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The problem is both bigger and smaller


 

Don Lenihan troubleshoots Allan Gregg’s essay.

Politics has gone through a transformative change in the last 40 years. Today, events move at lightning speed; issues are highly complex and interconnected; there has been an explosion of new players in the policy space, such as NGOs, lobbyists and associations; information is superabundant; social media have created a 24 hour news cycle; and public opinion research, communications and marketing have changed the way policy is made and defended.

In this new environment governments are inclined to avoid public debate on major issues. Trying to explain complex issues in 15-second clips is next to impossible, and opponents are often very skilled at turning this to their advantage. They use sophisticated communications techniques to manipulate the media and incite suspicion, doubt and anger among affected groups. As a result, opponents often punch far above their weight, stalling or even derailing major policy initiatives. Governments fear them. Yet Gregg has almost nothing to say about all this. Instead, his call for a return to reason in politics often sounds more like a lament for the kind of public debates we had when Canada was a simpler, slower, less complicated place. As an expert in public engagement, I can only say that we are not going back to this. The past is gone.


 

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