September 27, 2023


The Business & Finance guru

No accountability for marketing Regina as ‘city that rhymes with fun’

It’s emblematic of our political culture

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Regina, “the city that rhymes with fun.”

It’s the kind of tagline Michael Scott would come up with had The Office been set in Saskatchewan. And yet, it was at the heart of a very real $30,000 branding campaign by the prairie capital that made international news (and gave rise to a $90,000 independent review). Other taglines in the campaign included “show us your Regina” and “experience Regina.” It might work for a local raunchy comedy night, but it certainly doesn’t work for marketing that should be family-friendly.

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Now, just as you’d expect in The Office, the blunder has been pinned on a junior employee of the organization responsible. A third-party review of Regina’s failed marketing campaign was released Thursday, recommending that nobody be fired over “The Incident.” That’s accountability for you.

What happened, independent consultant George Cuff concluded, was a collective failure by multiple layers of management. The branding campaign was not yet ready for release (though, plenty of consultation was done previously and there had been talks with even the mayor, CBC reported). Then, “at the last moment, somebody decided to go off script and say, ‘I think I’ll hit the send button.’” The materials were not, in fact, ready to be published.

Cuff attributed the premature release to “lack of managerial oversight, loose procedures, inadequate policy guidance and unavailable senior staff.” The consultant recommended a policy review. Tourism Regina is a bit of a mess but not enough to turf anyone over, essentially.

Some might say that this wasn’t exactly a failure of government because Tourism Regina isn’t a exactly government organization. It’s a non-profit that markets the city to others and runs visitor services. It’s managed, however, by another non-profit whose owner and sole shareholder is the City of Regina; the CEO, Tim Reid, is keeping his role (though the consultant recommended a “frank discussion” about his workload). The city’s probably going to distance itself from the whole thing by pointing to the two degrees of separation, but you can trace authority back to public offices.

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The cascade of problems that led to an offensive marketing campaign happens all too often in government. The fallout tends to follow a similar formula: blame lower-level employee, shrug, consider some restructuring and wait for the public to forget about it.

Inadequate policy and, underhandedly, staff were blamed by the Minister of Canadian Heritage Ahmed Hussen for handing a six-figure cash grant to the very publicly antisemitic Laith Marouf. Nobody lost any jobs, of course. The incident — ultimately caused by a profound lack of leadership — made Canadian Heritage look like a mess of a granting organization that doesn’t have the capacity to oversee the numerous handouts it was distributing to activists.

Over in the Department of Public Safety, Marco Mendicino blamed his failure to intervene in the transfer of murderer-rapist Paul Bernardo to a medium-security prison on “a mistake within my office.” The minister only claimed to learn of the transfer the day after it happened, though his office knew three months prior. There has been no confirmation as to whether anyone was disciplined, and it doesn’t look like we’ll get any.

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In the Prime Minister’s Office, examples can be found too. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau blamed CSIS for not making him aware of the Chinese government’s targeting of Conservative MP Michael Chong (and his family). The CSIS report warning of such interference was sent to the national security advisor within the PMO — a detail that Chong said came to him from the present national security advisor; no previous national security advisors could recall such a thing, however. It’s all very mysterious.

The more you look at it, the more you get the sense that the Canadian public is served by a set of largely unaccountable people, both elected and unelected. Not all crises of management need to involve people losing their jobs, but you’d expect at least some to.

Elected officials don’t offer their resignations when their department for which they are responsible, fumbles in a serious way. On the unelected side, nobody ever seems to get fired. It’s just a cycle of blunders, apologies — and later, staffing budget increases. Consequences for mishandling the power of public office, it seems, are rare.

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In situations such as these, which require profuse apologies (or elaborate explanations that don’t entirely add up), you’d expect at least one person’s job to be on the line. In Regina, if the tourism non-profit in question was so poorly managed that there were no “safety valves” to prevent the city from being marketed with a joke about female genitalia — something so juvenile it should have never made it to the drawing board in the first place — why haven’t the managers responsible been turfed? Alternatively, if the employee who pulled the trigger too early violated clear and obvious procedures, why are they still (supposedly) working there?

These failures of public and public-adjacent organizations speak to a greater problem in Canada: we lack a culture of accountability.

National Post

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