By: Ryan Young
not able, wanting, or allowed to communicate with other people.
MHA Colin Holloway finally issued an apology to Mayor Veronica Broomfield of St. Brendan’s. Sort of. In a bizarre story that just kept getting stranger as time went on, Holloway issued a Facebook post yesterday, apologizing for his “poor choice of words.” In case you are unfamiliar with the story in question, Mayor Broomfield released a text message to the media on December 15, 2016 in which Holloway responded to a question about ferry trips by saying “Remember, you didn’t vote for me.” Holloway had flatly denied making the comments on VOCM, but when the text messages were released he quickly became silent.
The whole issue left a very bad taste in many people’s mouths. While it may be no secret that cronyism still exists in fine form here in NL, to outright tell a municipal leader that her town would be losing ferry trips because she didn’t vote for him goes well beyond the expected level of arrogance from an elected official. To make matters worse, Holloway’s refusal to address the matter or make an apology for more than 20 days only added fuel to the fire and continued to reinforce the idea that the Liberal’s are completely out of touch with the people.
Holloway’s half hearted apology yesterday said “"I regret that a conversation which took place over text messaging has led to the perception that I do not care about certain communities,"
"In view of this, I wish to apologize for the poor choice of words I used in my message. I am the MHA for every community in the District of Terra Nova, and I take this role very seriously."
It might have been okay if he had issued the apology within a day or two of the release of the message by Broomfield, or if he had issued it publicly, but to wait more than 20 days and then post it via Facebook where a large number of constituents have been blocked from viewing it may not have been the best way to deal with the situation. It has been suggested that the premier finally stepped in and made Holloway issue the apology, even though the MHA did not really want to admit that he was wrong. That is painfully clear, first through his denial, and then the long silence between that and his forced apology. It makes you wonder what all of those highly paid communications people are doing up there on the hill anyway? Certainly, they should have been on top of it as soon as the story broke but it seems like another case of the Liberals thinking that the situation was just not that big of a deal.
That brings us to my next point. Politicians just don’t seem to understand how communications work in this new digital age. Sure, they use social media to send out updates and messages, but they don’t seem to have a very firm grasp on how it all works and how to use it properly. The dumb comments that they make are one thing, but this latest crop of Liberal MHA’s have widely adopted the fine art of blocking. I can understand blocking people who are making threatening comments or who are not contributing to discussion in any meaningful way, but these MHA’s are so sensitive that they will block you just for asking a question. While part of me finds it very amusing that these grown men and women who are paid to represent the people of the province are so quick to block any type of conversation that doesn’t fit their narrative, I mostly find it very sad.
Christopher Mitchelmore is a great example. I had tried to establish a relationship with Minister Mitchelmore after he was elected, and even went so far as to send him a number of observations that I had made during more than a decade of working in the tourism industry. I met him at public functions, and had respectful discussions regarding his vision for the future of our tourism industry and the lofty goals that were outlined in The Way Forward. I could sense that he was very uncomfortable in speaking with someone such as myself, who is so publicly outspoken, but I had hoped to let him know that I was here to talk about problems and solutions and not to blow political smoke. Shortly after, I reminded him with a comment on one of his Facebook posts that people were sick of hearing the government blame the PC’s every single time that they were asked a question, and that they should focus their energy on talking to the people to build a better plan for our future. I guess the good minister did not take too kindly to my suggestion as I was promptly blocked by him on Facebook. No threat. No nastiness. Just a simple opinion that is shared by many in the province and poof! Blocked.
I use Mitchelmore as an example of how petty these MHA’s and ministers can be. He was one of the few members that I still had any hope for, but unfortunately, he seems to have caught the blocking bug from his friends in cabinet. I guess it is easier to block someone than to have to discuss your near-sighted decisions with the people you represent. Sadly, Mitchelmore is not alone. Sherry Gambin Walsh, Dale Kirby, Neil King, and Andrew Parsons are all prolific blockers, and poor Pam Parsons even earned her own hashtag, #pamparsonsblockedme, for her proficiency in blocking concerned constituents from any type of discussion on social media.
People are mad and they want answers from their elected officials. The Liberals may think that they can slink away into the shadows and insulate their social media accounts by blocking all but the most partisan supporters, but someone in the party needs to start shaking people and waking them up to the realities of communicating in the digital age. They don’t seem to realize that by blocking people and refusing to engage in meaningful discussion, they automatically take away any chance of winning over potential voters to their point of view. While there are plenty of nasty people who hide behind anonymous online monikers, there are also plenty of real concerned people who just want to engage with their elected officials in a meaningful way and have their voices heard.
As long as members like Colin Holloway are willing to let comments as negative and outrageous as the ones directed towards Mayor Broomfield define the perception of this government, any attempts of re-branding themselves for 2019 will be an exercise in futility. Back in the good old days elected officials could hide behind the weak media and let stories like this be quickly forgotten. For one, the comments would probably never have been written down in the first place. But that is not the world we live in now and if politicians continue to be slow to adapt they will quickly find themselves left behind. Dwight Ball would also do well to remember that in a few years nobody will remember who Colin Holloway or Dale Kirby were, but they will remember the weak premier that could not keep his government in line.
I have said it before and I will say it again, if this Liberal government intends to have any chance of being elected to a second term, they are going to have to learn to communicate with the people. Hiring high priced communications officials to write fancy propaganda messages is not money well spent when you have ministers and MHA’s continuously undermining anything good that the government may do with a permanent case of foot-in-mouth disease. They are not the first government to face harsh criticism and they will not be the last, but by trying to push it all under the rug and trying to block all of the problems away this government has created an image for themselves that will be remembered the next time voters go to the polls.