Lubicon Lake Indian Nation
Little Buffalo Lake, AB
3536 - 106 Street
Edmonton, AB T6J 1A4
December 7, 1991
Considering the barrage of disinformation being cranked out lately on the Lubicon situation by representatives of the Canadian Federal Government, it seems likely that the Federal Government is once again employing the "Communications Strategy" developed for the Federal Indian Affairs Minister a couple of years ago by an Ottawa-based consulting firm specializing in "corporate and government communications".
The name of the Ottawa-based consulting firm specializing in "corporate and government communications" is Continental/Golin/ Harris. In reading the leaked "Strategic Communications Overview" prepared for the Federal Indian Affairs Minister by Continental/ Golin/Harris, it becomes clear that so-called "strategic communications" is really only an euphemism for what would normally be called "propaganda". "Propaganda", classically defined, is the "spreading of ideas, concepts, information, rumours and/or allegations deliberately designed to further one's cause or to damage an opposing cause".
Originally conceived to try and enhance the Federal Government's position going into negotiations with the James Bay Cree over the Federal Government's acknowledged failure to meet its obligations under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, the "Strategic Communications Overview" paper prepared by Continental/Golin/Harris has an eerily familiar ring -- both in terms of the mentality it represents and in terms of the tactics it recommends.
On "Negotiation Options", the paper says:
"The government appears to be faced with three realistic negotiation options...
"1. Live Within Existing Budgets: NO NEW MONEY
"The JBNQA (James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement) is largely implemented now, perhaps 75 to 85 per cent. Given that the fiscal cupboard is nearly bare, a minimal cost option would be to declare poverty, redirect funds to eliminate problems with "bad optics", and justify holding expenditures at current levels on the basis that there are much more pressing problems for new money than implementing what amounts to the icing on JBNQA cake. This option, while likely to evoke strong reaction through the media from native groups, is defendable, particularly in light of the shift in public sentiment (from concern over native land rights) to increased concern about economic conditions."
(Editor's note: This option of course explicitly contemplates the Canadian Federal Government simply defaulting on a constitutionalized agreement with the James Bay Cree.)
"2. Consider the JBNQA in Isolation: NEW MONEY
"The native position is to ignore the current state of the federal coffers, and to insist that the government meet its obligations, without regard for changed circumstances, since they are enshrined in the Canadian Constitution...The justification for this option would be that government credibility is at stake unless Canada satisfies all commitments, regardless of changed circumstances since the signing of the Agreement in 1975. From a communications perspective, this would undoubtedly be the easiest to sell to the native groups. However, it is fraught with peril in rationalizing the expense to the general public... (and)...could be viewed as knuckling under to native demands..."
(Editor's note: This option contemplates the Federal Government actually meeting its constitutionalized obligations under the Agreement. It's noteworthy that discussion of this option doesn't consider at all the normal and expected consequence of defaulting on such a legal agreement; namely, return of the vast, resource-rich lands covered by the Agreement to the James Bay Cree.)
"3. Middle of the Road: SOME NEW MONEY
"While it is perhaps not legally bound to fulfil all of the commitments made in 1975, the government does recognize the landmark status of the JBNQA as the first modern treaty. In this (third) option, preferential treatment would be given to satisfying native demands, but fairness and need would be given much more weight than would defending government credibility. This stance is justifiable as a balanced position between pleading poverty and defending the government's reputation. From a communications point of view, this option could be communicated successfully to both the natives and the general public. By couching the communications against the background of progress already made under the Agreement, the obvious changes in the state of the federal coffers and the economy in general, and in terms of fairness and good intentions, the federal position would likely find acceptance."
(Editor's note: "Preferential treatment" in this third option means benefits supposedly to be provided under the Agreement to the James Bay Cree by the Government of Canada. "Fairness and need" refers to things like fixing-up a disastrous sanitation system causing epidemic health problems and a lot of negative publicity for the government. "Defending government credibility" of course refers to the government not meeting its obligations under the Agreement. And "progress already made" refers to those parts of the Agreement already implemented. This last or third option, basically proposing to honour certain still outstanding provisions of the Agreement which are causing the most negative publicity for the Federal Government, is the one upon which the "Strategic Communications Overview" then bases its subsequent recommendations.)
On the "Public Environment", the paper says:
"A review of existing public environment research indicates that Canadians are less concerned with the issue of native land claims than they were in the past and more concerned with the federal economic condition than ever before. Indeed, there are strong indicators that suggest non-native Canadians are becoming somewhat tired with the image of native peoples with their hands out. Currently, these sentiments are strongest in the West and are significant enough to sway the national balance."
(Editor's note: One reporter described this section of the paper as recommending that the Federal Government should use the "anti-Indian prejudice of many Canadians to its own advantage...to back up the government's tough negotiating stance against Indian claims".)
On "Strategic Communications", the paper says:
"The central objective of the communication component of this initiative would be to create consent among the widest possible audience of Canadians...for the government's position and its approach to negotiations. To achieve this objective we would recommend only one strategic approach...to control the information..."
"To ensure a primary media position for its pronouncements, the government must, at all times, control the dialogue. It must be seen as the primary information source, communicate clearly and concisely, and create the concepts that will best support the government philosophy. By being accessible, open and understandable in its communication, all opposing parties would be forced into a response position." (Editor's note: "Controlling the dialogue", "creating the concepts that will best support the government philosophy" and "forcing the opposition into a response position" is exactly what government officials are currently seeking to do with the Lubicons.)
"The adoption of this strategy is supported by the current public environment which, as discussed earlier, indicates a significant drop in non-native support for native land claims and increased interest in economic conditions. By positioning the negotiations in the context of the broader mandate given them by the people of Canada, the government may expect public support for their negotiating stance and to bring public sentiment to bear on those native groups expressing unrealistic or exaggerated demands, or who refuse to enter into negotiations." (Editor's note: The reference to "native groups expressing unrealistic or exaggerated demands", or refusing "to enter into negotiations", pertains to James Bay Cree who were insisting that the Government of Canada actually honour its specific, written obligations under the Agreement.)
"While there are many vehicles through which to publicize the government position...we feel that there exists only one essential means of delivery...through the national, Quebec and native news media...and to be effective, such a program would require strategic and highly targeted media relations. In this instance, the media, both mainstream and native, should be viewed not as an audience but as the primary communication vehicle." (Editor's note: Being consciously set-up as "the primary communication vehicle" for government propaganda is something which should hopefully give representatives of the legitimate media pause for thought.)
"More direct forms of communication would be recommended as part of the communications strategy supporting the actual negotiating process. Initiatives such as a pamphlet or brochure delivered to the target audience...could be used as appropriate..." (Editor's note: One can't help but think about things like the document recently distributed by the Federal Government entitled "Status of Lubicon Lake Claim".)
On "Methodology" and "Roles", the paper says:
"The Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, as head of the lead department in the negotiations would be responsible for positioning the negotiations in the context of the JBNQA as the first modern treaty, which the government has every intention of fulfilling. The Minister would take a relatively high profile at the outset to establish the government's stance in relation to its broader mandate, received from the people of Canada." (Editor's note: One only has to think about Mr. Siddon's recent media initiatives involving the UN decision and the Federal Government's so-called "take-it-or-leave-it" offer.)
"The federal negotiator would fulfil the role of primary spokesperson for the duration of the negotiations. His senior advisor would serve as back-up for (the media)."
(Editor's note: Shades of Lubicon "spokesman" later Lubicon "Assistant Negotiator" Ken Colby.)
"The negotiators, as lead government spokesperson, would be positioned as acting in the best interests of the country and the sound financial policies of the government, while expressing due regard for the rights and demands of the natives under the terms of the JBNQA." (Editor's note: In context it doesn't take much imagination to guess how the "rights of the natives" under the Agreement stack up against "the best interests of the country and the sound financial policies of the government". It's of course a little tougher to determine whether defaulting on a constitutionalized agreement giving Canada rights to a vast, resource-rich area of northern Quebec is really "in the best interests of the country", and/or whether the government's financial policies are really "sound," as the paper asserts, or, as many others would argue, completely disastrous.)
"The (Department of Indian Affairs) role in the strategy's execution would be to provide program and policy-specific information relating to the negotiations, and in response to questions regarding native and northern initiatives from the media. (Departmental) officials would act as expert advisors to the negotiating team and would be actively involved in maintaining the media response service discussed in the next section. (Departmental) officials would also be responsible for explaining the context in which the negotiations are being undertaken, the policies upon which government decisions are based, and the conflict created by these conditions versus the government's concern for the rights of the native people under the terms of the Agreement." (Editor's note: The "context" is clearly that the government doesn't want to meet its obligations under the Agreement and plans to plead poverty. The government's "policy" is clearly to both default on the Agreement and to keep the land rights obtained by virtue of that Agreement. The talk about "the government's concern for the rights of the Native people" is less straightforward but seems to be the same kind of empty rhetoric currently being employed by Mr. Siddon when he claims that the Government is committed to negotiating a fair, just and generous settlement of Lubicon land rights but won't change the Federal Government's demonstrably unfair, unjust "take-it-or-leave-it" so-called "offer" to the Lubicons.)
On "Resources and Recommendations", the paper says:
"Specific roles for the primary players involved in the negotiations have been outlined above. However, there exists a requirement for resources on which these individuals could call for clarification of terms or policy and for assistance in executing accepted strategies.
"We recommend the formation of a committee comprising two (Departmental) representatives, a member of the Minister's staff, two staff members (from the consulting company that prepared the paper), the local M.P.s or their representatives, and the negotiating team, appropriately entitled, Special Words and Tactics.
"The committee's primary function would be to review and evaluate the changing face of the negotiating scenario and to develop further communication strategies and activities as required. They would also advise the Minister on developing perceptions and assist in the preparation of appropriate strategies.
"One committee member -- a communication and media relations expert -- would travel with the negotiating team at all times during the process and would maintain close contact with the (Departmental) officers designated to perform the media response service." (Editor's note: During the Lubicon negotiations Ken Colby served as "media relations expert" and Bob Coulter served as Departmental contact person.)
"b. Media Response Service
"Much of the success of the recommended proactive media relations strategy would be dependent upon the negotiator's and the Department's ability to respond to both mainstream and native media requests for information and background data almost instantly. Given that expertise and familiarity with the subject matter already exist within (the Department), we recommend the creation of a media response service, using the existing resources of the Department."
(Editor's note: Again one can't help but be reminded of the Minister's December 2nd letter to Chief Ominayak, which was faxed simultaneously to the media along with two pages of so-called "background data".)
The paper and follow-up work required to help implement its recommendations reportedly cost the Federal Government $246,000 in taxpayers' money. However once the paper was leaked representatives of the Federal Government and the consulting firm both predictably distanced themselves from it, claiming variously that it had been rejected and/or never implemented.
Chris Bunting, spokesman for Continental/Golin/Harris claimed that the paper "was rejected by both the federal negotiator and us here". He said "It's not the kind of tone that we want the negotiator to take, or that we want to advise the negotiator to take". Mr. Bunting didn't explain what the Federal negotiator was doing with recommendations prepared by a consulting company which that consulting company wasn't recommending, nor why the Federal Government is clearly doing so many of the things recommended in the paper.
One thing of course not recommended in the paper is telling the truth.