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Reviving middle class key to saving global trade

Too many middle class workers have been left behind in the free trade sweepstakes and its time for politicians to find solutions for them or they risk destabilizing the global trading system

On Nov. 21, 1988, after a rigorous debate over free trade with the United States, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s government was re-elected with a solid majority mandate. Canadians had declared themselves free-traders.

The notion that free trade would kick-start job creation and economic growth gained currency in the late 1980s. Since then trade pacts signed by nations across the world have proliferated. Canada itself — under both Liberal and Conservative governments — has expanded its trade opportunities.

There are compelling reasons to believe free trade is a force for good in our world. History has demonstrated that open trade and investment lead to more growth, the creation of good jobs and greater prosperity around the world. Countries that engage in free trade are more likely to adopt secularist, democratic principles, allowing persecuted citizens a path to attain and expand their rights.

Furthermore, as nations such as China, India, and Egypt began to seize the benefits of free trade, their middle class burgeoned. In Canada, since NAFTA came into force, 4.7 million jobs have been created, and our trade in goods with the United States and Mexico has more than tripled.

Yet, despite these positives, the public’s belief in free trade is wavering.

Ten days ago, International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland emerged from negotiations in Brussels to lament that the European Union was on the brink of sinking the heralded Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.

Though the CETA crisis appears to have passed, the incident was not an isolated one. The United Kingdom’s vote to leave the EU was in large part a rejection of the economic integration that had been accelerating to the discomfort of many Britons. There are similar, burgeoning leave movements in the Netherlands, France and Italy.

The World Trade Organization recently slashed its forecasts for global trade, predicting the pace of trade to dip to its slowest since the 2009 global recession. This would set the growth of global trade below the growth of global GDP for the first time in 15 years.

WTO director general Roberto Azevedo acknowledged the growing antiglobalization sentiment around the world, and he pressed policy-makers to resist making decisions that run counter to free and open trade.

It is an unfortunate reality that the Great Recession of 2009 shook the economic underpinnings of the world economy to its core. Governments have been slow to recognize that this represents an enormous challenge to global growth.

It is also not a phenomenon limited to a handful of countries across the ocean.

Closer to home, Bernie Sanders, by railing against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, threatened what was supposed to be a virtual coronation for Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee for the U.S. presidency. Donald Trump rose to prominence in the Republican nomination contest using a similar anti-free trade message.

We now have both major presidential nominees promising to not sign the TPP, a move that may effectively stop the erstwhile deal dead in its tracks.

Freer global trade has produced winners and losers. For the winners, incomes and opportunities have skyrocketed. Global poverty has decreased sharply. A functional middle class has emerged in many of the world’s most deprived regions. Here in the West, the richest people are, by all accounts, growing richer.

But for middle-class workers in the West, incomes have stagnated. Those who were once the most-advantaged in the world now see themselves as treading water, at best, while the rest of the world advances. Blue-collar workers in places like Akron, Ohio, and Stratford, Ont., have seen jobs dry up and opportunities disappear.

Our politicians have signed these deals fully aware that along with acquiring benefits they were signing away tens of thousands of well-paying manufacturing jobs.

Yet, those politicians have not provided a solution. There is no plan to increase opportunity, or to help find a solution. The frustration of the middle class has been met with political promises, but little in the way of real action.

The stark truth is that global economic prosperity lies in increasing economic transactions between developed and developing nations. Trade deals are an important part of that relationship.

But middle-class workers in the developed world must consent to these deals — and that consent has grown increasingly uncertain. For politicians to earn it back, they must offer concrete solutions on bridging the gap between those who have so far benefited from free trade and those who haven’t. Nothing less than the stability of the global trading system is at stake.

Jaime Watt is executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative strategist.

A Niche Celebrity’s Mistake: How Fans Can Stop a Crisis From Spreading

Most readers of this fine blog may not know who Peter David is. But to millions of comic book and science fiction fans, Peter David is a recognizable name. To thousands of loyal followers, Peter David is the Writer of Stuff and they tend to place him in the same esteem as pizza and their own children. (Yes, the two are equal). While many of Peter David’s fans are not interested in Canadian politics or public affairs, the two spheres briefly overlapped a few weeks ago. Peter David answered a question about Romani representation in comics. It went as well as you can imagine. Cue the negative coverage. It’s the kind of reaction that would normally cause an individual reputational harm. Had it spread like fire, it would have introduced David to whole new audiences as a racist. Luckily for him, that didn’t happen. And he can thank his rabid fan base, which served as a buffer. Let’s explore this further.

Community Mapping in a Crisis

First, let’s talk about what community mapping involves. The degree to which an individual is well-known within a specific audience, is easy to find. Digital analysis includes the mapping of people’s interests using ‘affinity categories’ or topics based on the content they engage with most online. They show which subjects a given social media profile or accounts’ followers or friends are also interested in. Conversation around a topic or affinity category can also be analyzed for demographic information. Using affinities, we know for certain that typical readers of our blog are not particularly interested in comic books or Peter David. In a crisis, audience affinity data helps articulate which groups are most upset by an issue and how they feel they were wronged. Understanding nuances in how a narrow interest group communicates helps with any messaging situation, but in a crisis, affinities can be used to develop the most effective response using language that best connects those impacted to the issue.

What Is Buffer Content

Second, let’s go over buffer content. Buffer content is exactly what it sounds like: it’s the web links or pieces of digital content that insulate online entities from bad press. For a very general example, most businesses use internal links to have a number of their own website pages appear in search engine results and act as literal buffers against unflattering news stories or competitors’ pages appearing in the same place or being closely associated with their brand or keyword. In a developing crisis, using owned social media channels to share content, advocating for a specific point of view, and responding in line with a company’s message, can shift the narrative in your brand’s favour. More importantly, by amplifying content and reaching people unaware of the incident, these accounts can stop potentially damaging narratives from spreading. When used correctly, they can contain a reputational crisis by addressing applicable online communities with deliberate messaging.

The Public Affairs Emergency

So what happened with Peter David? On October 7, he was on a panel at New York Comicon. When asked a question about Romani representation in superhero comics, he responded with an anecdote about gypsies crippling their children to make them more effective beggars. He also started yelling at the person who asked. This video of the incident quickly circulated on social media. David eventually apologized, but not before doubling down on his initial stance. As can be expected in the world of comics, most coverage was online and on social media. In similar cases with niche celebrities, and especially when the story breaks through a video on social media, online outrage drives mainstream coverage. People angrily tweeted at David and activity related to his name or in his interest category skyrocketed. However, because David’s existing fan base contributed an incredible amount of support —and in some cases rebuttals — overall, there wasn’t an overwhelming amount of negative commentary that stood out.

Looking at the sentiment of tweets referencing or directly mentioning David before the incident, 36% were positive, 50% were neutral, and 13% were negative. These numbers include negative general discussions about his work, including literary criticisms. They’re normal numbers—nothing to get worried about. In fact, the negatives are negligible. Sure, overall volume of the conversation was high, but the ratio of negative to positive or neutral sentiment determines whether or not there is a crisis. And at this point, before he made his unfortunate comments, he was by no means in a crisis.

Social Media Followers Become Your Advocates

The week of the incident, social media posts about Peter David increased about 630%. What’s amazing is that overall sentiment only changed to 20% positive, 62% neutral, and 18% negative. Let’s just pause on that for a moment. He accused gypsies of deliberately paralyzing their own, and the conversation around him was only 18% negative. Few prominent individuals would get away with that. Sure, the Romani issue had more volume than any other topic but it did not dominate the overall conversation. This is because of who was responsible for posts related to his response on Romani representation. Before the incident David had 14,694 Twitter followers. Eighteen days after the incident, he actually had four more followers: On October 25, he was at 14,698. Though the outburst drew criticism from Romani activists and outlets covering the convention, it did not resonate with David’s existing follower base. There’s a lesson here: how your stakeholders or online community react to an event plays an important role in contextualizing any damage to your brand.

The majority of negative posts were from accounts that were not part of his usual fan base: they made one or two comments about the incident and then moved on to other things. At the same time, David’s fan base was fuming over (spoilers) the death of Jamie Madrox in the latest Death of X issue, which undid the happy ending David had given one of his most popular characters in the new line of story continuity. Immediately after the incident, there were a number of posts calling David a racist. However, as these accounts never engaged with David-related content again, the steady stream of complaints about how Jamie Madrox — aka, Multiple Man — died eventually became the focus of conversations. These initial tweets on his death developed into different users discussing why they didn’t like the comic and others sharing their favourite Madrox moments from when David was writing the character.

From October 8-20, the percentage of social media posts calling David a racist declined from 10% of all relevant conversation, to less than one percent. At the same time, conversations about recent Marvel comics and their relation to David’s work also picked up on Twitter. They started at 6% at the beginning of October, and have since grown to roughly 10% of the activity related to David. Anyone scanning his Twitter feed looking to write about recent developments would see some content related to racism and his Romani response, but would also see much more content about comics. It would appear that it’s business as usual, and his reputation stands mostly in tact.

Of course David is suffering some fallout. The point is that his passionate fans were able lessen the damage. Remember, these people are also his key audience. As long as they support David, there’s reason to continue booking him at conventions and stocking his books. In other words, this was not a reputational crisis. While the incident certainly offended a lot of people, it did not bother those responsible for building Peter David’s reputation in the first place.

Protecting Your Reputation Before A Crisis

Peter David has been indirectly grooming his audience for online advocacy his entire career. Most —if not all —of his comic books, novels, or television scripts include specific references to his other works, encouraging dedicated fans to spot the allusions and connect the ‘Peter David Universe’ in their heads. He regularly engages with social media content on public channels and maintains a dedicated fan site, which is updated regularly and houses more niche content about his interconnected work. He cultivates his own affinity category or sub topic within general comic books by first creating content necessary for such a niche community to form, and then by rewarding people who engage with it by engaging back and providing more of the same type of content they enjoyed in the first place. Over the years, this has encouraged more and more broader comic book fans to join the ranks of Peter David fans, immersing themselves in his work, discussing it online, and eventually adopting common quirks in taste or expression. Because they become so wholly involved with the material, criticisms of Peter David’s work become criticisms of his audience’s sensibilities, which can lead them to defend him more aggressively than fans typically defend their favourite author. The kind of behavior his fans demonstrated earlier this month dilutes conversation in small affinity categories or niche interests, like Peter David, making it appear to people without much context (and especially to most monitoring software) that nothing is out of the ordinary. David may not have asked his followers to defend him online, but he did cultivate the kind of fandom that insulates any public figure from certain degrees of reputational damage.

This should not imply that whatever is happening on social media is fact. However, in the world of public perception, what people are saying in the moment can be almost as important as what is actually true. Dedicated followings are the best kind of buffer content, because as soon as a crisis hits, they automatically respond more directly than any individual or company involved ever could, they dilute conversation to lessen immediate damage, and they help push negative content out of search-engine results pages and social feeds.

Peter David is an extreme example, but his community management can be applied well beyond comics. Broadly speaking, buffer content should act like David’s version of Jamie Madrox/Multiple Man — gradually building and consistently maintaining an audience before a crisis (or for the fans: using cloning powers to efficiently learn new skills and make more allies to avoid swarming his enemies in a fight). At a minimum, a little bit of community management or affinity mapping can help determine if a public embarrassment is really a reputational crisis based on who exactly was offended. Through affinity mapping and then community maintenance, businesses can duplicate what Peter David did and develop a passionate audience that safeguards their digital reputation before contained embarrassments become public shames.

Are we still on?

Maybe one of the barriers to entry a new EU is that national governments have to have the authority to speak on behalf of their country
—Colin MacDonald

This week Allie, Colin and David talk about CETA, Canada’s refugee policy, and Trudeau getting heckled at a youth labour forum.

Sam Oosterhoff on CP24’s Live at Noon

Will talks to Stephen LeDrew about the 19-year-old who won the nomination to succeed former provincial leader Tim Hudak as the nominee in his Niagara riding. Sam Oosterhoff, a Brock University student, beat two opponents, including Rick Dykstra, a former MP and current president of the Ontario Progressive Conservative party.

Aired on CP24 Live at Noon on October 25, 2016

It’s time to talk about private health care

Our research has found Canadians are not afraid of talking about having a private component in our health-care system — so long as the universality and equality of access remained blockquote place

During the second presidential debate, Canada got name-checked for the first time. Donald Trump decried our health-care system, as only he could so elegantly put it, as ‘so flawed’ and downright ‘catastrophic.’

Not surprisingly, the comments gave rise to the usual hue and cry that appears any time our health-care system is criticized as anything less than first-in-class. Canada’s health-care system has become its political third rail — an issue so potent and explosive that it can be fatal to a political career to be perceived as even pondering the concept of making adjustments to it.

That our health-care system is untouchable is the received wisdom of politicians of every stripe. Candidates have long avoided anything other than bland praise or minor tinkering around the edges.

But on rare occasions, politicians acknowledge, with caveats of course, what Canadians know — that our system is not first-in-class. Last week saw one of those rare moments. Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott acknowledged that: ‘We know our health-care system is not doing as well as it could ナ We’re paying some of the highest costs in the world for health-care and we’ve got a middle-of-the-road health-care system.’

Provincial health ministers reacted predictably, insisting the system was perfect. But Philpott not only got it right, her comments ring true to many patients and their families who have experienced the system first-hand.

But while she discussed innovation and the need to challenge delivery methods, the minister tiptoed around the role of private delivery, promising only to uphold the universality of Canada’s health-care system.

It has been more than a decade since any component of our system was challenged or questioned in any meaningful way. And yet all indications are that Canadians are clamouring for that very conversation.

Polls have consistently shown Canadians are ready to have a tough discussion about whether Canada’s current health-care delivery model still makes sense.

Public opinion research has shown Canadians have reservations about the way the system performs, its sustainability and, most importantly, its ability to meet their needs.

What’s more, they have indicated an openness to exploring many kinds of change, including different methods of delivery.

Global rankings, such as the World Health Organization’s ranking of health-care systems, have had an effect on the way Canadians perceive their system. Once the envy of the world, our system ranks a middling 30th in WHO’s estimation. Other rankings have reached similarly uninspiring conclusions about the competitiveness of our system compared to countries like France or Germany.

Those findings, widely covered in the media, reflect Canadians’ experiences with the health-care system, and this is largely why latent concern about the system has grown more tangible in the last several years.

Baby boomers don’t believe the system is sustainable. In a poll by the Canadian Medical Association, more than four-in-five seniors fret about the quality of health care they will receive in the future.

My firm has conducted a significant amount of research on this issue. It underlined what other research firms had found: the political discourse surrounding the health-care system simply does not reflect what Canadians across the country think about it.

Philpott and her provincial counterparts met in Toronto last week to discuss the state of health care in Canada. Rather than discussing transforming delivery options or other sweeping changes, provincial ministers called for more federal dollars to be fed into the same inflexible system framework.

This lack of innovation is simply not what Canadians are looking for.

Our research has found Canadians are not afraid of talking about having a private component in our health-care system. Instead, they feel such a move is inevitable and makes sense, so long as the universality and equality of access remained in place.

More importantly for the country’s health ministers, Canadians do not care about the constitutional division of responsibility, or about the ins-and-outs of marginal change. They simply want to see change occur so that, for once, the system delivers on their terms — a straightforward concept that seems to elude policy-makers the country over.

How often have we seen the sacred cows of political discourse remain that way until they arrive at the slaughterhouse door?

Canadians have begun to make it crystal clear to our politicians they are ready — in fact, beginning to demand — real change to our health-care system.

The rewards will go to the astute leader who takes up this challenge.

Jaime Watt is executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative strategist.