Who are you?

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Long time ago, in the days of yore, cows got branded. So did outlaws, deserters and witches, apparently. But in our up-to-date, modern society, everything is being branded. It is the latest marketing strategy: branding means having your name, business, organisation, even your country, associated with specific, positive images and ideas. This, according to the innumerable business consultants marketing this idea, is the way to stand out from competitors and encourage the general public (especially the buying public) to view you in a good light.

In a 2018 international survey, Canada was listed Number 1 among seventeen countries as being the most trusted “brand” country. This means that the world at large sees Canada in a very positive way, a country that can be trusted. Of the more than 33,000 people surveyed in 28 countries, Canada was most trusted by 68% of respondents. This approval rating had remained unchanged from the previous year.

That may be good news for Canadians, but this whole branding movement is getting a little out of hand. Everything is being branded now, and that means giving everything a nice slogan, or catchy phrase, to underline the brand. We’re familiar with the commercial aspect of this: “You’re in good hands with All State”; “You’ve Always Got Time for Tim Hortons”; “Finger Lickin’ Good”’ or the one that sums up the aim of marketing best of all, “Because You’re Worth It”.

These slogans obviously work, because now governments are in on the act. We’ve already had some debate over using the slogan “Heart of North Grenville” on Kemptville signs, but that is just the latest example. North Grenville already had “Green and Growing” to laugh about, and the United Counties slogan, “Where Lifestyle Grows Good Business”, remains one of the most head-scratching bits of nonsense ever. Merrickville-Wolford’s seems less controversial: “Jewel of the Rideau”.

But the new slogan for the Government of Ontario is really stretching the concept to breaking point. You will remember that the last federal Conservative Government was taken to task for referring to itself as “the Harper Government”. But Doug Ford’s marketing team have gone one step further. Every press release, every reference to the current provincial government calls it “Ontario’s Government for the People”.

On the face of it, that sounds like a good idea, identifying the Conservatives with the People, almost like what you’d expect of a leftist crew, Red Tories in every respect. Except, of course, that the current government are far from being leftist, or even Red Tories. One has to wonder: which “People” do they mean? After all, Conservatives (and conservatives) are not known for their commitment to “the People” in general: more to “the People who matter”.

I’m not suggesting that this government are a bunch of heartless autocrats who don’t care for the People, far from it. Just as I would never suggest that the Liberals or the NDP are deeply committed to every level of society equally. But, as a marketing exercise, this branding of the Conservatives as a Government for the People seems a little more cynical than usual, even for party politics.

When you think about some of the policies contained in the Doug Ford Handbook of Government, you have to wonder about on behalf of which People it is he wants to govern. Minorities, Francophones, women, the poor, the sick: do these count as “the People”? I sincerely hope so. But are Education, Healthcare, social programs, etc., really the issues that his “People” care about? Once again, I hope so.

Yes, many of you reading this are good Conservatives (or conservatives) and may find this marketing ploy a fair and accurate one. That may well be, as time will tell. It’s just that, traditionally, the Conservatives (whatever title they use at times) are not identified with “the People”, just a well-respected segment of the people in general. Let’s be real: any study of conservative media outlets, or party policy statements, do not read like socially aware documents concerned with the needs and wants of the socially disadvantaged sectors of society. Again, Liberals may be no better, and their track record is hardly a beacon of Light and Truth in politics.

But for a Conservative Government, particularly one led by Doug Ford, to claim to be a Government for the People, without some raised eyebrows and quizzical looks from those running food banks, hospitals, schools, and even municipalities, is the issue. So, when you hear ministers and MPPs talking about being part of the Government for the People, feel free to ask “Who are you?”, because, to quote Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means”.

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