Bay Street breathes sigh of relief as Progressive Conservatives sweep Ontario

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A sea of blue swept electoral ridings across the province last night at the Progressive Conservatives secured a commanding majority government, ending 15 years of Liberal rule. This seismic shift saw Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals reduced to non-official party status with only 7 seats, while the New Democrats rode an orange wave into the official opposition benches.

As we’ve noted before, this was Premier-designate Doug Ford’s election to lose. Despite the Tories holding a commanding lead in the early days of the campaign, a series of strong debate performances by NDP Leader Andrea Horwath saw her party leapfrog the Liberals in the polls and came within striking distance of the Conservatives. While polls showed the PCs and NDP running neck-and-neck in the final days before the vote, the first-past-the-post electoral system allowed Ford's party to win a substantial more number seats than the NDP, 76 to 40, even though the popular vote was much closer at 40 per cent to 33 per cent.

As for the Liberals, it couldn’t have gone much worse. It was no surprise that they would lose the election. In a rare move, Wynne conceded defeat last week, saying she knew she was not going to be leading Canada’s largest province for another term. Despite barely holding onto her Toronto-area riding, Wynne resigned as party leader. Whether or not she will stay on as an MPP is yet to be determined. But one this is certain is the Liberals will now have to select an interim-leader.  

So what does this mean for the province going forward, and, in particular, the business community? For starters, there was a sigh of relief on Bay Street this morning. There was concern surrounding the NDP’s plan to raise corporate tax rates at a time when the United States is aggressively slashing their own, potentially impacting competitiveness and making it harder for Ontario to attract foreign investment. Despite the PCs’ promise to make Ontario more competitive, there is little substance to their plan. The Tories failed to release a full costed platform during the election which leaves a lot of lingering questions about their fiscal policy despite Mr. Ford pro-free market stance.

Ontario hasn’t had a new premier in recent history who has never held elected office at Queen’s Park. While critics were quick to point out Doug Ford’s lack of provincial politics experience, he is surrounded by many political veterans and newcomers with senior private sector experience who will likely be appointed to cabinet. Here’s a look at who could potentially head up some major portfolios:

  • Finance minister: Vic Fedeli, former interim PC Party leader, Rod Phillips, former CEO of OLG and Peter Bethlenfalvy, who hails from senior positions at TD, Manulife and others. 

  • Health minister: Christine Elliott, who most recently was patient ombudsman. Prior to that, she was shadow health minister under PC opposition leader Tim Hudak.

  • Energy minister: Todd Smith, who has been the PC’s point man on hydro prices as energy critic.

  • Education minister: Lisa MacLeod, the long-time Tory legislator has been the party’s education critic in the past.

  • Attorney general: Caroline Mulroney, the Harvard educated lawyer who was also a leadership contestant against Ford.

Ford also has a handful of political heavyweights such former deputy leader Steve Clark and others to draw from to fill his front bench. While the dust is still settling from last night’s vote, we should expect the new government to announce its cabinet in the coming weeks.

With the Tories now in power for the first time since 2003, it will be interesting to see how this party will govern. Armed with a majority, you can expect the PCs to move fast on issues such as repealing the carbon tax, moving ahead with the Ring of Fire, and taking action to reduce hydro prices. How exactly they plan to do it, we’ll just have to wait and see. We at Provident will be closely monitoring all developments at Queen’s Park and are ready to assist your organization with navigating the complexities that comes with a new government.

Will this election leave Ontario’s cannabis laws up in smoke?

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As Ontarians prepare to vote in what has been one of the most raucous provincial elections in recent memory, one issue that has not received a lot of attention is how this province plans to manage cannabis once it becomes legal. With recreational use of cannabis expected to come into effect on Canada Day, there still remains a cloud of uncertainty about whether the federal government will in fact meet that deadline. It’s also far from clear how Ontario plans to regulate and distribute the product. Under the proposed legislation, which is currently facing delays in the Senate, each province has the ability to set its own distribution methods. While many provincial governments have indicated how they plan to move forward, Ontario’s too-close-to-call election is causing a lot of anxiety for those looking to operate in this booming industry. Let’s break down where each party’s stands on this contentious issue and what it means for consumers.

The incumbent Liberals have announced that they intend to legally distribute cannabis through the Ontario Cannabis Store, a subsidiary of the government-run Liquor Control Board of Ontario. Should the Liberals win re-election, Premier Kathleen Wynne’s plan would see 40 of these stores rolled out across the province in 2018, and that number would double by July 2019. The Liberals believe that government-controlled distribution is the best course of action, and in a bid to crack down on the black market, the government will set up a special task force to shut down illegal storefronts that have popped up across the province since Prime Minister Trudeau announced that legalization was coming.

The Progressive Conservatives under Doug Ford have signaled they are open to a free-market approach that would allow private retailers to legally sell cannabis. While Wynne called Ford’s plan reckless, Ford has since walked back his comments saying that he’s open to seeing how the Ontario Cannabis Store performs before allowing private retailers to enter the marketplace. Ford’s free-market approach could be a big hit with non-traditional conservative voters. According to a Nanos poll, over half of Ontarians would rather see regulated private retailers of cannabis than just the government-run stores.

The New Democratic Party has been visibly quiet on this issue. It’s worth noting that cannabis is not mentioned at all in their election platform. The party, under Andrea Horwath, has long supported the legalization of cannabis, but has so far offered little in terms of policy specifics on regulation and distribution. On the campaign trail, Horwath has been critical of Wynne’s plan to only roll out 40 stores over the first year, saying this small number of vendors will only turn people to the black market, given the province’s geographic size and population.

With recent polls showing the PCs and NDP running practically neck-and-neck, the cannabis industry is no doubt feeling rather restless waiting to see who comes to power, and for good reason. Billions of dollars are at stake, and as Canada prepares to become the first G7 nation to legalize cannabis, it’s safe to say that the whole world is watching.  

Provident Communications will be offering our weekly insights throughout the election. Led by me, Vice-President, Public Affairs, our team is ready to assist you with any opportunities or challenges that present themselves over the next week and beyond. For more information, please don’t hesitate to contact me at michelle@providentcomms.com.

Roseanne's quick cancellation offers a case study in high-stakes crisis management

 Image courtesy Adam Rose / ABC 

Image courtesy Adam Rose / ABC 

With just a few keystrokes, controversial sitcom superstar Roseanne Barr unwittingly put the wheels in motion that would cost everyone involved with her show their jobs, and the show’s network, ABC, millions of dollars. As in many instances before this, what happened is a cautionary tale about the power of social media. However, it also provides a great case study on how a top brand moved - boldly, if perhaps imperfectly - to contain a crisis and uphold its values.

Before we dive into the rapidly developing events of Tuesday morning, we need to take a step back and understand how Roseanne was a TV show of strategic importance. For starters, its lead actor who the show is named after is a well known Trump supporter, an oddity in liberal Hollywood. Recognizing her appeal with the American heartland, ABC took a gamble on reviving the show that would put her politics on full blast. Turns out that gamble paid off, and Roseanne became a smash hit. Many Americans who subscribe to the ‘Make America Great Again’ motto believe the entertainment industry doesn’t value them. This show offered them inclusion, so much so that their ratings obsessed President even tweeted his support for his newfound Hollywood surrogate in Ms. Barr.  

While politics was a major driving force in the show’s appeal, it’s not what caused it’s sudden cancellation as many of Roseanne’s supporters will try to argue. This is not some liberal, mainstream media conspiracy. More plainly, it was about racism. Ms. Barr’s bizzare, racist tweets were the point of no return for the TV network. Yes, ABC had been criticized in the past for holding its nose at her tweets, but this latest digital outburst from Ms. Barr went much too far, and they had to act fast.

In a time of crisis, time is always of the essence. The public, stakeholders and internal audiences expect a response, and they expect it immediately, with force. Case and point: As Twitter began to erupt with backlash against Ms. Barr’s tweets, there was radio silence from the ABC brass. We are talking hours here, not days, and it goes to show how fast companies are now expected to respond.

The network knew what was at stake if it didn't act fast. We’ve seen how quick the public can mobilize against networks, which is often followed by advertisers pulling out and boycotts of shows that ultimately hurt a network’s bottom line. Recognizing this, ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey issued a brief statement, saying “Roseanne's Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show.” By drawing attention to its corporate values, ABC made it clear that racism has no place its its value structure, and that no matter how profitable a show is, doing the right thing is always the right choice.

Now, ABC could have issued a statement condemning Ms. Barr’s comments. Then it could have waited and eventually caved to pressure that inevitably would follow to either fire Ms. Barr or take the show off the air. It didn’t, and instead, it acted in bold, unequivocal fashion that put their values before profits -- and, perhaps, ahead of the show’s employees.

Some have pointed out that many actors, crew, writers, production staff and others on the show will lose their jobs alongside Ms. Barr as a result of her actions. It’s a vaid critique of what ABC did, and some will call it heavy handed. While we can’t be sure, we would guess that ABC and Disney did this arithmetic, and will likely offer financial restitution to those impacted in this relatively rare instance. There was a reputational calculus here, as well - ABC believed that the entirety of the blame for the job losses would also fall on Ms. Barr. And it appears they were right.

In a world where news travels at breakneck speed, corporations must be ready to respond accordingly. The failure to act and say nothing almost invariably causes more harm than good, and there is no excuse for not being prepared.

Ottawa’s Pipeline Gamble Poses Major Political Risk

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The federal government is investing more than just political capital - and taking on significant risk - as Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced that Ottawa will be putting billions of dollars of public money towards building the Trans Mountain Pipeline. The news comes just days before Kinder Morgan’s self-imposed deadline to pull out if it didn’t receive assurances the project wouldn’t be obstructed.

Tuesday’s announcement also comes after months of political wrangling that saw the governments of British Columbia and Alberta squared off in bitter public battle over the pipeline’s construction. Alberta’s Premier Rachel Notley has long been a champion of the pipeline that would move Alberta crude and refined oil to the BC coast for international export. BC Premier John Horgan, a fellow New Democrat, stalled the pipeline’s approval citing environmental concerns. Given Horgan’s minority government is propped up by the Green Party, the first-term Premier had virtually no political room to maneuver. Despite intervention from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who tried to broker a deal between the two western provinces, no agreement could be reached, putting the project in jeopardy.

Ottawa’s decision to take over the pipeline project is unprecedented in Canadian history, and is likely the result of failure to reach political consensus between Victoria and Edmonton. For the federal Liberals, who face re-election next year, getting construction underway was absolutely critical. If the project had died under their watch, it would have been a major embarrassment for the Prime Minister who has long championed its development, despite coming at odds with many in his supporters who were against it. While polls indicate that the majority of Canadians support the project, many didn’t want to see their tax dollars paying for it, which could become a ballot box question in the next election. The Liberals are taking a big gamble on this project and are assuming significant political risk.

The total bill of the project is expected to be $4.5 billion, which the government says it will recoup once it sells its stake at a later date, stressing Ottawa has no intention to be the long-term owner of the pipeline. Many in oil sector were pleased with the announcement, including Kinder Morgan, who saw its stock jump slightly this morning. However, there are still questions as to whether or not the federal government will be able to find a suitable buyer given the high level of risk associated with the controversial project.

Provident will be following this project closely and will be offering our insights. Our team has extensive experience in the energy sector, along capital markets, particularly M&A transactions, which will be a key component of this pipeline’s success.

Could an Orange Wave Crash Doug Ford's Party?

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In what many predicted to be a two-way race between the incumbent Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives, the NDP now finds itself polling in second place. Following two strong debate performances, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath’s message appears to be resonating with voters. According to a recent report, the Ontario NDP could be on the verge of riding an orange wave into official opposition status, just like Jack Layton did in the 2011 federal election.

The latest seat projections from Barry Kay at the Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy show the Tories winning 72 seats, the NDP securing 30, and the Liberals falling to 22. While this still puts the Doug Ford PCs well within majority territory (they need 63 seats to achieve that), the likelihood of the NDP as the official opposition is becoming more of a reality. With these rising fortunes, the NDP finds itself having to fend off more attacks, and even questions about the possibility of a coalition government.

The notion of a coalition government was quickly put to bed by Horwath, who said there was no way she’d partner with the Wynne Liberals, have struggled to make any real progress in the campaign thus far. There’s also the fact that the Liberals remain deeply unpopular in the province, so a coalition wouldn’t be helpful to the NDP’s brand.

On the other side of the spectrum, it's not only the PC Party that is taking notice of the NDP’s recent boost in popularity. Ontario Proud, a right-leaning Facebook page which boasts over 350,000 followers, is now training their sights on the NDP. From a communications perspective, this is a boon: the PCs are in a unique position this election to have such a large and vocal third-party activist -- something the Liberals and NDP can’t currently muster.

While it is far too early to predict the final outcome of the vote, it will be interesting to watch how much the NDP can eat into the Tories’ lead. Will it be enough to reduce their victory to a minority government? That will depend on Ford being able to stay on message and avoid any major gaffes, and for Horwath to continue to grow her popularity (she has benefited from significant increase in net favourability over the last three months) while at the same time making inroads in new ridings across the province - as she works to position the NDP as the "anyone but Ford" option. This could be difficult for the NDP as they have a small base and will need to work hard to win over and retain converts. The NDP surge could be short-lived if the Liberals manage to turn things around, but if they don’t, they could find themselves reduced to third party status -- a remarkable change of scenery for the party which has been in power for the past decade and a half.

The third and final leaders debate will be held on May 27. Watch this space for our insights and analysis as the three parties make their final push ahead of the June 7th vote.

MAKE SURE YOUR BUSINESS IS PREPARED

Provident Communications will be offering our weekly insights throughout the election. Led by me, Vice-President, Public Affairs, our team is ready to assist you with any opportunities or challenges that present themselves over the next month and beyond. For more information, please don’t hesitate to contact me at michelle@providentcomms.com.

Want to win friends and influence people? Don't assume, and open up.

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I spent a good chunk of my PR career at two of North America’s biggest banks. One day, I secured the CEO a speaking role on a well-regarded panel about the global economy, complete with a TV interview with a major outlet immediately afterwards. I was pleased, the CEO was pleased (and approved the idea immediately) and I thought we were ready to roll.

Not so fast.

“Our CEO isn’t an economist,” the head of the bank’s investor relations team said when I shared the idea. “Why would we expose him to this sort of risk?”

My immediate instinct was defensive – a top-tier media and speaking opportunity, a chance to position the CEO as a thought leader and showcase their knowledge, and this is the response I get? What a silly question!

But, as is often the case with being defensive, it was me who was approaching the situation with a less-than-intelligent lens. The IR leader was rightly concerned about a different set of stakeholders who might watch the conference and TV interview – analysts and shareholders – and was worried the CEO might misspeak or overstate their concerns about the housing market.

In other words, the IR leader was doing their job, just as I was. But because we had an imperfect and imprecise understanding of what the other did, we were completely out of alignment. We were at odds with each other, when we should have been working together.

The moral of this short story for any PR professional is simple: don’t assume your partners know what you do for a living, or why you make the recommendations you make and choose the strategies you choose.

A smart colleague at another company solved this challenge by going on a “road show” – in-person meetings with departments like sales, legal, investor relations designed to explicitly explain what PR did, how it did it, and why. Importantly, each presentation was customized to show how PR can add value and create opportunity for the partner in question. It was hard to resist!

The reason this approach works is because something magical happens when you put all your cards down on the table for your partners and leave them with no doubts about how you see the world, and how they can benefit. Trust and transparency start to form the moment there is nothing to suspect, guess at or deduce because everything is laid plain and bare.

Next time you’re about to talk with your in-house partners, or your external agency, do yourself a favour: tell them more about your role and your team, rather than less. You have nothing to lose and trusted friends to gain.

Analysis: Testy debate tone sets stage for contentious Ontario election campaign

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Just days before the official kickoff of one of the most important Ontario elections in decades, voters witnessed just how testy this upcoming campaign can be as the three main party leaders squared off in the first televised debate.

The debate pitted seasoned political leaders Premier Kathleen Wynne and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath against newly minted PC Leader Doug Ford, the former Toronto city councillor who finds himself leading in the polls with a month to go until Ontarians cast their votes. By all indications, this is his election to lose.

Throughout the debate, Ford criticized Premier Wynne by driving home his key talking points about the Liberals’ mismanagement of the province’s finances, and finding cost-cut efficiencies without laying anyone off in the public sector. Just how he will do that is yet to be determined, as the PCs have not released a fully-costed platform.

Andrea Horwath, who finds her party trying to outflank the Liberals on the left, painted herself as a sensible alternative to Wynne or Ford. Throughout the debate, as Wynne and Ford trained their attacks on one another, Horwath used each opportunity to drive this point home. Despite being leader of the NDP for nine years, she has struggled to raise her public profile and sway voters who traditionally vote Liberal to support her party.

As the incumbent, Wynne was forced to deflect attacks from both left and right, defending her record and promoting her plan to boost government spending programs. The Premier highlighted the province’s strong job growth and low unemployment rate as one of the reasons she should be elected another term.  

After 15 years of Liberal rule, there is general agreement that Ontario is in a mood for change. But with Wynne’s dwindling approval ratings, Ford’s disapproval numbers, and Horwath’s smaller public profile, just what that change will look like remains unclear. While a PC government is the most likely outcome, recent polls suggest that nearly half of Ontario voters are still undecided. This will be a hard-fought race to the end, and if recent global events such as Brexit and the election of President Trump has taught us, anything can happen.

Make sure your business is prepared

Provident Communications will be offering our weekly insights throughout the election. Led by me, our team is ready to assist you with any opportunities or challenges that present themselves over the next month and beyond. We can also discuss our new Government Relations election service offering, which provides customized monitoring and analysis throughout the election. 

For more information on this and other services we can offer, contact me at michelle@providentcomms.com.

 

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Provident grows again with the addition of Morgan McLellan as Account Director

 Morgan McLellan, Account Director

Morgan McLellan, Account Director

Provident Communications Inc. today announced that Morgan McLellan has joined the firm as Account Director, further expanding its capabilities in strategic communications, media relations and crisis and issues management.

Morgan joins Provident from Navigator Ltd., where he served as Senior Consultant. Morgan has helped clients on a wide range of mandates, from managing national persuasion and activation campaigns to providing real-time strategic counsel in rapidly developing crisis management situations. Morgan was also a registered lobbyist, advocating the interest for two leading associations in the energy and insurance sectors at Queen’s Park.

Prior to this, Morgan worked at an integrated communications company with a focus on corporate communications, producing award-winning content for some of the country’s largest brands. Before making the leap into the communications industry, Morgan was a writer and producer at CTV News Channel, Canada’s largest privately owned news network. Working in the national newsroom, Morgan understands just how fast stories spread in a 24-hour news cycle.

Active in politics, Morgan has volunteered on both federal and provincial election campaigns and is very engaged in policy issues that can impact client mandates.

An outsider’s perspective: why organizations need to consider external expertise in a crisis

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Businesses are under more public scrutiny than ever before. With social media platforms so ingrained in everyday life, news - both good and bad - spreads rapidly. The most recent and obvious example is the ongoing Facebook/Cambridge Analytica data mining scandal, which has resulted in countless accusatory social media posts and news articles, and has put the company on the defensive when it comes to explaining how users’ privacy and data has been breached. Without knowing the details, it’s still hard to imagine that Facebook was well prepared for the crisis when it hit, based on both the company’s own reaction, and the response from the public.

This is just one example of the need to have a firm crisis plan in place, be proactive in engaging stakeholders, and have a network of resources to help protect corporate reputation when the unknown strikes.

Leveraging external expertise can provide significant value to organizations during times of reputational upheaval, and can often serve to either diffuse the situation or help to rebuild public trust and restore corporate reputation. Here are three core benefits to leveraging an external advisor in times of crisis:

They see things people on the inside don’t notice.

Simply put, an external communications advisor brings a fresh perspective to the table, unhindered by internal bias or pressure. Put another way, external experts are not drinking your kool-aid, which gives their perspective a healthy dose of skepticism. He or she can examine current policies, speak to employees at all levels to get a solid grasp on internal perception, detect holes in internal or external communications, and provide a frank assessment of the existing strategy in place. From there, advisors can provide an objective recommendation on how best to approach the matter, within the organization and externally with media and the public.

They can spur companies into action.

When an organization’s reputation is at risk and criticism is coming from every angle, it can be tempting to recede into the background and try to disappear. This is rarely the right approach - in fact, it can further damage reputation and make companies look culpable, even if there is no malicious intent. An external expert can band together the right people and resources, work with your team to develop an actionable crisis plan, and provide recommendations on how best to implement that plan. This might include identifying the right company spokesperson, crafting core messaging, and releasing a statement or issuing a formal apology, if needed, all in a prompt and timely manner in order to preserve or restore reputation when it’s needed most.  

They dispassionately prepare executives for best and worst case scenarios.

From narrative development to leading mock interviews and providing a refresher on the ever-changing media landscape, a PR advisor is there to help develop and guide executives through the process step-by-step, from how to proactively engage with key stakeholders to how to field even the trickiest media questions. They will ensure you’re prepared to handle the good, the bad and the ugly, while maintaining composure and tact, as well as a no-nonsense approach. While it’s easy to feel confident when everything is working in your favour, lack of preparation (no matter the situation and the public’s perception of your organization) is ill-advised. External expertise will help ensure you are well-equipped to manage any outcome.

More organizations would reap the benefits of enhanced corporate reputation if they engaged with a communications firm or adviser early on - and ideally before a crisis hits - to establish and implement a plan. By doing so, they can often prevent irreparable damage to their reputation, both internally and in the court of public opinion.