Even when there is not much new to announce, his team believes there is value in having him reminding Canadians to stay isolated and wash their hands
OTTAWA – For more than two weeks, almost every day, Justin Trudeau has descended the steps of Rideau Cottage to share the latest news on COVID-19. It is an image Canadians should get used to.
The decision to have the prime minister speaking regularly is a deliberate one to use the megaphone Trudeau has to shout public health information at Canadians and he is unlikely to put that megaphone down anytime soon.
“The only objective of that is to spread that message as widely as possible, reach as many people as possible, so they hear it loud and clear,” said a member of Trudeau’s team speaking on background.
Television networks are carrying the prime minister’s daily announcements everyday live and the events are posted online to Twitter and Facebook, where they are racking up hundreds of thousands of views. Even when there is sometimes not much new to announce, his team believes there is value in having him out there reminding Canadians to stay isolated and wash their hands.
Whatever we can do to spread that message as widely as possible we will do
Ordinarily, it is not uncommon for the prime minister to be as much as an hour late to a press conference, but Trudeau has consistently come out of Rideau Cottage on schedule.
“It is important to bring as much normalcy and regularity to it as possible,” said the source.
On Monday evening, Trudeau posted a video shot in his kitchen encouraging people to stay at home and tagged celebrities Ryan Reynolds and Michael Buble asking them to shoot videos of their own. Those two have since tagged others and the chain of videos reminding people about social distance has spread online all week.
His staff say that was a deliberate attempt to make sure even people who pay no attention to the prime minister, or don’t like him, get the message the virus could hurt you and someone you love.
“Whatever we can do to spread that message as widely as possible we will do,” they said. “When you understand it could kill your grandmother people are more likely to take action.”
Trudeau’s staff say so far politics isn’t a major concern, noting that even provincial premiers who often disagree with the prime minister are making the same arguments he is.
Jenni Byrne, who was deputy chief of staff to former prime minister Stephen Harper, said the government’s communications in the first two weeks have been good, but the goodwill they get from Canadians will expire.
“In the first few weeks of this, the government communicating on a regular basis, even just to add assurances that they heard Canadians were concerned and were working on a plan, was sufficient, but I think now Canadians have seen the plan,” said Byrne who now runs her own public affairs consultancy.
She said now the government has to show that plan in action and the whole crisis is about to hit Canadians more deeply, starting next week.
“Landlords still expect their rent, banks still expect mortgage payments,” she said. “The bills are still coming out.”
She said the government’s plan could take several more weeks to put cheques into Canadians’ hands and that will create a problem communications can’t solve.
“The worry of people’s health and wellbeing, combined with the economic pressures they are going to see, will be very challenging and the government has to do a much better job of managing this issue.”
Susan Smith, a principal with Bluesky Strategy Group, said in a crisis Canadians need reassurance and information and so far Trudeau is regularly providing that.
“They know there’s information flowing and the source of the information is consistent. I think that provides comfort.”
Trudeau has sometimes failed to answer reporter questions directly during his daily press briefings instead talking about previous government announcements related to the crisis. Smith said that’s necessary.
“Consistency of message can be frustrating for reporters, but consistency of message is important for the recipients of that message which is Canadians listening in,” she said.
Smith said the government is in completely uncharted territory and she believes Canadian can see politicians doing their best.
“There is no roadmap or game plan for a global pandemic and the government is having to be as nimble as a great big warship can be.”
Smith said now is a bad time for anyone to be playing politics and there is nothing but downside in being the first person to be political.
“It is tough for the opposition parties right now to stand back, but it’s right to stand back. This is not the time for politics,” she said.
“[Canadians] don’t want cynical politics right now and that would have a negative reverb at the next election.”
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