Bad PR month for Liberals

Dave Gordon - Sunday, 29 May, 2016

It hasn't been a very good PR month for the Liberal brand.

In early May, Sophie Trudeau – the prime minister’s wife – claimed “I need help”, suggesting she needed more government-paid staffers to help her juggle family commitments with her busy public life.

The comment prompted outrage from opposition party members and media, quick to point out how she already has two nannies, a personal assistant, a chauffeur, a personal chef and other amenities that few Canadians have.

No violins were playing for the woman who has more staff serving her than any other prime minister’s wife, and the financial means to hire more help out of her own pocket if she wished. (The wealthy Trudeaus, after all, gave their $3,400 in federal child subsidy to charity.)

About a week later, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had a little angry snit in the House of Commons, manhandling a fellow MP and spewing coarse language. He subsequently apologized.

Still, in the same month, the Trudeaus took flak for extending their diplomatic trip to Japan, to celebrate their anniversary there. Justified or not, it was bad optics.

And wrapping things up in the month of May, MP Bob Rae displayed child-like behaviour at the recent Liberal convention.
During a speech there, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered a small dose of praise for former prime minister Stephen Harper.

But Bob Rae, watching from the audience, was caught on video sticking two fingers in his mouth, pretending to gag at the mention of Harper’s accomplishments.

His Twitter apology ("thoughtless gesture" and a "Joke in poor taste") likely would not have happened if a journalist didn’t capture the gesture.

Stuff like this reminds me of what my grandmother Anne Novack once told me, “there are mistakes that you make, and mistakes that you never should have made.”

It’s one thing to be a newbie prime minister, lose your cool in an isolated incident, and then humbly apologize for it as Justin Trudeau did in his “manhandling”. It’s one thing to make an off-handed (and rather snooty) comment about how tough family and work are to coordinate.

It’s another thing to act like a child, and do something that most college-age students wouldn’t dare do in a lecture hall, lest they be spotted by the professor. It’s the same concept.

Rae ought to have the good sense enough to know to act dignified in public, as a former party leader, MP, and a man of sixty-eight years of age.

Every experienced politician knows that the only real privacy they have is what happens in their own home.

For a public figure, anything that occurs in public may, can, and will be captured on film, and presented to the public. And that is something Bob Rae, a politician of forty years, presumably knows well.

Given those facts, Rae, to be sure, has seen his fair share of colleagues’ “hot mic” incidents, such as much-criticized line from MP Mark Adler at the Western Wall (“it’s the million dollar shot!”). The cameras are always rolling when you’re a public figure. Eyes are always watching; ears always listening.

Unfortunately, Bob Rae forgot that – or didn’t think he’d be caught, or didn’t think anyone would care.

Perhaps this’ll be shrugged off soon enough.

Canadians seemed to have long-forgiven pre-PM Justin Trudeau for applauding the Chinese dictatorship, his joke about the Ukrainian invasion, calling Peter Kent a “piece of shit”, and a slew of other stupid gaffes.

The question is, now that the Liberals are in power, and the microscope is focused mostly on them, will Canadians tolerate high concentrated doses of less-than-exemplary behaviour?

If I were a Liberal public relations manager, I’d remind the party that the public perception could go negative at any time, for any reason, for any length of time.

And that it’s possible – because history has proof – that in the next election the ruling government could, in theory, drop to three dozen seats, because you weren’t liked as much as you though you were.

Copyright Dave Gordon, 2007