The Gamesmanship of Political Oxygen

There is such a thing as political oxygen. Political oxygen is how policy and program issues get managed, and how controversial government-sourced stories all die, survive or thrive.

WANTING A STORY TO DIE

Governments often deal with releasing “Bad News late on Fridays, especially before a long weekend. It’s known in the biz as “taking out the garbage.” They hope there is very little media attention and therefore no enough “oxygen” for the story to get “legs” and go anywhere.

The media outlets don’t have the staff capacity to cover it effectively, nor timely, and that was true before COVID.  Social Media Influentials may pick up on it but the platform traffic in Facebook and Twitter is slower on weekends too.  The government trying to take the oxygen away from the story so it “suffocates” and dies for lack of accountability oxygen.

Neither the Time or the Crayons

As an example, think about the many mandate amendments, time extensions, and budget increases plus burying the interim report of the pathetic Allen Public Inquiry process into so-called UnAlbertan activities. All these events were done as “taking out the garbage” efforts.  Disingenuous policy and abuses of political power best be kept a secret as possible, even if they are subject to a “Public Inquiry” process.

Ironically, Mr. Allen is scheduled to release his final report on May 31, the third deadline.  EcoJustice has sought a Judicial Review over the legality of using the Public Inquiries Act for the purposes stated by the Premier.  They are asking that the Inquiry be shut down. because it is biased and inconsistent with the purposes of the Public Inquiries Act. The Court hearing was delayed many months, due to COVID and other government delaying tactics.   All to take away some political oxygen. The Court has promised to release the review decision before the May 31 Report Release deadline in three short weeks.

NOT WANTING A STORY TO SURVIVE

If a Bad New story has some survival capacity, typically a government response is to set up a competing, not necessarily more important, but definitely a more media “compelling” and emotionally diversionary storyline. This is to move the oxygen there and a way for the more damaging story the government wants to go away.  Just about every time Mr. Kenney harps against the Federal government or the B.C. government, for some alleged slighting of or indifference to Alberta, you see this approach in action.

For a contemporary example, think about the political promise for a “fully comprehensive public consultation on a ‘modern coal policy’ for Alberta.” to divert attention away from the water concerns, habitat protection, and irregularities in the regulatory process of eastern slopes coal policy and l\land leases. A public consultation…now doesn’t that sound better than having to answer for possible corruption?

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A STORY THRIVES

We have the other political oxygen phenomenon and that where enough oxygen gets added with new information, new story angles, and more questionable intrigue so the story grows over time and, given enough oxygen, it “explodes” in political terms.

The Christmas travel exploits of Kenney’s staff, a Cabinet Minister, and some “entitled”  MLAs grew over time, as oxygen got added. It was initially downplayed by the Premier’s office as trivial, nobody cares. Ideally, they expected it ends there as Christmas would preoccupy the citizenry so no more oxygen gets to the issue.  Well, the COVID sacrifices Albertans were making and complying with the Public Health Orders, that the UCP were ignoring or insouciant about, well it all got lots of social media oxygen,

Then Kenney admitted he didn’t know this was going on in contravention of Public Health Orders so how could he be held accountable…WTF? Then we get releases of emails where his office was advised of these travel arrangements and he did nothing about them…more oxygen.

 

Then he has to fire his Chief of Staff, fired a Cabinet Minister, then strip some guilty MLAs of committee duties and the dollars they get for those responsibilities. Lots of oxygen and the resulting combustion turns into a political explosion.

TAKE AWAYS FOR CITIZENS

So as a citizen, start looking at the news from and about the government using the Oxygen lens.  Think about the timing of the news being released and why.  Suffocate it due to lack of oxygen? Ask yourself why is the Premier bloviating about some trite rant or petty diversion over Justin Trudeau for example.  Is the government trying to move the media oxygen away from a serious dealing of newsworthy substance into an emotional exercise in trivial click-bait?

Also, ask yourself what can you do to keep attention on and some tension about a serious story, that has can and should have legs so change can be forced on the government.  Think Curriculum Draft as a good current and ongoing example.  This graphic captures how I see the public engagement process sham of the UCP on this policy.

This is all about the Effective Citizen’s Journey of becoming More Aware, Better Informed, Effectively Engaged, and Assertively Active in matters that concern you.

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