A Sure Sign of Fall – Election Signs

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THUNDER BAY – A sure sign of fall are the election signs in yards across Thunder Bay. Along with the colours of the fall leaves, those signs are marking a time for change too. Many people in Thunder Bay are looking at our city, and looking to our future and wondering what we should be doing next.

For me, one of the issues is that over the past four years, the current Council has not fully engaged the massive change in communicaitons which has occurred.

In Red River Ward, Brian McKinnon, now that an election has been called has joined Facebook. One of his supporters commented on his wall, “Welcome to the 21st century with facebook, by the way …”

Overall, most of the Councillors who put up an election website, didn’t maintain it over the past four years. It is a clear demonstration of not understanding the Internet or the way communications has changed. Most have been slow to adapt to the new realities of communications. Some, like Ken Boshcoff don’t have a website. Boshcoff is content to post via Facebook.

The former MP and Mayor appears content to run on name recognition.

Lawrence Timko, another former Councillor who is running for another term has a Facebook Page. On September 17th, Timko asked, “Hey guys municipal Election October 25 Hope you are going to vote. Any concerns or comments, what you support or don’t support?”

Two weeks later no one has responded. It is a mark of how Timko’s understanding of new communications strategies are working. Thunder Bay has evolved more perhaps in the past four years than the former Councillor either understands, or could understand.

In some cases, McKinnon and Timko as examples, it is almost as if someone in their family or group of friends told them, you should be on Facebook. Social Networking isn’t like putting up a campaign sign on a vacant lot. It requires engaging people.

That isn’t a knock against either individual, but in their understanding of how communications works in the modern era, their lack of understanding leaves them behind in the race for the future.

Ken Boshcoff of the three former Councillors seeking a return to Council is the only one who gets that fact. McKinnon and Timko are coming across having just uncovered the Internet, and social networking.

For the challengers and the incumbents alike communications has changed. Thunder Bay is long removed and making distance quickly from the past where radio, television and newspaper were the dominant media.

For the incumbents on Council, the past four years in terms of adapting to that reality have been hard. Instead of sharing online via their websites what is happening, and using the Internet to gather input from residents, they have, for the most part maintained past practices.

Instead, now that there is an election campaign going on, Councillors and the Mayor are moving into a higher gear trying to share with residents that over the past four years much has been accomplished.

That may well be, but right now all those massive efforts are doing is making it look like self-serving politics du jour. Now that may not be a fair comment, but it is a comment based on perceptions raised by a large number of people.

In the era of nano-second communications, a communications blitz that starts only during the campaign is more than likely to be seen by voters as political posturing more than a community results oriented engagement.
Take last week’s Crime Prevention Breakfast as an example. The concept is fine, and Thunder Bay should be addressed the root issues with crime. However one of the first rules I remember from my days doing rodeo first aid was “airway, breathing, circulation”.

Before we start building treatment centres, we had also better start addressing the crime issue, and moving to stabilize the city. The number of people in Thunder Bay who are expressing fear and concern over venturing out at night is a large voting constituency.

For City Council to wait until late September to address the issue, and then to do so with a plan, for a plan that will likely take years isn’t likely going over well with voters who are worried about their personal and property security right now.

In the race for Mayor, incumbent Lynn Peterson has, likely, been let down by Police Chief Herman, and the attitude from some in his inner circle. Communications over the past year and a half from the Thunder Bay Police Service remain incredibly poor. As a member of the Police Services Board, Mayor Peterson and the Board members are not to dictate day-to-day operational issues with the police. However they can set guidelines.

Crime is one of the top issues concerning residents. It is also arguably Mayor Peterson’s weakest area of effectiveness.

People left without information are likely to listen to gossip and rumour and make decisions based on the lack of information from the Police Administration and Executive Officer. It ends up looking like a lack of caring, and the truth is that is not really true.

In politics however, perception is reality.

Overall, during the past four years, communications from Administration in Thunder Bay has ramped up. What has lagged has been communications to the general public from Councillors and the Mayor.

On election day, voters seeking change are likely to grade the candidates on their communications effectiveness, as much as their vision for the future.

James Murray

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