Recently I was highly critical of Foreign Affairs trade negotiator Colin Robertson (currently “on loan” to right-wing academic institutions to build support for new deals) for suggesting in the Globe and Mail that, having negotiated a deal with the U.S., it was now time for the Canadian government to hold a “public debate” to build support for the decision that had already been made. I was also critical of the government’s decision to brief business groups on the new agreement at a time when it was still telling the public that Harper and Obama were in negotiations. Now Impolitical has pointed to a Toronto Star article discussing the government’s leaked communications strategy, which provides further evidence of the ways in which the government attempted to manipulate the public’s understanding of the deal.
Unfortunately, the Star did not print a copy of the document online, but what it summarizes is revealing. It set out a plan to hide the agreement’s negotiations from the public (by means of a “low public profile”) over the past several months, while “stakeholders,” meaning business associations like the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, were extensively consulted behind the scenes. The Departments of Citizenship and Immigration, Foreign Affairs, and Industry worked to “align supportive stakeholders to speak positively about the announcement,” like the Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, and the Canadian Trucking Alliance.
The document also listed a series of “communications challenges” and “risks,” by which it meant opposition groups to be neutralized. Interestingly, one of the people it identified as a challenge was the privacy commissioner, which suggests that there are real problems associated with this agreement from a privacy perspective. The Council of Canadians and the government of Mexico (which would be edgy about missing out on a deal) are also identified as serious threats to the agreement. Other “medium-risk” opponents include Americans fearing job losses, and Canadian academics who would want “proof of economic benefits.” It’s nice to know that the need to provide evidence to support a government treaty is only a “medium” risk and not a high one. No doubt Robertson’s work at Carleton has gone some way towards building friendly forces in the ivory tower.
Update: As pogge points out, the context of the memo indicates that the lobby organizations in question agreed to help the government cover up details about the agreement until it was time to make a unified public presentation. Their willingness to collude in government secrecy (and the government’s willingness to involve them in such PR schemes) should be taken into account when they make public pronouncements in the future.Tweet