Are Opposition Parties Still Stunned?

Losing is hard.

But, in politics, it’s the true test of character.

It’s when you see true colours.

Reporters watch closely to see how you respond when things aren’t going your way. Do you really have respect for the media — or do you only respect them when times are good?

Well, when it comes to media relations on Parliament Hill, it was a flaccid first official week in opposition for both the NDP and the Conservative Party. Both parties are coming off big election losses. The Conservatives not only lost their position as Government — they lost big.

And, the NDP — a party that was leading in the polls from June until mid-September — could taste a historic win and were already picking out the office drapes. But, then the bottom dropped out, the Liberals surged — and they were ultimately reduced to 3rd party status.

But, it’s been a few weeks. So, many eyes were on both parties this past week to see how they’d react to losing — and what tone they’d set moving forward.

Surrounded by members of caucus, Rona Ambrose speaks after being named as the interim-leader of the Conservative party following a caucus meeting Thursday November 5, 2015 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

It was an important week for the Conservative Party as they selected an interim leader to replace outgoing Stephen Harper, who had a poisonous relationship with the media the past ten years, as outlined in an earlier article.

So, it was a substantial surprise to many when new Interim Leader, Rona Ambrose came out to meet the Parliament Hill media, took only 3 questions — then spun around and walked away with reporters still yelling out questions.

This is not normal media relations behaviour for an Opposition political party anywhere in the free world. And, it was surprising for Ms. Ambrose who is usually a very strong communicator and one of the more moderate voices from the Harper government the past ten years.

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It should be noted that it seems someone inside the Conservative Party realized this was a losing approach — and by this weekend, Interim Leader Ambrose was doing a media blitz on all the political talk shows.

She did very well, in fact. So, perhaps we will just chalk up the stumble this past week to forgetting what it’s like communicating in Opposition, given that it’s been over ten years.

The NDP is a different story…..

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Leader Tom Mulcair knows how opposition communications works. He’s benefitted from it greatly in the past. However, up until this past week, Mr. Mulcair has been almost invisible since his election night loss.

When they were leading in the opinion polls during the campaign, many pundits noted Mr. Mulcair was taking a “front-runner” approach to campaigning — taking few risks — and not taking questions a number of times during the actual campaign — even on the last campaign day!?

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This past week, Mulcair did take questions after his first caucus meeting since the loss. However, by this weekend, he was in British Columbia, speaking at the BC-NDP convention — and, again, he was back to taking no questions — something pointed out by the media.

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This is extremely weak media relations strategy. And, it’s not lost on the media that while Mr. Mulcair didn’t have time to do interviews in B.C., he found time to this cheeky little parody in the past week:

Okay…it’s pretty funny. But, if Mr. Mulcair plans to stay on as leader, he’s going to need to reconnect with the Hill media. And, you can’t say you don’t have time for media when you’re doing comedy shows like This Hour Has 22 Minutes every second week.

So, here it is. It’s pretty simple:

  1. If you want to govern at some point, you need to reach voters.
  2. If you want to reach voters, you need earned or paid media (ads).
  3. Advertising is expensive and has questionable effectiveness.
  4. Earned media (reporter’s stories) is FREE.
  5. Talk to reporters until they get sick of listening to you.

So, let’s wipe the past week clean and give the opposition parties a do-over. Hopefully, they’ve learned something. If they haven’t, it’s going to be a long four years. As for the governing Trudeau Liberals, they had a good first week — but, as mentioned — communicating winning is easy. The real test will be over time and how much openness and transparency there is when political crisis arises. And, it will. It does for every party and every government.

More recommended blog posts:

30 Ways To Piss Off A Reporter

Lessons Learned – Harper’s “War on the Media”

There’s Much To Learn In The Political Matrix

Does “Off The Record” Exist?

How To Prepare For a Public Relations Crisis

The New Politician’s Guide To Not Getting Killed By Reporters

There Is Life After Journalism

The “Badger” Is Back!