Category Archives: Public Relations


In death, former federal finance minister Jim Flaherty may have become better known to Canadians than he was in life. (Photograph by Jason Ransom, Office of the Prime Minister)

In death, former federal finance minister Jim Flaherty may have become better known to Canadians than he was in life. (Photograph by Jason Ransom, Office of the Prime Minister)

• The death of former federal finance minister Jim Flaherty made front pages, headlines and broadcasts across the country. But it’s likely many Canadians didn’t even know who he was. In 2011, the Canadian Election Study asked 4,308 respondents to the name the country’s finance minister. Just 32 percent said Flaherty or an approximation of his name. By comparison, 68.1 percent didn’t know the identity of the Harper administration’s finance minister.

• The hacks may far outnumber the flacks in North America. But it’s somewhat different story across the Atlantic.

This past week, Ryerson University journalism instructor Ira Basen reported that, according to the 2011 National Household Survey, there were 4.1 self-identified public relations and communications professionals for every journalist in Canada. That’s similar to the United States where the Department of Labour found that, in May 2013, there were 4.6 public relations specialists for every reporter and correspondent.

By comparison, according to the Office for National Statistics, between April and June 2012, there were 1.7 journalists, newspaper and periodical editors for every public relations professional in the United Kingdom.

Like the statistics used in the United States and Canada, those calculations don’t include public relations managers or directors. Moreover, in a November 2012 column, the Independent’s Ian Burrell cited estimates indicating there were 1.5 public relations practitioners for every journalist in that country.

• When Liberal leader Justin Trudeau dropped an f-bomb at a charity event late last month, the Ottawa Citizen described that word as being “decidedly un-prime ministerial language.”

But Trudeau is far from the first elected official to have been caught swearing on an open microphone. Moreover, in my experience covering British Columbian politics, it’s not unknown for elected officials to swear when the microphones are off — having been the target of such expletives on one occasion.

So perhaps Trudeau’s f-bomb should have been described as language that is rarely seen or heard in the news media due to our own community standards and the self-censorship practised by politicians when they are speaking on the record with reporters?

• In Canada, anyone looking into the state of political engagement in this country has to rely on a patchwork of public opinion polls and other data. But in the United Kingdom, the Hansard Society has been conducting an annual audit of political engagement since 2004.

That audit — the latest of which is scheduled to be released at the end of April — measures everything from knowledge and interest in politics to the percentage of people who believe getting involved in politics makes a difference.

According to the society, the study was launched a decade ago “in response to growing concerns about low electoral turnout as particularly evidenced at the 2001 general election” where turnout was 59.4 percent.

By comparison, turnout in Canada’s 2011 federal election was 61.1 percent — up marginally from 58.8 percent in 2008. Which suggests it’s well-past time our country started doing something similar.

Have a news tip about about the state of democracy, openness and accountability in Canada? You can email me at this address.

Author’s note: Due to illness, I was unable to publish last week’s look at news about the state of democracy, openness and accountability in Canada.


Are "overzealous PR practices" poisoning democracy? (Photograph by

Are “overzealous PR practices” poisoning democracy? (Photograph by

• I’ve long been of the belief that information is less accessible in Canada than it is south of the border and in other parts of the Anglosphere. Certainly, that was my experience as a legislative reporter in British Columbia. And that belief is borne out by the Open Data Index, which assesses the state of open government data in 70 countries.

According to that index, Canada ranks behind nine other countries on that list including the United Kingdom, the United States, New Zealand and Austria. Canada’s weak points include a lack of accessibility or availability to government spending data and national statistics.

• Part of the blame for Canada’s overall lack of access to information may rest with some of the public relations professionals who work for government.

Commenting on the impact “overzealous PR practices” have had in the United States, National Press Club 2013 president Angela Greiling Keane and Society of Professional Journalists president David Cuillier, write that government agencies are “increasingly controlling what information the public receives, threatening the very foundations of democracy.”

As a result, Greiling and Cuillier have called on American elected officials to “allow journalists and the public to contact government employees directly for information without PR specialists intervening.” Such interventions are now standard practice at most public bodies in Canada.

• The adage “access delayed is access denied” has oft been repeated in reference to the months and sometimes years it takes for government agencies in Canada to respond to freedom of information requests. So it’s troubling that, thanks to a recent court ruling, those delays may soon get even longer.

The Canadian Press reports a Federal Court judge has said she can’t legally censure the Department of National Defence for giving itself a 1,110-day extension to provide records requested under the Access to Information Act.

Commenting on that ruling, Ottawa lawyer Michel Drapeau — the author of a textbook on that act — said, “A lot of champagne will be uncorked in many institutions…because they are going to say, listen, why did we only ask for 1,000 days? Next time we’ll ask for 10,000.”

• Prominent British Labour politician and reform advocate Tony Benn died last week at the age of 88. Among his most memorable quotes were his five questions for the powerful. During his final speech in the House of Commons, Benn advised that such people should be asked, “‘What power have you got? Where did you get it from? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? And how can we get rid of you?’ If you cannot get rid of the people who govern you, you do not live in a democratic system.”

Have a news tip about about the state of democracy, openness and accountability in Canada? You can email me at this address.