From left: Joy Davies and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau; Conservative Dianne Watts' anti-terrorist leaflet; White Rock residents protest at city hall.

COLUMN: Political missteps and missed opportunities

There are smarter ways for politicians to get their messages out in the City of White Rock and beyond, writes PAN editor Lance Peverley.

My children have always been drawn to our mailbox.

To them, it’s a purveyor of secret messages, discounted treats and holiday surprises from loved ones.

They have yet to experience the adult dread when they approach the flap – bad news, utility bills and (shudder) trumped-up election propaganda.

Which is why, last week, when we arrived home to find an eye-catching campaign message from our friendly neighbourhood federal politician, my two youngest asked quite curiously what it was.

As the words “you will not feel secure in your bedrooms” leapt off the page, I felt I had two options – either treat it with gravity… or laugh.

It was quite a hoot, as we pictured the woman on the leaflet’s flip side going into armed combat for us, led Rambo-like by our prime minister.

Rather than use it as a learning moment to sum up the last century of unrest in the Middle East – which, admittedly, is tough to do in an evening’s conversation, never mind an election handout – I opted for a lesson in marketing to suggest there were smarter ways for the politician to get her message out.

And it got me thinking about the advice I would’ve given to professional politicians who were caught in recent weeks making such amateur decisions.

The fact that it took five days for one of Dianne Watts’ non-Conservative opponents to react publicly, for example, was disappointing. Clearly this could be the story of the local election so far, yet it seemed the candidates were waiting for someone to ask for their opinions.

Thankfully, the new Liberal candidate, Judy Higginbotham, issued a statement late Monday – in time to capture the week’s media focus – and we called the other candidate whose leader was quoted in Watts’s campaign literature.

Speaking of the Liberals, it was sad to see their response to the Conservative browbeating earlier this month, when both Watts and her leader said the Liberals should drop their then-candidate in South Surrey-White Rock over her controversial opinions surrounding marijuana.

A good answer, of course, would’ve been for the Liberal leader to state: “I totally disagree with my candidate’s view on this issue, but I welcome debate on such issues and know that over time I will convince her I am right.”

Instead, Joy Davies was gone by the end of the day.

Of course, Watts’ reaction wasn’t much better politically, as it would have made sense for her to allow voters to decide. Instead, she helped bring about a more experienced – and arguably more electable – opponent.

Bad political moves certainly aren’t limited to the federal arena. Last week, White Rock’s mayor had an opportunity to face off with nearly 100 residents calling for his resignation, over his claim that his tiny city, by law, must plan for more than a third more residents over the next 25 years.

The right thing to do, optically, would have been for Mayor Wayne Baldwin to wade into their protest at city hall and indicate that he respected their views even if he disagreed with them. At best, he could have appeased their concerns; at worst, they could have been aggressively hostile, giving him the appearance of victim.

Instead, after hearing Metro representatives explain that his outdated numbers were not only wrong, they were guidelines, he thanked them with the following send-off: “It’s an imprecise thing, as you mentioned, a lot of lack of knowledge on the part of the public…”

Ouch.

As for Watts’ reaction to the fallout from her U.S.-style flyer, she stood firm. She denied “fearmongering” and told us that her party is the only one that will keep Canadians safe.

To this, I can only advise that it’s a gutsy move to quote a terrorist threat in one’s campaign literature. It’s bolder still to claim there was no intention to stir up terror in the hearts of voters.

Message received.

Lance Peverley is the editor of Peace Arch News.

 

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