a Clear Strategy
Every campaign today has a 'daily script' and the ability to stay on script is essential to a coherent campaign. Local candidates often account for 5 to 10% of the vote; however, if they mess up with controversial comments, then that serves to derail the overall campaign for one or more days at a time, throwing it off message.  The war rooms will be watching like a hawk to nip that kind of controversy in the bud. This will be the first provincial election in Ontario fought in the Twitterverse, so every embarrassing moment will be spread instantly like wildfire.

3. Shape the Ballot Question
It is critical to the swing voters that they ask themselves the right question when they walk into the ballot booth. The fight for the ballot question begins at the outset of the campaign, and all of the campaign should be focused on driving it home - through social media, and the traditional  media; at the doorstep; in the campaign literature and ultimately over the backyard fence.

4. Credibility of the Leader
All elections revolve around the Leaders. The ability of that leader to communicate vision, strength, credibility and -yes, likeability - are critical to success. Mike Harris transformed himself into a "Helluva Guy" [known as the HOAG factor] with whom voters could identify and rely upon. In this election, Dalton McGuinty's likeability factor has been questionable at best, while Tim Hudak is still unknown to many voters. This leaves the Liberals with an opportunity to fill-in-the-blanks as Stephen Harper's campaign did to Michael Ignatieff in the last federal election. Andrea Horvath is also largely unknown and will have to do all she can to get media-and voter- attention.

5. Exceed Expectations in the Debate
It looks like there will probably only be one debate, and the Premier's people will no doubt want it no later than mid-point in the campaign in case things go wrong and he needs time to recover. Hudak's campaign will want to hold it later and bet that Hudak can exceed expectations and gain momentum through Election Day. Although there is not always a clear-cut winner declared; nevertheless, the goal is to avoid a memorable error (John Turner's famous 'I had no option' in the 1984 federal election debate comes to mind), but to exceed media and pundits' expectations that can trigger momentum at the doorstep. There is no doubt in my mind that the debate can be a powerful key to winning an election. So expect to see considerable time devoted to it by all candidates.

We'll re-visit the campaign from time-to-time to see how these 'keys' play out. In the meantime let the games begin!


Why People Were Drawn to Jack?

Speaking of Jack...
I was interviewed by CTV at the ceremony on August 25th in front of Parliament Hill at the end of the Lying-in-State ceremony for the late Leader of the Opposition, Jack Layton. They wanted to talk about the content of the blog posting below, Why People Were Drawn to Jack?
CTV - commenting on Jack Layton
Welcome back.
Canadian politics lost  a phenomenal political leader, with the sad news that Jack Layton, the NDP Leader of the Opposition, passed away. As with millions of people across the country, I felt personally saddened by the loss of "the Happy Warrior". I had the privilege of knowing Jack on a personal and professional level, and although I won't get into the details, I knew him well enough to share some of my analysis of why Jack Layton was able to strike such a profound chord with so many people. Hopefully, there are lessons in there for all who contemplate or practice the art of politics.
 Why People Were Drawn to Jack?
1. Jack had a positive vision. He was able to foresee and articulate a future in clear and compelling terms that he felt deeply and authentically would be a better world than what we have today. He shared that vision in every way, every day.
2. Jack felt that politics could be a noble calling and he was never apologetic about being a politician. I had the privilege of knowing and working with his late father, Bob, early in my career and Bob's zest for life was so obviously passed on to his son - and I am sure - to his children. We would occasionally joke about the fact that he was a conservative while his son was a socialist, but that was never a barrier in the love that the two men shared for each other. At the same time, although he was a strong leader, he knew that he could only succeed through igniting a passion for citizen involvement among youth and others who had felt marginalized.
3. Some might say he was a 'dreamer', but he was very much a realist. An optimistic one, absolutely, but a realist nonetheless. He was strategic in his thinking, disciplined in his actions and determined in the face of sometimes frightening odds - both politically - and as we all witnessed on the campaign trail earlier this year - profoundly personal - yet determined to see it through. As Canadians saw him hobbling along on the campaign trail, he turned his cane into a metaphor for a gutsy fighter speaking out for ordinary Canadians against the odds.
4. Jack drew energy from people. Some might have cast him as a 'showboat' with his penchant for colorful outfits and stunts that got him coverage, but that was part of his zest for life and his love of people as much as it was for the political benefit those events may have garnered him and his party.
5. Jack was an extremely considerate and thoughtful man and people loved him for those qualities. Earlier this year I asked him if he would kindly write a letter of reference for me for a particular project, and his letter could not have been more gracious - if too kind. But I will treasure that always.
 Canada Says Goodbye
Jack Layton Lies in State on Parliament Hill
Prime Minister Harper, although a long-time political foe of Jack Layton's clearly had a special relationship with him, and his personal comments, topped off by his ordering of a state funeral for him was so obviously the right thing to do and fully in keeping with Canadians' fondness for Jack. The overall response to his passing has been marked with the special grace that Jack radiated since he was diagnosed last year with cancer, and his subsequent broken hip. The last time I spoke with him - after the election - we were doing TV interviews up on the Hill on different networks, but at the same time. After a laugh or two about that, I thanked him for his gracious letter on my behalf, and those blue eyes looked right into mine and he said, "I meant every word of it."
Trust me, there are very few people in politics who would ever bother to say such a thing, but that was what drew people to Jack.  He passed that grace on this week to all Canadians who have come together across the political divides in every part of Canada to bid bon voyage to a singular man who left us a great legacy. Although it's not the end of partisanship, it could be a big step towards civility in politics.

Let's leave it with this poster taken from Jack's last letter to Canadians written two days before his death. Until next time....


5 Tips for Communicating in Difficult Times

The global financial markets have once again sent shock waves to businesses and governments around the world, raising anxiety levels once again while driving down consumer confidence. Now is the time to strengthen the strategic communications of one's organization, rather than running away from it. Here are five tips I would offer to respond to this latest economic storm.
1. Revise and develop a focused communications strategy. That means touching base with your customers and stakeholders to understand their priorities and concerns.
2. Develop your strategy for reaching them with a unique selling proposition that fits their goals. All strategies need to be revisited on a regular basis. What worked in good times, may be just the wrong strategy for difficult or uncertain times.
3. Tailor your message. Ensure that your message isn't about 'you' but about 'them'. In a tightened environment, with declining share value,make sure that your messages offer solutions to your clients.
4. Be proactive. Through social media, earned media opportunities, special events, customer appreciation initiatives and focused advertising, step up your efforts to connect with your marketplace and community of interests. Remember, a lot of your competitors will be lowering their profile, so consider this a heightened opportunity to get before your customers.
5. Prepare the way. You have to till the ground before seeding it. So, get your communications planning nailed down, train your spokespeople in media interviews to benefit from that earned media, and train your executives and sales force in powerful customer presentations. And then...... get out there!

This is the time to be at your best and to sell your solutions to your customers.  Even if you have to work twice as hard to get half as much, a market shake-up such as this could be the proverbial ‘buying opportunity’ for your company and your services!

As Winston Churchill famously said, "I like to make things happen; and if they don't happen, I like to make them happen."

Until next time....keep an optimistic mindset. Your positive energy will be a tonic for difficult times.


The Murdochs Under Fire

Welcome back!
So, if you think the heat wave is getting to you, imagine what it's been like for Rupert and James Murdoch?! The newspaper baron and his son just underwent a scorching few hours of testimony before a British Parliamentary Committee and emerged relatively unscathed. How have the Murdochs and his News Corp. company been handling the crisis so far? In this posting we will take a look and assign a 'grade' to them.
But first allow me to catch up on some personal news....
Joseph T. Whelan, R.I.P.
Laura and I have just returned from Troy, Michigan where we attended the funeral services for my very close friend since our time together at the Kennedy School, Best Man at our wedding, and godfather to our daughter Caroline, Joe Whelan. Following a long struggle with serious health issues, Joe finally succumbed at the age of 56, on July 14th - leaving behind his terrific wife, Kim, and their four beautiful young children. I had the honor of being asked to speak at the visitation service the night before the funeral and I recalled the unique, witty and brilliant Irish-American that Joe was. For any of our mutual friends, if you'd care for a copy of my remarks, drop me a line and I will send it to you. Better yet, say a prayer, raise a glass, or do a good deed in honor of Joe, who did so much for others -notably Mercy Home for Boys and Girls in Chicago. 
The Murdochs' Lurch from Crisis to Damage Control
Murdochs Face the Music
I was interviewed this week on CTV News Channel on the blossoming crisis facing the Murdochs. I dashed over from Troy MI to Windsor, did the interview at the Windsor CTV station and was back in Troy within the hour. Much has been written and broadcast about the newspaper hacking scandal over in Britain involving News of the World and the journalists there who engaged in shoddy - likely criminal - conduct involving breaking into the voice mails of politicians, celebrities and in one particularly outrageous instance - the voice mail of a young murder victim. Throw in pay-offs to police and cozying up to politicians and the Murdochs have found themselves closing down the highly profitable newspaper and shutting down their efforts to buy the remaining shares in the satellite company BSkyB that they don't already own.
So what did the Murdochs do? Throw the highly profitable News of the World over the side - hoping against hope that they could keep their BSkyB plan alive. Exactly the opposite of what they should have done. They were forced to abandon the BSkyB effort only a few days later anyway and the only result of closing down the admittedly damaged News of the World was to send their share price tumbling worldwide. Hmm....

David Cameron Under Fire
David Cameron Fights Back
Throw in the connection to Prime Minister David Cameron who made the mistake of hiring former editor Andy Coulson who had assured him and the public that he had nothing to do with illegal practices. Finally, he admitted, only this week, that he had made a mistake "with 20/20 hindsight". Ya think? However, after cutting short an African trip he faced down the Opposition during 'Prime Minister's Questions' and comported himself well. So, perhaps, now he has found his footing on the issue, and must hope that it will gradually cool down from the present red-hot fire that threatens to engulf his government.

Parliamentary Grilling and a 'Pie' in the Face
As we coach people to appear before Parliamentary and legislative committees, I was most interested in how the Murdochs and Rebekah Brooks would do when they were brought before the British Parliamentary Committee on Tuesday.
So how did the Murdochs do? James Murdoch held his own - probably saving his job, as he outshone his father - coming across as solid and grounded, when only a few days ago the rumors were rampant that he was to be sacrificed. Rupert started slow and scripted but gradually loosened up. His biggest negative came when he was asked if he accepts responsibility for what happened and he said no - it was those who did these despicable things and the people they report to who should accept the blame. Not exactly classic leadership and the air went out of the balloon for him on that one.
The entire focus shifted, however, when an activist/'comedian' rushed forward with a plate of shaving cream and tried to 'pie' Rupert. In what became the news story, Wendi Deng Murdoch, Rupert's wife, leaped forward and landed a right-handed punch on the wacko [more like a volleyball smackdown than a 'left hook' as one MP later said admiringly]. Sometimes you just get lucky!
The hacking scandal is far from over, and the Murdochs have hired crisis managers in London, New York and Washington to do damage control. Perhaps now, they can begin to get on a solid footing and get this nightmare behind them.

Until next time...stay cool!


Saying goodbye to a crazy June....

Welcome back!
Just before we wrap up this crazy month of June and, as we get ready for the national celebrations, and, of course Will and Kate's whirlwind honeymoon tour - along with 1600 accredited journalists - about to descend - first in Canada, and then in the United States, let's pause to consider for a few minutes what has transpired since my last missive some two weeks ago.
Anthony Weiner - gone, mercifully. Well at least until he tries a comeback - most likely I predict he will still try to run for New York's mayoralty in 2013. Why not? He's phenomenally more famous due to his tweeting and lying, right?
Conrad Black is going back to jail - thus satisfying those who can never get enough of punishing him. Proportionality went out the window on his case a long time ago, so, even after setting aside another conviction for what he has already been punished for, Judge Amy St. Eve sent him back to jail for up to another 13 months.
Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich - in the same courthouse, no less....  was found guilty on 17 of 20 counts of criminal conduct and even he seemed subdued by the jury's decision. Even at that, there is no cause for schadenfreude or the usual gloating that goes on when the mighty and powerful are brought down. It's more sad than anything. 
Settling Strikes
Two strikes were settled in Canada in recent weeks - one at Air Canada, in which even the whiff of back-to-work legislations by the Harper government led to a quick settlement. The Canada Post strike required a full throttle Parliamentary debate that pitted the NDP Opposition against the Harper government's legislation. Although it didn't satisfy the underlying issues, a majority of the public (two-thirds) felt that it was the right thing to do. Word is that even the union didn't want the strike to continue, as it would cost the workers more than they would have gained. Both the NDP and the Conservative government came out of the Parliamentary battle reinforcing their values to their core supporters. The Liberals, led by Bob Rae, tried to find a middle ground, and got run over. Is that a harbinger for the future, as they try to rebuild their brand?
Expedience is its own reward
What both strikes have brought to the fore is that the under-funded pensions negotiated in past agreements, are coming back to haunt public and private sector corporations alike. The US Postal Service has announced that they are suspending their pension scheme as they cannot afford to keep it going. Although one does not like to see any corporation renege on their longstanding commitments, it comes down to trying to get 'blood out of a stone'. Taxpayers and customers won't help bail them out, so where would the money come from? Expedience is its own reward.
Will and Kate's Excellent Adventure - with no media interviews.....
Following their spectacular wedding, HRH William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, will be gracing Canada and the United States, beginning tomorrow. One suggestion I would have had from a media consulting perspective, is for them to do a few media interviews in each country. It's an ideal opportunity to show the public that they are open and responsive - especially in Canada - where one day he will actually be the King of Canada. Just doing a BBC interview does little to connect with those living in Commonwealth countries. Besides, they might be very pleasantly surprised at how well the media will treat them on this side of the ocean! Maybe next time.....
Note our change of address:
On June 30th, our Canadian office is moving to: World Exchange Plaza, 45 O'Connor St. Suite 1150, Ottawa ON, Canada K1P 1A4. Our phone numbers and emails stay the same.

Happy Canada Day! Happy 4th of July! I hope you have a great summer! Stay safe and I hope your 'down time' is a good time.
Until next time.....


Adventures in Television Land

Welcome back!
Another crazy week or two has gone by and there's much to catch up on.
Adventures in Television Land
First, file this under 'be ready for anything when it comes to Television Land'. Laura and I were in Toronto yesterday doing a seminar when the call came to appear on CTV's Power Play with Don Martin to discuss the Conservative government's relations with the media. A one hour drive across rush hour traffic later, we arrived at CTV Toronto to do a double-ender interview with Don Martin who was in the foyer of the House of Commons in Ottawa. So far, so good. We arrive a whole 15 minutes prior to my 5:28 scheduled airtime and was whisked into makeup right away (desperately needed and cheaper than surgery!). Then I wait in the green room for the call to go in. I start looking at my watch and it's already 5:27!! The able young producer pops in and asks me to follow him into the CTV newsroom/set and up a winding stairway we go to the mezzanine overlooking the news room, facing what the sign says is the "Mezz Cam". I am being fitted up by the camera man - with earpiece and microphone. So far so good. Although as soon as the earpiece is in I can hear that the interview is already underway with Don Martin and the Vice President of the Press Gallery, Malorie Beauchemin!

Stifling a mild sense of panic, I join the interview in progress, just as Don Martin asks me the question. Anyway the interview went off without a hitch, but see if you can detect if any of this was going on. A few hints ...my hair over my ear sticking out; Don's intro mentions that I am a guest in the segment but I don't actually come in until later..... That's live TV folks!
Live from the CTV Mezz Cam

Meanwhile...Anthony Weiner always tell the truth......eventually!

Anthony Weiner....'please leave, and don't let the door hit you on the way out of sex rehab'. Your President has broadly hinted that you should  leave... your leader, Nancy Pelosi, has said 'resign'. You didn't just humiliate your wife, you embarrassed your own Party - and, - the ultimate political sin - the public is not listening to your party while the media are stuck on this pathetic little story.

So here is the secret - one more time - for dealing with such 'scandals'. Own up right, away, apologize and take appropriate action (in this case it's resign.) Not too difficult but for some reason people like Mr. Weiner need to keep learning it - over and over again.

The Republican Debate on Radio
Listening to the Republican New Hampshire debate on the car radio was an experience which hearkens back to another era in political debate - the Kennedy/Nixon debates when a significant percentage of people listened to it on radio - and actually thought that Nixon had won. I found it a very different experience from television. Listening more closely to what is said - rather than how they look when they are saying it, for one. Also, as radio is a more active engagement than the passive medium of television, it forces the listener to engage the candidates more. The conventional wisdom was that the three winners were Mitt Romney, Michele Bachman and (surprise! Newt Gingrich). Although CNN's John King did a solid job of keeping them on track, it was a tad annoying to hear him continually say, "Mr. Speaker". I know it's protocol but it's a bit much after all this time and on radio, one is left wondering 'who?' each time he said it.

Romney was strong and unshakeable - and his experience clearly showed. He didn't get ruffled and at least, sounded Presidential. Although one thing he said which didn't get much comment was that - unlike President Obama - he wouldn't have bailed out the big three automakers, he would have let them go bankrupt. In a real debate (and not just a series of 30 second speeches) the follow-up question would be, "so you would let the supplier companies take the hit, with laid-off workers and possibly more bankruptcies - rather than, say, a loan guarantee?" He'll need to think that one through.

Michele Bachman gained the most - announcing her formal candidacy on air; connecting with her Tea Party base; eroding the potential impact of a possible entry by Sarah Palin and outshining Herman Cain, who had been generating a lot of buzz prior to the debate. The miracle of Gingrich was that he seemed coherent  at all...given the exit of his entire staff, and his gaffe-strewn campaign-to-date.

Former Minnesota  Gov. Tim Pawlenty was expected to do better than he did - especially as the alternative to Mitt Romney, but he ducked noticeably when he refused to repeat his 'Obamneycare' line which he had previously used. [Probably wise, but it contributed to a perception of lack of courage - awkward, considering his book is titled, "Courage to Stand"!]

There was certainly no Ronald Reagan defining moment of his 1980 New Hampshire debate against George Bush when Reagan refused to give over the microphone and said, "I am paying for this microphone!"[Reagan later would say that he felt that moment catapulted him into the nomination and, ultimately, the Presidency.] I was left with the feeling that in their zest to capture the Tea Party base, they were sowing the seeds for a general election drubbing at the hands of Obama.

Anyway, debate season is always fun - no matter where one stands politically. Almost on a par with the Stanley Cup playoffs. Go Canucks!

Until next time....


From the Capitol to the Capital

Welcome back!
It's been a busy week or so in the McLoughlin Media biz, with business split between Ottawa and Washington DC....
where Laura and I attended the Nelson Mullins law firm's annual reception - as guests of former American Ambassador David Wilkins on the rooftop overlooking the beautiful U.S. Capitol. Politicos included Sen. Lindsay Graham (R. SC) and Rep. Edward Markey (D. MA) and a great time was had by all.
Presidential Speculation
Although we missed the launch of Sarah Palin's (surprise) bus tour, much discussion over the electoral landscape ensued. My prediction is that Ms. Palin will indeed enter, as she has been watching her 'Tea Party' base being wooed and captured by a number of Republican candidates who hope to capture their wind in their sails without capsizing their boats.

As of now, President Obama's election is the safe bet, particularly after the vanquishing of Osama bin Laden. Although with the debt out of control and unemployment stubbornly high, he would be vulnerable if someone came along and put forward a forthright plan to fix the economy, provide a solid health care policy and shows a galvanizing vision for the future. That almost begs for an independent candidate who isn't captured by Republican and Democrat party stalwarts who are going to ensure their leaders stay in their respective 'boxes'. Who is that? Probably the only one who would have a chance is New York City's mayor Michael Bloomberg who has the money and the credibility to mount a third party candidacy. Is he interested? Never say never. It would only take about half a billion dollars, or as Bloomberg might call it, 'chump change'.  Here is Bloomberg the other day on BBC: Bloomberg on Climate Change What do you think?

Rep. Anthony Weiner [D.NY] and his Near Death Twitter Experience
Okay let me get this straight. His Twitter account was hacked. It may or may not be a picture of his genitals. He didn't send it. It looks like a prank. He won't call in the authorities ("it's not a federal case"), but he and his staff are conducting an investigation into it. it all makes sense to me! Take a look at this:
If you believe Rep. Weiner, I have an excellent piece of real estate for you...

Meanwhile back in Canada's Capital, Parliament Resumes...
With the election of  a majority government combined with the ascension of the NDP to official opposition status, Parliament re-opens with a 32 year old Speaker, Andrew Scheer CPC, Regina Qu'Appelle) and today's Speech from the Throne. Although often kiddingly referred to as the 'Throne Drone' nevertheless, it will be an important indicator of the focus and priorities of the Harper government. I will be on CTV's PowerPlay with Don Martin today (Friday) at 5:12 pm ET [http://www.ctv.ca/powerplay]

Until next time.....


In between volcanoes and tornadoes, yes we can...

Welcome back;
It's been a whirlwind of a month and a long time since I've posted. My travels have taken me from one end of  the country (St. John's Newfoundland) to the other (Vancouver) with stops in Toronto, Edmonton and Washington DC. Then the second week.....
However, just when the world seems completely out of control (yes including you Arnold!) with tornado season sowing its destructive path in Missouri and elsewhere, what happens to top it off? A volcano in Iceland erupts (a different one than last year no less!). So maybe that wacko that said the earth was going to end last weekend got it slightly wrong.
Obama Searches for his Apostrophe 
The visit of President Obama (searching for the apostrophe tour) was a smash hit in Ireland as it was destined to be. As an Irish ex-pat myself, I couldn't help but be proud of the welcome they gave the First Couple, and how they, in turn, wowed them. Take a look at this column from the Irish Independent to get a flavor of what it meant for the Irish. He's had a great couple of weeks in terms of his personal biography - he not only proved he was American born, but also he found his Irish roots.
Meanwhile back in Canada...the Senate inaction.....
The Harper government is settling into its majority government phase, setting off a firestorm over the appointment of three former candidates to the Senate. the fact that one of them was a defeated MP and two had been appointed to the Senate last year and then stepped down to run for the House of Commons triggered an avalanche of protest. Some thoughts on that:
1. Their real sin was in stepping down and running for office. If they had just shut up and remained in the Senate it wouldn't have been such an 'outrage'.
2. Although they quite obviously did not know they would be appointed back to the Senate, apparently they should have turned the offer down on the premise that they are 'soiled goods' because they decided to um.... face the electorate.
3. Although they are not fundraisers for the Conservative party, they are apparently 'bagmen' as the continually outraged Pat Martin would have it. One - Fabian Manning - is a former Newfoundland provincial Minister, and the other - Larry Smith - is former Commissioner of the Canadian Football League. Same thing eh? The third Senate appointee, Josee Verner, is a former Conservative Cabinet Minister who was defeated. Surely there should be shame there!
4. The fact that the Prime Minister unilaterally changed Senate appointments to a maximum eight year term, instead of a cash-for-life lottery is um....well terrib uh...unilateral of Harper. [although I have suggested that to help de-fuse it, he should deduct the several months that the re-appointed Senators have already served from that eight years].
5. Finally, as has already been suggested by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, there is nothing stopping the provinces from taking Alberta's lead a number of years ago, and holding an election to determine who their next Senate appointment might be. For years, former Prime Minister Jean Chretien refused to recognize Alberta's elected Senator [Bert Brown] and received very little criticism for that. When it comes to the crunch the cognoscenti don't respect incremental reform of our unelected chamber. It's all or nothing.

So we all look forward to comprehensive change of the Senate under the majority government watch of Stephen Harper. Even if the provinces hi-jack the process with unrealistic Constitutional demands, at least he will have made it a signature move on his part. And if he goes down fighting, it is definitely better than avoiding the fight.
Until next time...


Looking back...and looking forward

Welcome back!
I'm heading back from a few days' golfing trip with some friends in one of my favorite places on earth, Martha's Vineyard. Golf is a great sport to keep you grounded (at least my club was grounded on a regular basis....). It's certainly humbling. On Thursday - my first game of the year - I actually played decently (no numbers but my game was surprisingly solid). Then of course on Friday I ballooned by 11 strokes on the exact course in perfect weather. No excuses! It was the 11th annual Cinco de Mayo Tournament with 20 men - half representing Connecticut and the other half, New York. As an Irish-born Canadian, apparently it made perfect sense that I be part of the New York team! As I am currently on my way back home, the outcome is still uncertain, but trust me, my absence in the final round will not be a game-changer.

Bringing Justice to Bin Laden
With the elimination of Osama Bin Laden, the world is a better place, and it's a small measure of justice in the twisted story of the millionaire manipulator and mass murderer. Of course, the usual suspects come out of the woodwork with their plot stories and fake photos posted on the internet denying reality. Let's leave that to the Pakistan authorities. Talk about denying reality! Good for Barack Obama and the Navy SEALS. I know it's unfortunate that the President won't release the bin Laden photos. However, I can understand why, given the ability of the Jihadis and nut-bars to use the internet as a vehicle for leveraging their hatred. Too bad for Donald Trump. Rumors are that he was all set to sign up bin Laden for Celebrity Apprentice...

Donald and the 'Birthers'
Speaking of the Donald, his championing of the 'birther' movement has smacked of desperation from the get-go, but Trump does follow the rule that 'there's no such thing as bad publicity'. [Tell that to Charlie Sheen, whose fifteen minutes of fame are quickly coming to an end.] Although, the President could have ended that so-called controversy a long time ago by releasing his long-form birth certificate, which he has now done. It's understandable that he didn't want to be bullied into it giving it up, it did contribute to a ludicrous situation snowballing into something larger. So, it was the right call to do it.

Looking Back on the Canadian Election
With a few days to process the federal election, here are my thoughts on what happened and what it all means.
1. Stephen Harper won a solid victory, with 167 seats. He needed 155 seats in the 308 seat House of Commons, which gives him a comfortable cushion for the next four years. I note that quite a number of panels and expert commentators seemed to have 'buried the lead' in journalistic terms. They focus more on the NDP phenomenon than on the main story.
2. The NDP were indeed the surprise of the entire election and totally exceeded all the projections and pollsters. Why did the NDP do so well? The NDP does well when they represent a clear alternative to the status quo. This, Jack Layton was able to do, and in an even greater surprise in both English and French Canada. Layton virtually obliterated Gilles Duceppe and the Bloc Quebecois in the process.
3. Michael Ignatieff and the Liberals triggered the election and you really have to question, why they did that? They were well back of the Conservatives when they triggered the House vote of confidence on the
'ethics' issues. They could have kept their powder dry until their Leader was better known in the public, and their resources and positioning were stronger and marketed better.
4. Fundamentally, the Tories won the ballot question, "stability vs. partisan, risky minority coalition governments". This was particularly effective as Michael Ignatieff had already been defined by the Conservative attack ads for two years leading up to the election.  Negative attack ads among the parties probably cancelled each other out.

For some of my other comments on the election, check out my interview on Theo Caldwell's 'The Caldwell Account'

Until next time, if you have a few minutes, kindly keep my younger sister, Nora, in your thoughts and prayers as she fights for her health.


Getting Ready for E-Day

Welcome back...
J.R. McLoughlin (1918-2011)
Well, it's been an emotionally draining week for me and my entire family. We lost my Dad, James Rodgers McLoughlin on Monday, April 18th. At the age of 93, J.R. died in his sleep after a few hours in hospital. Faithful readers will know how close our relationship was, and how much he influenced my life and my values. My four sisters, our spouses, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren will miss him dearly. We gave him a great Irish send-off, and amid the tears, and the occasional laughter, we toasted his life, his wit, his faith and his leadership. Thank you to all who attended one of the celebrations, and who sent us their love and condolences.

Canadian Election Suddenly Gets Interesting
The first three weeks of the campaign were fairly predictable, with little movement in the polls and the Conservatives teetering on the brink of a majority. The first spark in the NDP movement was Jack Layton's performance in the English and French debates, and then really kicked into high gear when Gilles Duceppe appeared at a provincial Parti Quebecois conference and committed the Bloc to pursuing another referendum. That irritated Quebecers who are as equally tired of the never-endum referendum argument. Besides the off-tone Gilles Duceppe campaign has not gone down well - alternating anti-immigration and multicultural rhetoric with angry shots at the NDP and the others has shown a not-too-attractive side to Duceppe.
If they can hold that support and really make big inroads agains the Bloc in Quebec, the NDP may be able to get close to 100 seats, blowing the Liberals out of the water as the Official Opposition. If they do that, the Conservatives will not be able to secure the majority they clearly need.

All of which means......
A very real chance that a combined NDP-Liberal alliance [led by Jack Layton] could secure more than 154 seats between them, vote down the Conservative minority government's new budget [or perhaps the Throne Speech preceding it] and be in a position to persuade Governor General David Johnson that they can maintain the confidence of the House. Look for a possibility of Liberals in the Cabinet - to steady the markets and bring experience into government. The NDP have never foresworn Coalition government. Even if it's not formal, it has to be solid enough to persuade the Governor General that it can hold more than a few months.

What could the Liberals do now? Batten down the hatches and save as many seats as they can with a massive get-out-the-vote in close ridings - particularly in vote-rich Ontario. For the Conservatives, they need to rally soft and right-leaning Liberals to come aboard their ship and then deploy machine-like get-out-the vote capacity in their ridings that are reachable. The NDP need to stop mentioning the hyper-sensitive Constitutional issue with Quebec. And of course, all of them will bombard us with commercials in a last-ditch desperate race to the finish.

And they say that Canada is boring????!!!!

I will be on CTV Power Play with Don Martin Wednesday, April 27th at 5:10 p.m. EDT. to discuss what's going on in the campaign and where it's headed.

Until next time......


Post-debate prognosis

Welcome back to the post-debate, mid-campaign period of Canada's biennial election. With Stephen Harper's Conservatives still hovering just below the majority government threshold (usually estimated at around 42% of the vote) at around 39%, did the Leaders do enough in the English and French debates to 'move the dial'? That's what we will explore in this post.

The McLoughlin Media team has been very busy in recent days - with yours truly doing the pre-debate and post-debate analysis on CTV with Power Play host Don Martin, and my partner Laura Peck at the same time doing the pre-and post-analysis on CPAC (while also handling telephone calls from viewers with host Peter Van Dusen and the political panel).

So, who won the debates? By any reasonable measure, Stephen Harper won the English debate by staying calm, cool and collected and avoiding any gaffes. According to the Nanos Research post-debate analysis, the numbers for Mr. Harper rose noticeably. However, in terms of best performance - it was clearly Jack Layton who impressed the most - for his attacks on both Harper and Ignatieff and positioning himself as a credible alternative to the status quo. His body language, eye contact and tone of voice were excellent - which was remarkable considering that he was standing on his feet with a broken hip for two hours!

For Michael Ignatieff - even though he came across as too 'hot' for the cool environment - he scored some strong hits on Stephen Harper, although not many of them inflicted much damage. this was due to a tendency to ask three questions at a time, when he needed to focus on one at a time. However, he didn't do himself any damage, and in fact, more than likely gave some badly needed momentum to his campaign.

Gilles Duceppe clearly under-performed in the English debate, compared to previous debates. With the exception of a few good lines, he mostly repeated his attack points, but didn't really score well.

French Debate Analysis
Duceppe was back on solid ground in the French debate as he took on all comers. Jack Layton again performed the best, while Michael Ignatieff's performance improved significantly over the night before's English debate. He was calm, focused and used the camera well to address Quebecers with his vision. Both Ignatieff and Harper side-stepped skillfully the traps that Duceppe laid out - on imposing Bill 101's French-only laws on the currently exempted federally-regulated industries, as an example. Jack Layton was the clear beneficiary again of the debate as he showed he could hold his own against Duceppe's attacks.
Stephen Harper survived the debate without any self-inflicted damage by choosing to mostly ignore Duceppe's attacks. He must have had welts on his tongue as he listened to the former Communist (by his own admission) lecture Harper on Quebec's inability to score more hand-outs to match Ontario's bail-out of the auto industry etc. He refuted him on the issue of helping the forestry sector, but for the most part knew that it would be a mug's game to take Duceppe on directly. However, Harper didn't need to 'win', he just needed to 'not lose' and, even though he under-performed against his English debate, nevertheless that was to be expected.  He just needs to hold those 11 Quebec seats and he may well just do that.

For my debate analysis on the English debate which I did for Carol and Paul Mott on the Motts radio show, click here  and select 'April 13' podcast.

So What Will this Mean?
The real proving ground for Stephen Harper is Ontario, and he is neck-and-neck with the Liberals. If the Conservatives can grab more seats in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) from the Liberals, that will be a key. [Hence all the focus on the so-called 'ethnic' vote, which is causing a firestorm of accusations about some of the candidates from the Tories and Liberals with questionable backgrounds.]

The second proving ground will be a possible pick- up of several seats for the Tories in Atlantic Canada - in particular from Newfoundland. The Prairie Provinces look solid for the Conservatives, with the NDP holding seats in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. British Columbia, however, appears to hold the key for the NDP and the Tories as they battle over seats. If the NDP get a bounce from Layton's two debate performances it should show up in British Columbia where they have organization, unpopularity of the HST and other issues giving them a potential edge.

Finally, if the Liberals bring back the nearly 1 million Liberals who stayed home last time out under Stephane Dion, they could make a solid gain in seats, thus holding the Conservatives to a minority. If there is some kind of 'scandal' to be unearthed, it could turn into a very close race.

The Helena Guergis Story
Speaking of 'scandal', the 'Helena Guergis Story' ["soon to be a major motion picture an episode of CBC's Insecurity"] has been resurrected thanks to a copy of the PMO letter to the RCMP falling into the hands of the CBC. It shows that there wasn't really anything to the allegations against her other than private investigator Derek Snowdy's hyper-ventilated rumours. At her live news conference on Friday morning, she was very effective in her heartfelt reaction to the attack on her character, and her emotional response to what has befallen her and her family was understandable.
She chose to avoid the trap of broadening her attack on her Party even though she is in a head-on battle with the highly qualified Dr. Kellie Leitch, the Conservative candidate. That will be an interesting riding to watch on election night. Will this story involve any more collateral damage to Stephen Harper? Probably not directly, but it certainly lost him another day of focus on his message. He made it clear he doesn't want her back, without mentioning her name.  The photo of Helena holding her baby Xavier at the news conference will be hard to top, of course. That young boy has a future in politics! His party? To Be Determined.

Heading towards the finish line
As the Speaker has now cleared the way for Auditor General Sheila Fraser to release her final draft of her audit of the G8/G20 spending, expect that to be the hyper-focus for next week. So the momentum could slide against the Tories in the final weeks of the campaign - thus endangering their vision of a majority victory. The Liberals have moved to a thematic of 'fear vs. hope' to get the Tory numbers down. In my view, that won't work, as they have tried the 'scary Harper' theme in previous elections. Remember 'Tanks. In our streets. In Canada.'? Right now the frame is 'fear of the unknown (coalition) vs. 'fear of the known' (Stephen Harper). Stephen Harper has had five years in which he has been defined and the scare tactics rarely work when the public feels they already know him. However, their internal polling probably tells them it's all they've got left in their need to move the dial.

Who will form the Government? 50% chance it could be Ignatieff
If that happens, and the Liberals boost their seats, I believe that there's a 50% chance that Michael Ignatieff would be Prime Minister by the end of June - all without technically violating his promise that he won't have a 'coalition'. He won't need one; he won't need to offer Mr. Layton or Mr. Duceppe a place in his Cabinet.

IF the Opposition brings down the Conservatives on their budget (which they've already said they will), and IF the Governor General were to refuse Mr. Harper's wish to dissolve Parliament and call an election (which is possible given the threat of ongoing elections), he MIGHT be given the chance to gain the confidence of the House. He could do so with a letter of agreement covering a two-year period, without technically being a 'coalition'. And if that were the case, it would be.....Prime Minister Ignatieff. Do you think this is in the back of his mind - and Mr. Harper's? How about the front of his mind? And Michael Ignatieff's for that matter. Why do you think there is such a focus by the PM on getting a majority? The real tip-off will be on May 3rd. If there is no call by Liberals for Mr. Ignatieff's early departure, it will be because the negotiations will already be underway.

So, it's still ridiculously early to predict, but stranger things have happened - such as right after the 2008 election, for that matter - because, hey, welcome to Canada!

See you soon.


Campaign Craziness

Welcome back!
All the focus in Canada is on the election campaign while in Washington, the focus is on trying to keep the government's doors open and the revenue flowing..... Are we having fun yet?

The Conservatives have weathered about three solid days of media coverage on the ousting of two young women who were given the heave-ho from a campaign event by the RCMP. This led all newscasts at least two nights running, which means it really was the most important newsworthy event in the world, or it's a perfect example of the loss of proportionality by the media. You decide.

Prime Minister Harper finally apologized to them today which puts an end to the "controversy". In the meantime the Liberals had their own controversy - a 'white supremacist' candidate was given the boot by Michael Ignatieff which only threw them off their message for one day. However, a second candidate - Liberal candidate John Reilly from Alberta after making 'unacceptable comments about a sexual abuse case' decided to keep him on - thus throwing him off message for a second day. In my weekly gig on CTV's Power Play as Don Martin and I discussed some of these matters and the ads posted on websites by the Tories and the Liberals: CTV Power Play April 6th .
Debate Preview
Not surprisingly the polls don't indicate much movement so far, but wait until the debates on April 12th (English) and April 14th (French) and then I think we will see some dislodging of the 'don't know' and 'undecided' swing voters. Having coached many leaders for debates, each leader has to define clearly their goals, core messages, key positioning, and be able to get their messages across under fire.

In a nutshell, Stephen Harper has to survive, while Ignatieff has to introduce himself to voters as he has been sharply defined by the Tories over the past year. Jack Layton has to present himself as a clear alternative to the status quo. Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe has to merely show up in English (where he always exceeds expectations) but most strongly deliver in French on the second debate - positioning himself as the 'only alternative' to the federalist parties.

In today's Postmedia news I was interviewed about the strategies that the leaders will be employing in their preparation for the debates.

I was interviewed by Carol & Paul Mott on their radio program this a.m. on the debates & campaign controversies. [Click on April 7th podcasts and it's about 2 minutes in]  http://lnkd.in/AMJPEV

In Washington, today's the deadline for negotiating a compromise over the budget. Failure to come to an agreement will mean the shutdown of key government offices, which will, in turn, hurt ordinary folks who depend on the government for help on their mortgage problems to their social security checks. If the Republicans don't come to an agreement, it will be 1996 all over again as they will be blamed for bringing on the pain and the President will be positioned as the one trying to fight on behalf of the middle class and the vulnerable. The President went on television last night and while his declared message was the differences have narrowed he reached beyond that to the messages about the 800,000 families who won't have a paycheck, the Americans who won't have the services they're counting on - passports won't be delivered, etc. the economic damage etc. - which clearly positioned the issue  as going backwards because Washington doesn't have its act together".

Until next time....pay attention and stay very, very calm.


Here we go!

Welcome back!
We've just returned from Greenville, South Carolina where Laura and I did a seminar. Although the weather was unseasonably cool, we nevertheless enjoyed the beautiful town and people.

The Federal Election Campaign is Underway 
The party leaders are out of the gate quickly - if not entirely cleanly. Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff instantly hit a roadblock when he refused to cleanly disavow the possibility that he would form a coalition government with Jack Layton's NDP. It took him several news cycles to finally get off the fence and state clearly that he is ruling out such a possibility. It does beg the question, "what was he thinking?" My view is he didn't think fully through what, in effect, he was asking voters to do? "Vote for me and I may/may not run the government with Jack Layton and a few NDP'ers in my Cabinet." Instead he didn't seem to realize that all he needed to say was, "If I am asked by the Governor General to form a government which can meet the confidence of the House, I would attempt to do so on an issue-by-issue basis. Mr. Harper himself has done this, as Paul Martin before him did, as Pierre Trudeau and Lester Pearson before them did. I absolutely rule out a coalition government." In effect, that's what he ended up saying, but  why the agony in getting there?

For the Tories part, Stephen Harper spent the first few days hammering the Liberals over the "C" word, but once it settled down have turned their attention to their economic policies, which they know must be the ballot question if they are going to get a majority government.

Jack Layton and the NDP are having trouble getting traction through the noise between the Liberals and Conservatives. They are clearly targeting small business owners and consumers with their policies as they hit hard at the corporate tax cuts of the Harper government. His broken hip appears not to be too much of an impediment, even though he has clearly cut down on the number of appearances and has stopped worrying about photos and videos of him with his cane.

I will be appearing weekly during the campaign on CTV's Power Play with Don Martin. during the campaign. My second appearance is this evening at 8:15 p.m EDT, so I hope you can tune in. Last week's appearance can be found here  where pollster Nik Nanos and I examined the communications challenges facing the leaders.

Anatomy of a Runaway 'News' Story
During the election campaign I will occasionally be looking at some of the more egregious news stories that fail the test of fairness. Exhibit 'A' is a Global News Winnipeg item which managed to insert its own interpretation into a story about Conservative MP Shelly Glover's comments about the Liberal MP Anita Neville who is running in a neighbouring riding. The National Post did an excellent job dissecting the  'non-gaffe' . Actually, the reporter missed the real news in the piece, in which Shelly Glover, after telling the reporter that she wasn't going to reveal the name of Neville's opposing Tory candidate as there was no 'candidate of record' at that point, ended up revealing his name anyway. Also Glover declined an opportunity to do a Global Winnipeg interview to respond to the 'story' and waited until the next morning to clarify her remarks on CJOB radio. She should have known to move immediately to set the record straight.

What should be noted in the story is that the Global Winnipeg reporter and the news anchor Peter Chura introduced the word 'age' into the story in the first place - interpreting Glover's comment, "she's passed her expiry date" as referring to her "age" and "too old for the job".  This was low-hanging fruit for the Global news team and they were determined to pluck it. They also made a feast of it the next day by constructing a phoney 'poll' of its viewers on Global Winnipeg's  website, misrepresenting her remarks, as follows:

What do you think of Glover’s comments toward Neville?

So this is a perfect media-generated news story that is a win/win for the media outlet in question. Even if they've mischievously hyped a non-story they benefit by milking it for days to come. Perfect!

It's still early days with lots of mud to be slung and real or imagined 'gaffes'. In other words, it's politics as usual. Let's hope that there is still room for real issues to be debated.

Barack Obama's Statement on Libya
After nine days of taking a 'shellacking' in the media over his Administration's actions in Libya, President Obama finally came forward with a speech to the nation making the case for getting involved in the Qaddafi horror show. How did he do? Great optics by delivering the speech with numerous flags as a backdrop at Fort McNair. He clearly wanted to present himself as the Commander-in-Chief and to that extent it was a compelling visual.

In substance, it bought him some time, but was not entirely satisfying for those looking for a clear set of principles. Clearly the President does not want to follow the Bush Iraq policy and yet wanted to be seen as taking strong action to protect innocent civilians. He continually pressed the point that the U.S. would only be involved in concert with other nations - which Canada, the U.K., France and others are contributing through NATO. The fact that the NATO mission is led by Canada's Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard is helpful to the case that he made. He took a swipe at the Clinton Administration's failure to move on the Rwanda genocide issue until it was too late, and he took a shot at George W. Bush's Iraq policies. What will he do about the Ivory Coast, Bahrain or Sudan? Those, apparently, will be decided on a case-by-case basis. 

So what is the end game in Libya? Well, that's still up in the air. It's clear Obama wants Qaddafi gone - preferably by imitating Egypt's Hosni Mubarek and quitting. But that won't happen. Mubarek is a realist, while Qaddafi is a crazed extremist. More than a minor difference, there. So then what? Stay tuned.  

Until next time......