Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ignatieff's Communication Problem.

Jill Fairbrother, 48 is Michael Ignatieff's director of communications. A former lobbyist for a garden-care product firm in Mississauga, she is the girlfriend of Ian Davey, Ignatieff's chief of staff . The two met during the 2006 leadership campaign and there has been some muted criticism of the fact that the two work together in such senior posts in Mr. Ignatieff's office. Fairbrother is considered to be a part of the Rosedale gang, the inner circle of Ignatieff advisers from Toronto which also includes Ian Davey, Alfred Apps, Dan Brock, and Rocco Rossi.

In short Jill Fairbrother is the person who has the unenviable position of trying to spin correct all of Ignatieff's many communication blunders; not an easy task considering Ignatieff's propensity to put his foot in his mouth. She may currently have the hardest job in Canadian politics.

I first noted Fairbrother's name in the media back in late 2008 in a blog entry by Kady O'Malley, then at Macleans, who called out Fairbrother on a "non answer" to her query. Not a good start and Kady rightfully nails her on it, but that was only the beginning as Fairbrother would soon be officially appointed as Ignatieff's communications director and she would be very busy putting out the fires started by her boss. However not all of the communications problems can be neatly placed at the foot of the leader himself; some of the blame must be placed elsewhere, including the lap of Fairbrother.

Take for example the recent problems with cancellations :Ignatieff was going to go to China over Labour Day; he cancelled. He was to hold a huge fundraiser in the Toronto area; he's delayed it. He was to go back to Harvard University to participate in a panel celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Carr Centre for Human Rights Policy; he cancelled. He was to speak at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce convention; he cancelled. A case of Ignatieff just changing his mind a lot or more of a problem with his handlers and story control? Speaking of story control what happened with the recent story about how Ignatieff was going to have an "adult conversation" with Canadians over taxes, but instead had to come out the very next day and deny ever wanting to treat Canadians as adults turning the glee expressed by some Liberals over the idea into just another embarrassment. How did this story get to the press in the first place?

While Ignatieff may have played some part in the above problems he certainly cannot be blamed for this one: The dueling press conferences. (from the CBC) Running communications for a political party is a trying task at the best of times. Even more so when you're competing with...yourself.

Picture it: the Hall of Honour of the Centre Block. Liberal MP Wayne Easter and the party's spin-machine, Warren Kinsella, camped outside the door to the Conservative caucus meeting. Clearly waiting to do something. But, what...

Three sombre -looking Liberal staffers stand behind Easter with 8 x 10 photos of Conservative MPs who have, according to Easter, denounced the whole cheque-signing "scandal".Easter explains how this is must be stopped.

Wouldn't be a bad little stunt if only: in the room right next door the Liberal caucus is launching the Pink Book on women's issues.

Cameras and reporters gathered around Easter. And although there were other reporters and cameras in the room for the launch, one media event can't outdo the other.

Suddenly, Ignatieff's director of communications, Jill Fairbrother arrives in the scrum and abruptly whisks Easter away. She didn't look pleased. And the "stunt" ended awkwardly. Amateur hour. (Jane Taber covers the same story here)

More of the same: From the recent Toronto Star story on Ignatieff being wrong on Arar: The Star requested an interview to discuss Ignatieff's statement, but his spokeswoman, Jill Fairbrother, declined the request."It's clear and I don't think he'll have much to add if the subject is torture." When told that Ignatieff was wrong and asked if she could verify the quote, Fairbrother said she no longer had a tape recording of the interview. I am not overly knowledgeable of the job a of communications director but wouldn't keeping copies of interviews be one of those things that should be done for the protection of your boss? With 1 Terabyte hard drives available for under $100 at Futureshop I can think of no reason why every word spoken by Ignatieff cannot be saved.

Speaking of job descriptions; would becoming part of the story be listed among the duties of a communication director? Fairbrother's name again came to the forefront in the media around the time that Liberals in Quebec were enjoying the last few days of having a lieutenant when Denis Coderre tossed a hand grenade into the inner workings of the LPC. Denis Coderre:The message sent by these recent events is the following: if you want to get your way in Quebec, you only have to short circuit the party’s Quebec authorities and instead go to the leader’s Toronto palace guard who have a total misunderstanding of Quebec social and political reality.” and "Should he follow his Quebec lieutenant while working closely with a credible team? Or his Toronto advisers who know nothing about the social and political realities of Quebec?" It is interesting to note that when Fairbrother became part of the above story that she, as the person paid to talk to the press for the Liberals, had absolutely nothing to say on the subject.

I said earlier that Fairbrother might currently have the hardest job in Canadian politics dealing with all of Ignatieff's communication foul ups, but it is clear that not all of those communications mishaps are the fault of Ignatieff, and Fairbrother is not doing him any favours or making her job any easier by being part of the problem. The Rosedale gang strikes again?

UPDATE: A must read from the CBC: Big Shake up in the OLO.
"It's not yet clear who will be shuffled but two sources said they expect that Director of Communications Jill Fairbrother will be moved, to make way for a francophone." ht Cantuc in the comments.

Also from the same story:
"Liberal finance critic John McCallum said Donolo would be an experienced hand in the leader's office. "I think it will be good for the party."

Hey John, does that mean that Davey was NOT good for the party?

Wednesday Update: From Dan Cook's Blog: Tuesday evening: "Just trying to get a note out to staff. There is no news. No resignation(s). No new chief of staff." — Jill Fairbrother, spokeswoman for Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff

Tuesday evening: "I am pleased to announce the arrival of Peter Donolo, who has accepted the role of chief of staff." — Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff

Like I said, a communication problem.


maryT said...

Please, no more red in your posts, very hard to read.

CanadianSense said...

Excellent post, insightful narrative.


Ardvark said...

MaryT, consider it done.

Ardvark said...

A few glaring typos corrected.

Quicklinx said...


I read the article and it is really very informative. Grate post. Keep it up.


wilson said...

As usual, good stuff AA.

What ever happened to the Big Red Machine?
Dion and the cell phone address to the nation,
Iffy and the obviously unstructured, unsupervised message machine...
Did all of the talented 'natural governing party' communications 'behind the scenes' people quit or get fired?

It's just jaw dropping how incompetent the Pointy Shoe Red Machine has become.

Bec said...

Very good evaluation, AA and one I think that those of us on the outside looking in,have often picked up on as the biggest Liberal issue.

Terrible communication,is the elastic band that hold them and their media darlings, together.
Name calling, innuendo, rants, scandal fabrication etc etc, IS NOT, COMMUNICATION!

wilson said...

seeme the environutjobs also have a communications problem,
it's called fake blood LOL


maryT said...

Before and after pics at NNW also.
Google Jeh Custer, he is a real activist for many causes, all of them weird.
Layton denies involvement in the stunt.
I don't think these idiots helped their cause one bit and probably hurt it.

cantuc said...

I was just reading on cbc politics that Donelo is leaving his polling job and taking over in Ignegatives " inner circle " .
http://www.cbc.ca/politics/insidepolitics/2009/10/shake-up-in-the-olo.html Guess he can't take it any more trying to make the liberals look good with slanted polls and not getting any where

Ardvark said...

Cantuc, thanks for that info. Post updated.

Ardvark said...

This post turned out to be much more timely than I had anticipated.