By Michael Nickerson
Marketing. It’s all about marketing. Get yourself a name, a catch phrase, and a charismatic spokesman to put some life into the campaign. Pick a basic message, and repeat it as you would prayer. Keep it slick, keep it light, keep it positive, and make sure your sales team reads the company handbook before hitting the road.
Welcome to politics. More to the point, welcome to Team Justin™, a sensational brand when it first hit the market. But it’s starting to fall on hard times, something that would have been difficult to imagine just a year ago. It had good hair, a nice smile, the proper lineage; a bit like a thoroughbred racehorse bequeathed The Triple Crown™ before ever exiting the gate. An advertisers’ dream! Throw in a catch phrase (Sunny Ways™) and a message (Help to Canada’s Middle Class and All Those Working Hard to Join It™) and break out the Champagne! Job well done all around. Let’s go find the next Hula Hoop™.
Well hold on there a minute, hombre. Hula Hoops™ and Ho Hos™ are not normally elected to run governments, though there have been some recent exceptions to the rule. Be that as it may, sooner or later the customer wants to see what’s inside the wrapper and make sure they haven’t been fed something toxic, or at the very least a metaphorical Twinkie™. And that’s where Team Justin™ has been unraveling of late.
The brand is tied to Justin Trudeau, much as Corinthian Leather™ and the Chrysler Cordoba™ was tied to Ricardo Montalbán. And let’s face it, Justin has had a difficult few months. Whether it’s conflict of interest allegations with regards to party fundraising and inappropriate travel favours, or choking badly on the world stage waxing eloquent about Fidel Castro, the shine is off, and the ways not so sunny. Losing his BFF bromance with Barack Obama hasn’t helped.
But just as people were making plans to kiss goodbye a rather loathsome 2016, Mike Blanchfield of The Canadian Press outlined why 2017 may not be much better. Specifically, he reported how senior federal bureaucrats have been trying to use Justin Trudeau’s “brand” to help with “framing the Canadian engagement” with regards to UN-Canadian peacekeeping operations in Africa. These discussions, found through a pesky Access to Information request, were held early last year, while the shine was bright, and the leather soft.
Since that time, Team Justin™ has made a commitment to a comprehensive defence policy review, a definitive commitment to those very same UN-Canadian peacekeeping operations, and just recently a pledge to at least debate any deployment in Parliament. It should come as no surprise that those first two are nice ideas written on the back of Team Justin™ packaging paper that got lost in a dumpster.
It’s the third that should be really scary, for just about everyone involved. For during an end-of-year roundtable with The Canadian Press, Trudeau opined that while there will be some parliamentary debate, “If it ends up being a whole bunch of little missions instead of one big mission, maybe we wouldn’t want to bog down the calendar with different little votes on different missions.”
So what can we glean from that? Perhaps one interpretation is that if you keep things small enough, they won’t require scrutiny, which sounds like an argument that might come from the Canadian Senate. The other is that Team Justin™ doesn’t have the foggiest idea what it plans to do in Africa. The marketing plan started last January, the product design started last spring, and there’s no new model for this coming year.
Which is all well and good when you’re talking about a Chrysler Cordoba™ (with Corinthian Leather™ mind you), but quite another when you’re talking peacekeeping missions in Africa. It’s obvious that there has been no real plan to these theoretical missions. They will require extensive retraining and re-equipping a military trained for an entirely different mission since Canadians last wore Blue Helmets in significant numbers. And there will be many casualties regardless of that training.
That Team Justin™ has been more absorbed in its brand than those life and death decisions is telling. But here, have a Twinkie™.