Welcome to the political silly season


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They call it the “political silly season” for a reason, and that certainly describes where Manitoba is right now.

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They call it the “political silly season” for a reason, and that certainly describes where Manitoba is right now.

In case you’ve never heard that term before, it’s defined by the urbandictionary.com website as “the time, especially just before the election, when undeliverable promises and wild accusations are the order of the day.” I regard the silly season as that time late in a government’s mandate when policies and press releases become more concerned with optics and election tactics than with accomplishing meaningful solutions to problems.

A quick glance at the blizzard of news releases by the Stefanson government since the tabling of the provincial budget 12 days ago makes my point.

The announcements have included the creation of a $450,000 Indigenous Reconciliation Initiatives Fund, $323,000 for community celebrations, new legislation regarding life leases, amendments to the Highway Traffic Act that target unsafe commercial motor carriers, funding for a human trafficking awareness campaign, funding to support family violence prevention, legislation to enable retail stores to sell liquor, amendments to the Vulnerable Persons Living with a Mental Disability Act, amendments to enable internationally-educated doctors to work in the province sooner, amendments to ensure wildfire firefighters benefit from firefighter cancer and heart injury presumption laws, almost $3 million in new funding to reduce pressure on the Health Sciences Centre ER department, $2.1 million to establish a provincewide integrated child abuse team, an information-sharing agreement that will enable the Manitoba Vital Statistics Branch to share records, (including death records of Indigenous children who attended residential schools in Manitoba) with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, amendments to repeal the prohibition on reselling tickets to events at a markup, amendments to the Intimate Image Protection Act, $12 million “to help up to 300 more individuals struggling with addictions gain access to timely and effective treatment closer to home,” $5.5 million in funding to bring the 2025 Grey Cup to Winnipeg, new legislation “for licensing to ensure quality and safety of addictions services,” legislation to expand the scope and authority of community safety officers, amendments to “reduce barriers to labour mobility and improve Manitoba’s competitiveness to recruit and retain skilled workers,” amendments to “recognize the jurisdiction of Indigenous governments” over CFS agencies, amendments to create a “transparent, accountable process for addressing teacher misconduct,” the official allocation of an additional $50 million for the province’s Venture Capital Fund, $1.53 million in funding for Velma’s House “to assist the facility in better supporting sexually exploited adult women, and survivors of gender-based violence,” and $4.5 million in new funding for six programs “that offer high-quality services and foster safe, inclusive and accessible communities.”

That’s a very long sentence, but I framed it that way to help you understand the strategy behind all those announcements and the reason why we should expect many more announcements over the coming weeks, as the provincial election draws nearer.

After more than two years of communications missteps, the government appears to have finally remembered that one way to control the daily media narrative, and prevent bad news stories from materializing, is to monopolize the discussion.

We all know people who talk so much, and so fast, that it’s hard to get a word in edge-wise. That’s what the government is trying to do by attempting to overwhelm understaffed newsrooms each day with more announcements than news editors and reporters can reasonably handle, let alone investigate with any degree of thoroughness.

Setting such a torrid pace ensures the media is writing stories on subjects the government wants to focus on, as opposed to what the opposition and their friends in the media want to discuss.

The force-feeding of the media is the first level of the government’s communications strategy. The next level is framing announcements in a way that may not accurately reflect what is actually happening. For example, language in the press release regarding “legislation for licensing to ensure quality and safety of addictions services” implied the government was softening its opposition to the creation of safe injection sites. We now know, however, that the legislation could actually make the operation of such facilities even less likely.

Another example is the amendments “to implement a transparent, accountable process to define, prevent and address teacher misconduct.” Buried in the fourth paragraph of the press release is the announcement that an independent commissioner would be established to investigate reports of misconduct, and that an online public registry would list disciplinary action taken against teachers. Not surprisingly, the Manitoba Teachers’ Society has concerns about such a registry.

The third level of the strategy is the creation of wedge issues that force the opposition parties to make difficult choices that could cost them votes in the election. If they support the creation of an online registry for teacher misconduct, they risk angering the MTS and its thousands of members (and their familes and friends). If they oppose such a registry, they are vulnerable to ugly accusations that they are putting the interests of child abusers ahead of child victims.

Having said all of that, what’s needed here is some perspective. See the government’s strategy for what it is and remember that all of this is being done in the context of an election campaign. Much of the proposed legislation will either not be passed before the election or, if it is, can be quickly repealed by the next government.

As Shakespeare wrote in Macbeth, it is “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

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