The Fault, Dear Brutus

Let’s get this straight right off the bat.

Toronto’s city council is not out of control. It has merely stepped into the leadership vacuum created by Mayor Rob Ford’s misguided, hell bent pursuit of his self-proclaimed ‘mandate’. A mandate now in tatters due to ill-advised blunders like the Port Lands land grab, declaring Transit City dead with no viable plan to replace it and an overarching war on revenue that has put an unnecessary strain on already stressed city coffers.

While the mayor loves to play victim in this, beset on all sides by deranged left wingers (new members of the club now include councillors Michelle Berardinetti and David Shiner… Michelle Berardinetti and David Shiner, people), his monochromatic, black-and-white, us-versus-them worldview has been the actual impetus for his startling loss of control at council. There is no obvious official mechanism in place to strip power from a mayor. A mayor squanders the office’s powers purely through a failure of leadership.

“With limited executive authority,” the Globe and Mail editorialized yesterday, “a Toronto mayor’s power is mostly derived from his or her ability to unite councillors in common cause, or at least broker compromise.” The paper goes on to suggest that, “Rather than embracing his current role as an opposition politician, Mr. Ford needs to find a way to lead again.”

The problem is, the mayor has never led in the sense the Globe would like to see. Uniting or brokering compromise is not exactly his strong suit. What Mayor Ford is truly skilled at is dovetailing his angry sense of privileged entitlement with the anger of those who have truly been left on the outside. Tea Party like demagoguery exploiting grassroots populism in order to divide and conquer.

So every significant loss at council such as the most recent surreal tale of Toronto’s move to ban the use of plastic bags isn’t seen for what it most certainly is. The unintended consequence that results from not having any plan in place past point A. No. Instead it’s portrayed as a petulant fuck you to Mayor Ford by those who remain vigilantly bitter about his successful 2010 campaign. And dissing the mayor is dissing all of Ford Nation.

Was city council’s vote to ban plastic bags unexpected and impetuous? Yes. But it followed its own logic. Everyone agreed that the 5¢ cent fee council imposed – more like, suggested, since it was a bylaw never enforced – had done what it was intended to do. Reduce the use of plastic bags and their presence in our landfills. If that was the goal, why not pursue it to the obvious conclusion? So first Councillor Anthony Perruzza and then Councillor David Shiner pushed for an outright ban.

Toronto will hardly be on the vanguard on this issue if it is in fact enacted in the new year. There has been an international move in this direction for some time now. Countries in Europe have banned them. Peruse this list to see the extent of it in the United States. Hell, deep in the heart of Alberta oil country, the city of Fort McMurray has had a plastic bag ban since 2010.

(Daniel Dale of the Toronto Star gives a thorough breakdown of the implications of the city’s proposed ban here.)

City council merely stepped into the void created by Mayor Ford whose agenda now consists of nothing more than building a re-election platform for a campaign that doesn’t begin for another 18 months or so. The only chaos or anarchy currently swirling around at City Hall is in the mayor’s office. Mayor Ford has left the actual role of governing up to his 44 councillor colleagues. They should be commended not condemned for accepting that responsibility.

seriously submitted by Cityslikr

PR Flacks: Do The Right Thing

James Hoggan, owner and founder of Hoggan & Associates shares this perhaps apocryphal story in his and Richard D. Littlemore’s excellent book Do The Right Thing: PR Tips for a Skeptical Public:

‘A wealthy New York businessman hires a senior public relations consultant and says to him, “I have a reputation for being a real S.O.B. and I want you to change that.” The PR consultant responds, “Absolutely. But first you’ll have to stop being an S.O.B.”’

The moral of the story and the book came to mind after recently reading our Urban Sophisticat’s scathing observations regarding the public relations industry. I, too, am upset about public relations firms’ use of nefarious tactics on behalf of their clients (the names of Bryant, Mulroney and Navigator quickly come to mind) but, unlike Urban Sophisticat or the late Bill Hicks, am not disposed to throw all PR firms and personnel into one bucket.

It was primarily Hoggan’s book and corporate mission statement that altered my view of all public relations firms as Darth Vader spawns. Hoggan & Associates is an award-winning Canadian corporate communications and public affairs firm that touts a number of provincial and municipal governments, real estate development companies, high tech firms, pharmaceuticals, forest industry giants, resorts and academic institutions as clients.

What is hugely refreshing about Hoggan’s approach to public relations is the mandate that all clients must adhere to the company’s three golden rules:

1. Do the right thing;

2. Be seen doing the right thing; and

3. Don’t get #1 and #2 mixed up.

Hoggan in his book lambastes the public relations industry for going over to the “Dark Side” and using “Darth Vader” tactics to spread misinformation and mistruths on behalf of clients thereby eroding public trust and confidence. He strongly believes his industry is in the mire because the task of transmitting a client’s truthful information, however good, or disturbing and damaging it may be at the time, has been replaced with spin and dishonest tactics. It his belief that, sooner than later, the public realizes it has been deceived by individuals or companies and their PR hacks and resents that deceit deeply. This statement resonates as it is fair to say that most of us believe, for example, that governments, politicians and oil companies lie to us all the time. In fact, we expect it, so cynical is our perception of public relations and the individuals or institutions involved. Sadly, our media spends more time analyzing spin tactics utilized by individuals and companies than deploring the fact that honesty and integrity, core values we endeavour to instil in our young, have gone to hell in a hand basket when it comes to communicating to the public.

I praise Jim Hoggan and his firm for undertaking the uphill battle of putting honesty and integrity back into the public relations industry. He advises his clients to ‘do the right thing’ when representing themselves (whether in crisis management mode or not) to the public. His experience has taught him that the public is willing to forgive individual, corporate or governmental trangressions if all the disturbing information is honestly revealed along with a sincere apology as soon as possible. Using the traditional media routes and social media applications to get points across and to establish or repair one’s reputation is also absolutely the right thing to do, as long as the message is honest and true.

This is not the first time Hoggan has taken it upon himself to re-introduce transparency into his industry’s toolbox. For five years, earlier in this decade, he and his firm presented public relations tips to readers of The Vancouver Sun. By sharing these nuggets with the public, Hoggan reinforced that how one communicates is as consequential as what one communicates. He has and continues to ‘walk the talk’ by countering climate science misinformation through his blog DeSmogBlog and contributing ideas and articles to the energy boom website which investigates alternative energy sources.

I’ll let him have the final words in this submission: “Public Relations, practiced well and in good conscience, is a force for good. The whole goal is to improve communications and increase understanding between and among people…So individuals and organizations of all types should not shy away from PR. On the contrary, in the current atmosphere of mistrust, good communications advice is more necessary than ever. But we should all be wary of playing around the edges-of doing things that “seem justifiable in the circumstances.” Ask yourself as often as you can, if the thing you are about to do would make you proud if your mother, your child, or your friendly government regulator was looking over your shoulder. If the answer is no, then what you are doing is not “public relations”-at least, not as I would define it….Ask yourself:” What’s the right thing to do?” The answer can only help.”


— Rightly submitted by Distant Cousin