Protect the King
More than a year has gone by since the start of the pandemic. Despite that, we continue to watch Premiers, health officials, and others give almost daily updates on TV, with nearly as much interest as we had a year ago.
The strategy of having political leaders give media updates has been an interesting one. In fact, a story emerged last week in Ontario that those around Premier Doug Ford are now trying to "protect the king."
I think it's a good strategy and one that Alberta Premier Jason Kenney should have used a long time ago.
Last week I got a message through Twitter from colleague Abby McIntyre. She asked me and a couple of others to give our thoughts on what has become known as the “Protect the King” strategy.
Abby was referring to a story on CTV News that basically said the people advising Premier Doug Ford in Ontario have talked him into fewer media appearances, especially after his latest moves to try to flatten the third wave received so much negative feedback.
I replied that it’s a good strategy and said Alberta Premier Jason Kenney should try the same tactic.
There was quite the response on Twitter. To put it nicely, let’s just say I was alone in my support for this strategy.
Fortunately, I write a blog each week, so I can explain myself and have more than 280 characters to do it.
Talk Isn't Cheap
I don’t have a fancy title for it like Protect the King, but four months ago I wrote that Jason Kenney has been in the media talking about the pandemic far too often.
Some people seem to think that’s his job. No, it isn’t. His job is to be Premier and to find ways to communicate with Albertans when it’s needed. That doesn’t mean every day, or every other day.
There’s no reason the load can’t be shared more evenly with people like Health Minister Tyler Shandro, other ministers, or others from Alberta Health Services. That was done a lot last spring.
It also doesn’t mean when he’s not in front of the media, he’s hiding. People seem to make the connection that if Kenney isn’t speaking to the media he’s hiding. Perhaps that’s because he’s been in front of the cameras too much and there’s an expectation he needs to be talking about COVID every day.
What Doug Ford was doing for months in Ontario was crazy. Standing in front of the cameras and taking questions from reporters on a daily basis wasn’t helping with the pandemic and certainly wasn’t helping his popularity. The opposite has been happening. The more he talked, the more his popularity dropped.
There’s a phrase to describe what Ford has been doing. It’s called leading with your chin. As Dr. Phil would ask “How’s that working out for you”?
I think Ford and Kenney have talked more to the media than any other Premier since the pandemic started. I also believe their popularity has dropped more than any other Premier. There’s an obvious connection.
Can you name a Premier who has constantly been in the media during the pandemic who has seen his popularity rise?
I’ll wait for an answer.
Can you also name a top doctor such as a Chief Medical Officer of Health whose popularity is now as high as it was a month into the pandemic?
I’m still waiting.
Maybe there’s an exception or two in Atlantic Canada. The people there seem to have followed the rules better than the rest of the country.
Let’s face it though. Political leaders and public health officials are in no-win situations. There are as many people who think they’re not doing enough to protect us, as there are people who believe they’re taking away too many freedoms.
I’m sure if the Premiers knew when the pandemic started that we would be in the third wave in the spring of 2021, they would have taken a much different approach to media communications. Going on TV on a daily basis to upset people, isn’t a good way of getting re-elected.
In the early days of the pandemic, Premiers Ford and Kenney saw their popularity rise. Top docs like Deena Hinshaw in Alberta and Bonnie Henry in BC were folk heroes.
That was then and this is now. A lot has changed.
The Root of the Problem
The reality of the situation is that many, and perhaps most people are no longer following the rules.
Last week, a friend told me he's seen cases of people golfing with others from a different households at two Alberta golf courses..
Since I started writing this blog, one friend in Edmonton sent me a text to tell me his next-door neighbour was holding a garage sale and customers were packed in his garage like sardines. I guess that limit of five for gatherings has changed and nobody let me know. Another friend emailed to tell me about his neighbour who was having a long face-to-face conversation with another neighbour. Neither had masks. I've seen this before too. It looks like a conversation that would have been held two summers ago.
Daily COVID case counts in Alberta are finally starting to go down, but hospitalizations remain high with a huge number of people in intensive care.
Does it really matter if the Premier isn’t in front of the media everyday? If people are listening, they’re not following the rules anyway.
Hasn’t that been the biggest problem all along?
Photo credit: Global News
Virtual Media Training
I did media training for a group of southern Alberta doctors last week for a longtime client and I was thrilled when the organizer called it "The best yet." Virtual media training works really well, so check it out and contact me for more info.