Premier Doug Ford and Finance Minister Vic Fedelli were in New York City promoting Ontario as a place to do business.
Last week Premier Doug Ford spent a couple of days in New York City promoting Ontario within the context of his theme that the province is now “Open for Business”. Along with Finance Minister Vic Fedelli, the Premier spent a couple of days meeting with various industry leaders, trade representatives and US business media to emphasize the importance of the trading relationship between the province and many US states as well as the focus of this Ontario government on policies such as cutting red tape and reducing excess regulation. It never hurts to remind our American friends of the importance of our economic relationship, considering that two-way trade between Ontario and the US reached almost $400 billion in 2018 and that, if Ontario was a country, it would be the US’s third largest trading partner. Indeed, such promotional pilgrimages to our neighbour to the south are quite common by provincial and federal government leaders of all political stripes.
Unfortunately, instead of positive media coverage of the trip and the good business and government connections that were established, much of the attention was on the fact that Ford apparently did not inform the media about the event with sufficient lead time that they could accompany him and report on the goings-on. Instead of giving the usual heads-up to the media in advance, Ford had his in-house reporting arm – Ontario News Now – as the sole Ontario entity that accompanied the Premier and reported on the trip. Needless to say, the conventional media were not impressed.
Ford has made no bones about his suspicion regarding the so-called mainstream media and its left-leaning bias. There is little doubt that the media in general is much harder on Conservative politicians than it is on Liberals or New Democrats. Yet another example of this took place this past week when federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer was accused of being in “secret” meetings with oil industry executives by senior Liberals. As it turned out, the meeting was anything but secret, Liberals and other groups such as First Nations were also at the meeting, and the notion of any politician getting together with executives in any key industry should be viewed as a positive. The fact that some well-established media outlets bought the “secret meeting” spin being promoted by Liberals without checking the facts was yet another indication of how media is keen to jump on what appears to be a negative story as long as a Conservative is involved.
While Ford’s suspicions may be well-founded, doing an end-run around regular media will certainly not improve coverage but will likely worsen it. All governments have their communications team, and the fact that the Ford government has chosen to structure this in the form of Ontario News Now is just a different way of getting their word out as all governments do. Those who oppose the government like to make a big deal of the fact that Ontario News Now is funded by taxpayer dollars, but I doubt it is any more costly than what is spent by any government on its communications activities. That being said, any government communications arm will always have limited reach, and it makes eminent sense to include conventional media as a means of extending that reach.
Ford’s snub of the regular media on the New York trip was unfortunate and should not be repeated. What should have been a very positive economic story for the province ended up on a sour note. Like it or not, the media will always have the last word and co-operating with them in a professional way is much more likely to garner the coverage any government desires than cutting them out and creating negative stories where none need to exist. As the old saying goes, you really do get more bees with honey.
Catherine Swift is currently President and CEO of Working Canadians (www.workingcanadians.ca. Prior to that, Catherine Swift had been with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business since September 1987, initially as Chief Economist. She became Chair in June 1999 after being named Chief Executive Officer in July 1997 and President in May of 1995. Her various responsibilities included coordinating policy issues at federal, provincial and municipal levels of government, representing CFIB with politicians, government, business, media and other groups.
Ms. Swift has worked with the federal government in Ottawa holding several positions with the Departments of Consumer and Corporate Affairs, Industry and Communications. Her areas of specialization included corporate and industrial analysis and international trade. Catherine Swift has a MA in Economics.
She has published numerous articles in journals, magazines and other media on such small business issues as free trade, finance, entrepreneurship and women small business owners. Ms. Swift is a Past President of the Empire Club of Canada, a former Director of the C.D. Howe Institute and past President of the International Small Business Congress. She was cited in 2003 and again in 2012 as one of the top 100 most powerful women in Canada by the Women’s Executive Network.