Scheer’s Unique Communications Challenge

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In the upcoming federal election, Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer is going to face a unique challenge.

And no, I’m not talking about his clear need to jazz up his vapid and boring Pillsbury Doughboy persona.

The unique challenge which I am referring to can be best illustrated with an imagined hypothetical scenario.

Let’s say at some point during the 2019 election federal campaign an 89 year old white male, who happens to be a Conservative Party volunteer, goes on Twitter and tweets, “We have too many immigrants coming into Canada.”

For Scheer, such an occurrence would be a potential PR disaster.

Indeed, it’d only take a few minutes for the old guy’s tweet to be plastered all over the CBC’s twitter feed, and by the next day it’d be on the front page of every newspaper in the country.

Meanwhile, Scheer would be besieged by the media, who’d demand to know if that tweet represents the Conservative Party’s true view on immigration.

Of course, his first reaction would likely be to deny it, leading to headlines such as “A beleaguered Scheer vehemently denies that he’s a racist, Nazi, white nationalist.”

OK, admittedly, I’m exaggerating a bit here to prove a point, but you get what I’m saying, right?

Like it or not, Scheer will be accountable not only for his words and actions, but for the words and actions of anyone around the globe who’s even remotely connected to the conservative movement.

If, for instance, during the fall election, US President Donald Trump makes some sort of outlandish comment (and yes, it’s likely this will happen) the media will instantly pounce on Scheer, demanding to know if he disavows Trump’s opinion.

Or if former Prime Minister Stephen Harper muses out loud that Canada needs to balance the budget, the media will instantly pounce on Scheer demanding to know if he secretly supports slashing social services to the bone.

Or if an obscure church pastor, whose nephew is running as a Conservative candidate, writes a letter to the editor calling abortion a sin against God, the media will instantly pounce on Scheer demanding to know if he hates women.

So yeah, there could be lots of pouncing.

And by the way, Scheer is the only candidate in the upcoming race facing this particular dilemma.

In the case of NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, he’s just too far off the radar for the media to care about.

As for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, unlike Scheer, he really doesn’t have to worry about controversial comments emanating from his party or from his supporters, mainly because the Liberal Party of Canada is so bland.

Yes I know, it’s odd to consider Liberals as “bland”, given how Trudeau has a reputation for being an exciting, charismatic, rock-star-style type of leader, but when you think about it, the Liberal Party’s dogma is really pretty boring; it can basically be summed as “always support the status quo and never say anything that deviates even slightly from social/economic/cultural norms of progressive political orthodoxy.”

Hence, there’s not much any Liberal can say or do that the media would find even remotely contentious, especially since much of the media also adheres to the social/economic/cultural norms of progressive political orthodoxy.

Plus, the Canadian media has created a narrative based on the notion that Conservatives (and only Conservatives) harbor a “hidden agenda”, meaning they’re constantly vigilant for any signs that it’s emerging into plain view.

So when it comes to linking Trudeau to the words of others, the prime minister is pretty secure.

The only glaring exception to this would be if some Liberal, somewhere, openly criticized former Liberal cabinet minister Jody Wilson-Raybould.

That would definitely land Trudeau on the hot seat.

Anyway, getting back to Scheer and his problem, how should he deal with having to constantly react to the opinions of others?

In other words, how does he cope if the media constantly tries to put him on the defensive and off message?

Well, what Scheer definitely shouldn’t do is repeatedly deny, disavow and disclaim; as they say in the political communications business, “If you’re denying, you’re dying.”

What he should do is stay positive on his message, while attacking Trudeau.

To show you what I mean, here’s how he should handle the media should they try to link him with some outlandish statement:

Reporter: Mr. Scheer, one of your supporters recently tweeted his opposition to immigration, are you a fascist?

Scheer: My record and the record of my party is clear, we welcome immigrants to Canada, they make our country stronger and better; unfortunately it’s Mr. Trudeau who uses this issue to divide Canadians in a cynical bid to win voters.  It’s shameful.

See what I mean?

My point is, a little communication savvy can go a long way to solving even the toughest of political challenges.

Photo Credit: CTV News

More from Gerry Nicholls.     @GerryNic

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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