a weekly blog for all interested in professional communications issues

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Haiti rescue/relief operation displays good communications

There has been plenty of criticism of how governments communicate in this blog. So let's look at some communications that worked.

It is now pretty apparent that Ottawa has learned and learned well from past mistakes in the humanitarian operations in Lebanon in 2006 and the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004.

The federal government wasted little time in dispatching the DART relief and rescue team to Haiti after the horrendous earthquake there on Jan. 12. This was in sharp contrast to 2004 when the bureaucracy hemmed and hawed before sending the DART team and the media were filled with speculative stories about what might be behind the delay.

This was a case of the short-lived government of Paul Martin leaving mission management to the bureaucrats when political leadership was required. Indeed, the tsunami of December 2004 may have been the watershed of Martin's reputation as Mr. Dithers.

There was much delay in 2006 in rescuing Canadians trapped in Lebanon during the Israeli strike against Hamas. In fact, the Harper government seemed ambivalent about rescuing them at all.

This time the Harper government was careful to leave any politics out of its messaging on Haiti. In fact, Prime Minister Stephen Harper made an unusual gesture of sharing the limelight with Haitian-born Michaelle Jean, the Governor General. Both of them made a touching and heartfelt appeal for help for Haiti.

In all, the federal government has done Canadians proud in the way it has dealt with the disaster in Haiti.

What's interesting is the difference in deportment of the Prime Minister on Haiti and less than 20 days earlier when Harper appeared in the now famous Peter Mansbridge interview.

On Haiti, Harper was very emotional and very clearly showed empathy for the Haitian people as well as the Canadians who were on the island when the earthquake struck. In the Mansbridge interview, Harper acted dismissively of Canadians' objections to proroguing and even sneered while doing it.

Harper seemed sincere on both occasions. We probably witnessed two distinct sides to the Prime Minister's personality, which likely means Harper will remain an enigma to most Canadians long after he has left office.

Since last week's posting of this blog, two prominent pollsters have reported that Canadians' disapproval of prorogation has been so strident that the Conservatives and Liberals are now virtually tied in the polls.

It represents a huge tumble for the Conservatives, who were ahead of the Liberals by as much as 15 percentage points in October.

For the Tories, the latest polls confirm one of the largest strategic mistakes by a federal government since Confederation. And, of course, the remarkable progress the Tories have made in winning over Canadian hearts and minds since early fall has been wiped out.

The Liberals, meanwhile, have been handed, or should that be gifted, a massive do-over for Michael Ignatieff, their leader.

Whether Iggy is able to take full advantage of this gift remains to be seen. But so far he seems to have made a good start toward an effective makeover with his campus tour and decision to summon his MPs back to work in Ottawa next week.

Watch for the Tories to hold a mini cabinet shuffle this week or next. Possibly even a special national caucus meeting in early February to prevents the Grits from hogging media attention.

As for the prospect of the Tories' much coveted majority, the next leader of majority government may not yet be sitting in the House of Commons.

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