Power, Politics, and Communications
Earlier this week Canadian Immigration Minister Chris Alexander appeared on a panel on CBC´s “Power and Politics”.
Rather than answer a question on the current Syrian refugee crisis, he blamed CBC and the media in general for not speaking about the situation facing Syrian displaced persons.
Rather than respond, he attacked the media, went completely off message and failed to communicate with Canadians on a tragic and high profile issue (see http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/chris-alexander-immigration-syria-refugee-crisis-conservatives-1.3213514).
With tens of thousands of Syrians washing up on European soil (many of them dead), and one dead family photographs of whose bodies were widely distributed by the media said to have been trying to come to Canada, the issue is front and center in today’s media, especially the photo of a dead child washed ashore in Turkey.
This was an excellent opportunity for the Minister to show his mettle and underscore why he should be reelected.
Yet the Minister declined to answer, preferring to attack the media for not discussing the issue earlier.
Host Rosemary Barton told the Minister and the audience that this was untrue, and that CBC’s “Power and Politics” had discussed the ongoing crisis countless times, with the Minister sometimes on the program. She took the Minister to task, and left him floundering.
Being called a liar on a major television news program is not effective communications. Avoiding a question by seeming to place the blame on the media is not strategic.
Had I been asked to advise him, I would have warned Alexander about the questions he would be asked, and would have counseled that he go from a negative question to a positive response.
First of all, the cardinal rule in crisis management is to always empathize with the victims – especially in this case when the dead victims had had their visa application for Canada rejected. He should have expressed horror at their fate and a commitment to investigate and report.
When asked about Canada’ apparent weak response to the situation, he should have said Canada has in fact responded to this crisis as it has to past crises (the Ugandan Exodus and the Vietnamese Boat people crisis). He should stuck with his report that Canada is taking in “x” number of refugees, has contributed “y” amount of dollars to international relief efforts, and is planning to take in an additional “z” number of refugees over the next few months. The crisis is a global one, and the response must be global. In this, Canada is doing its share.
And leave it at that.
This would have led to other questions, but the table would have been set for a more positive perception of what Canada is doing to address this humanitarian tragedy and a Minister who knows his brief as well as how to communicate.
Instead, Alexander later issued a statement saying that he had suspended his election campaign and “I am meeting with officials to ascertain both the facts of the case of the Kurdi family (the family whose wife and sons died, among others) and to receive an update on the migrant crisis.”
If the minister needs an update on the migrant crisis at this stage, he is sending a message that he is out of touch. This crisis has been going on for a number of years, and a minister should have been well briefed on the issue throughout as well as been prepared to handle media questions, especially in the midst of a federal election campaign.
Ministers must be trained in effective strategic communications and how to handle the media on tough questions. Alexander is a former Canadian Ambassador and career diplomat, an Assistant Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, as well as a minister for the past few years.
He should know better.
Eduardo del Buey
Crosshairs Communications Ltd.