Election 2015: Will the health professions’ messages emerge from the fog?

September 2015   Comments

A federal election is nigh and the air is thick with attack ads, claims and counterclaims, half-truths and misquotes. Campaigns are leader-centric and micromanaged, every utterance scripted, every quip rehearsed, every encounter choreographed. The brief and the instantaneous are prized; sound bites, tweets and selfies are the communication vehicles of choice. Meanwhile, the young have tuned out and rarely vote; they deploy their considerable civic capital elsewhere.

It is a bleak landscape. Small wonder that campaigns are more endured than embraced, a tired miniseries with a predictable plot and stock characters. Like a NASCAR race, it is only the prospect of a crash that makes the otherwise tedious spectacle of endless laps around an oval at a frenzied pace watchable. What then can health leaders do to freshen up and influence the campaign? Can they create an audience for ideas and proposals that might reach the hearts and minds of the citizens?

Not likely, but some strategies have a greater chance of success than others. First, forget about influencing party platforms. Before the writ dropped, each party’s talking points had been carefully honed to shore up the base and reach out to the uncommitted. There will be talk of pharmacare and transfer payments. There will be blather about innovation. There will be careful tiptoeing around provincial/territorial autonomy. If your organization or profession has views on these matters, write op-eds and explain to members and the public whether and how the parties’ positions align with yours.

Second, be original and interesting. You want to capture the attention of the media; a rehash of perfectly sensible analyses and positions won’t cut it. The goal is to be taken seriously and for the media to force the contestants to respond to your proposal. The Holy Grail is to have your cause or counsel inserted into the televised debates. Only issues that are likely to differentiate the parties’ positions or offer a unique perspective have any chance of appearing on the interrogators’ radar screens.

Third, and above all, avoid all appearance of naked self-interest. If you are seen to be just another group at the trough, you will have defined yourself as neither original nor interesting. There will be no hope of making your issue visible in the thick fog of electoral war. Talk about quality, accountability and value for money, not about how more of you will make everything better. Tell the truth about our health system and what Ottawa can realistically do to make it better. Propose workable strategies for looking after seniors. Confess your own role in waste and inefficiency while demanding better.

I’m an America’s Got Talent addict. You never know what you’re going to see, and some of the acts (especially those with magicians) are stunning in their originality and breathtaking in their quality. Imagine you’re on Canada’s Got Public Policy Talent and you’ve got 90 seconds to imprint your ideas on a jaded public and political consciousness. Your pitch must be perfect, your phrasing impeccable. No winner comes from the middle of the road.

Steven Lewis

Steven Lewis is president, Access Consulting Ltd., Saskatoon, and adjunct professor of health policy at Simon Fraser University.

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