Oh, PORRD. What would Hill journalists do during break weeks without you? And look — your latest offerings are downright serendipitously on topic.
Okay, so back in April, at the behest of PCO, Ipsos Reid held a series of focus groups on the economy, particularly the government’s response to the recession, otherwise known as the Economic Action! Plan*. Although now somewhat dated — I mean, really, early April was so two probation reports ago, and isn’t that whole recession unpleasantness behind us now, barring the sudden eruption of The Election Nobody Wants? — the findings are still worth reading, especially when you consider what the Parliamentary Budget Office had to say last week about the update that the prime minister delivered last month:
Accountability loomed large in the discourse of many around the table. Most were aware that any Government efforts to stimulate the economy would likely result in significant government spending. Although few disagreed with this approach, most were of the view that sufficient checks and balances needed to be in place in order to prevent taxpayer money being squandered. In fact most agree that there is a need for the Government to be transparent, provide regular and timely updates on expenditures, inform Canadians on the intended results, and provide regular feedback on actual outcomes. […]
Participants expect the Government to be active – there was a strong sense among many that the Government must not only be proactive in terms of coming up with ways to deal with the situation, it must also be proactive in terms of communicating what it is doing. There was some criticism of what some see as reaction as opposed to action. […]
Participants also expect government to be accountable and transparent, they want to know 1) what is being done, 2) why it is being done and 3) how these actions will improve our collective situation, that is, what are the expected outcomes.
Some comments from participants:
“Personally I don’t think the Government is all too clear with what they are doing with our money. I have no idea where my money is going …”
“The Government is talking but I haven’t actually seen anything…”
“Leadership. Just government standing up and explaining what’s going on, the current situation, plans for the future, accountability, how they are spending the money and results. People know more about what is happening in America than Canada.”
“I wonder if they could come and present something at a grass roots level that everyone could understand.”“Go to the ordinary people and have a news conference like a town hall.”
“Il faut communiquer au quotidien, qu’est-ce qu’on fait pour stimuler l’économie.”
Since then, the government has put out two more updates, but as the PBO noted in its review, “content remains uneven in the GC’s Third Report, notwithstanding the additional data that have become available over the past three months and the additional time available to address previously noted shortcomings.”
In other words, even though a good chunk of the money — as much as 90 percent, according to the government — has already been spent, or at least “committed”, we don’t seem to know much more about where it’s going than we did back in April.
All of which suggests that Gerard Kennedy’s summer project may turn out to have been a smart political investment for the Liberals, provided they can get accountability-minded Canadians to pay attention to the glaring lack of hard data to back up the cheerily-worded press releases that comprise so much of the Action! Plan website, and not the latest crisis behind the scenes at OLO. (Chances of that actually happening? Oh, let’s be generous: 10 to 1.)
Oh, and speaking of the website, it turns out that the $2 million that Finance forked over to Ogilvy Montreal may have been money well spent — or will be, if the latest round of ads manages to boost traffic. Courtesy of Ipsos-Reid — yes, again — the results are in on the first wave of the EAP advertising campaign, and they’re enough to break a nameless PCO web designer’s heart.
In a survey conducted for Finance Canada between April 7th and 16th, the pollster found that, out of the 53 percent of respondents who recalled “seeing, hearing, or reading an advertisement about the Government of Canada’s plans for the Canadian economy … “two in five (39%) started to renovate, fourteen percent spoke with family/friends/others, eight percent searched the Internet for information, and four percent searched for information more generally, or started saving receipts (4%),” but “relatively few (3%) called 1-800-O-CANADA or visited www.actionplan.gc.ca (2%).” ( To be fair, when specifically asked about the website, fully six percent claimed to have dropped by.)
(Note to any advertising/marketing experts out there: Other than poor, ignored actionplan.gc.ca, is this a decent recall/response rate for this kind of campaign?)
Finally, since ITQ is nothing if not fair and balanced when pointing her proxy-finger, she would be remiss if she didn’t mention what the Ipsos focus groups thought about “the media’s role” in the economic downturn:
As in previous groups conducted in January, many participants suggested that much of the economic gloom and doom they had seen, heard and read about of late was likely hyped by the media. In fact, a number of participants expressed concern and in some cases anger with what they see as the media’s unbalanced reporting of economic events. Participants questioned why the media focus seems to be on the minority of Canadians and businesses who are facing difficult times rather than the majority, who are doing ok.
“There are a lot of fears in the media and people stop buying because of fear — they may have money but they stop buying.”
“The media is focusing on the 8% who are unemployed instead of the 92% who are working.”
“Ça va très bien. Les journalistes nous font voir les choses plus noires qu’elles le sont, il y en a 10 % qui sont au chômage mais il y en a 90% qui travaillent!”
There was a sense among some that the media should spend more time looking for glimmers of hope and the silver lining rather than focusing on the daily reports of plant closings, job losses and disappearing retirement savings.
“I prefer to hear that things are going to get better, if you remain upbeat, then generally people will feel better about themselves and their country.”
ITQ isn’t sure if Kevin Page — or most economists — would agree with all of that, but it’s worth keeping in mind, at least. Of course, if we do go off glimmer-hunting and silver-lining-spotting, and the recovery suddenly sputters to a halt, who would get the blame for not warning Canadians?
*According to Ipsos-Reid, focus group participants weren’t overly keen on the name, with “several … indicating that they felt this term was ‘political spin,’ ‘government-speak,’ a ‘buzz word,’ ‘propaganda’ or ‘misleading'”:
Many of these participants responded by expressing a strong desire for specifics: “What is the plan? Let’s see it in writing.” Even among those who did not have a negative reaction to the term itself, there were several who selected words such as ‘reactive’ to express frustration at what they perceived as a delayed response.