Overlooking a Loblaws Superstore in Ottawa this week, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna seemed blissfully unaware she was hosting a communications disaster.
She was in happy handout mode, shelling out a $12-million subsidy to induce the extremely profitable supermarket giant to spend $36 million of its own money on carbon-cutting refrigeration upgrades. An equally oblivious pair of Liberal MPs stood beside her as the show's potted plants, nodding admiration for a move which immediately attracted scathing public criticism as a government feed streamed the announcement live.
As day-after condemnation of the billionaire-bailout rang out in the House of Commons, government flacks must have realized they had made a huge mistake, particularly given the recipient of taxpayer largesse had been found guilty of price-fixing bread just last year.
This was an announcement best hidden as an obscure line item deep in the slushy details of the Low Carbon Economy Fund. If any recipients needed a profile boost, larger grants for oilsands companies from the same fund should’ve been the ones McKenna highlighted as carbon cleanup triumphs.
In any event, an interesting communications contrast surfaced later that day.
Deep inside the government's 347-page omnibus budget bill, a place reserved for bad smells the government hopes nobody will notice, was an immigration move worth trumpeting by a government widely seen as soft on the file. The plan would see Canada reject asylum seekers from allies where they’d already been granted asylum. In other words, it prevents someone from shopping around their asylum applications until they find a country which gives them the best shot at citizenship.
For a Liberal government which probably regrets its initial open-arms approach to the world's poor huddled masses, this suggests there's a political limit to its immigration tolerance. And that’s a good thing.
All this underlines a government preoccupied with virtue signaling in areas where they're already seen as virtuous and embarrassed by taking action which could expand their base of support to the right.
From the prime minister's fib that the original SNC-Lavalin story was wrong to Justin Trudeau's inexplicable threat to sue Andrew Scheer for his version of the truth, the last two months have been a prolonged self-harming communications meltdown unlike anything I've seen in politics.
As the SNC scandal fades and election issues rise, adult supervision is needed in government communications staff. And rule one should be for ministers to stop promoting what should be buried and stop burying what should be promoted.
That’s the Last Word