Pubdate: Sat, 10 Jan 2004
Source: Duncan News Leader (CN BC)
Copyright: 2004 Duncan News Leader
Author: Frances Marr Darling


In a hyper-hyped media age, we're used to overanalyzing everything in
politics. For instance, after weeks of speculative bios for probable
new federal ministers, was Paul Martin's cabinet a surprise? Even
scandals feel like retreads - especially in B.C., where we long ago
realized there are no good guys.

But not this time. For some, B.C.'s current government (alleged)
scandal can be shrugged off: no one in the heap of stones by the Inner
Harbour is immune. But most of us are so stunned at the police raid of
cabinet aides' offices that we're waiting for another shoe to drop.

In these things I am always most fascinated by the public relations.
Public confidence in government is crucial, and it comes from how
things look. For all that PR managers get dismissed as spin-meisters
who put the "right" gloss on truth, this month in B.C. we are seeing
just how important public perception can be. And whatever this is, it
looks bad.

Never have drugs and organized crime come within breathing distance of
our beloved government. Even though being the butt of national jokes
long ago became B.C.'s role in confederation, the parade of file boxes
hauled down legislature steps to police vans was deeply disturbing.
It's no longer funny.

But the people in charge, government and police, don't remember how to
be reassuring. Oh, they're handling it correctly enough. No one can
say much yet for fear of jeopardizing the police investigation, which
everyone agrees must be a doozie, so by all means let them take their
time. But they had better decide they can say something soon, other
than "we can't say anything at this time" because the province is
already trapped in paralysis of rumours and assumptions.

I'd like to have seen two things. First, the police needed to say
either more or less. Either RCMP Sgt. John Ward should have declared
exactly what police are pursuing - seizing evidence only when ready to
lay charges - or he should have left out the bit about drugs and
organized crime. His lone press conference provided more questions
than answers. Asking us to be patient and trust the process only feeds
public alarm.

Second, the politicians should have come home. At least we'd get the
idea they were on the job. Cabinet's absence is disturbing in the
bigger picture, too. Why couldn't ministers vacation in Whistler or
Silver Star? Those Hawaiian holidays are classic poor PR. With food
banks struggling and so many people suffering from government
decisions on cutbacks, tans and refusal to leave the beaches just
plain look callous.

Yes, ministers have worked long and hard at the people's business and
deserve time off. But couldn't they go skiing in B.C., read novels by
the Christmas tree, or toboggan with family and constituents? Couldn't
they postpone the tans till August on beaches up-Island?

It's as if they heard of someone dropping a grenade on the living room
floor, then either hid out down the street, or swooped in to say "oh
dear" before escaping in a rooftop helicopter. They've painted
themselves heartless. Meanwhile, are we meant to sit on the sofa and
watch where the shrapnel hits next?

Well, yes. After all, that's entertainment, B.C. style.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin