Shakeup? Lobby firms launch new publications to compete in a previously comfortable niche under the dome

Posted on April 26, 2016, 2:05 am
7 mins

PHOTOS: Glimpses of two lobby firms’ new publications about Alberta’s government. Below: Lobbyist, lawyer and former Wildrose MLA Shayne Saskiw, journalist Samantha Power, lobbyist and former Stelmach political advisor Elan MacDonald, and lobbyist and former NDP communications director Brookes Merritt.

At least two new lobbying firms now active in Alberta’s capital have introduced legislative newsletters designed, in theory, to highlight their owners’ analytical capabilities and lobbying potential.

SaskiwBut whether by accident or design, the publications recently launched by Impact Consulting and Alberta Counsel take direct aim at a profitable and little-known niche business long associated with the fringes of Alberta’s government: the publication of subscription-only newsletters about the opaque goings on under the dome of the provincial Legislature.

Who knew that the chaos wrought by new communications technology, the related slow-motion collapse of traditional media, and the unexpected rise of a social democratic government in supposedly ultra-conservative Alberta would combine to shake up this cozy and rather old-fashioned corner of the news business?

For years, publications like journalist and former political insider Paul McLoughlin’s Alberta Scan and author and veteran political reporter Mark Lisac’s Insight into Government, later sold to former Calgary Herald columnist Ric Dolphin, were about all there was to give corporations a hint to what was going on behind the obvious headlines within the dark recesses of the province’s Tory-dominated government.

Alberta’s major print and broadcast news operations – especially the Calgary Herald, Edmonton Journal and major national broadcasters – dominated daily coverage from the Press Gallery. But, practitioners of press release journalism, they mainly just reprinted what the Tory government wanted Alberta voters to know.

PowerThe newsletters, meanwhile, provided nitty-gritty detail helpful to deep-pocketed corporations that wanted to understand what was happening in the murky insider-dominated world of Tory Edmonton and its tiny coterie of connected lobbyists, provided at a price that was chump change for corporate big shots but a little steep for the rest of us.

Now it seems as if mainstream media are teetering on the brink, combining newsrooms and watching their best journalists race for the exits. Toronto-based Postmedia – owner not just of the Herald and Journal but nowadays of the two largest Alberta cities’ tabloid Sun newspapers as well – has just posted second-quarter losses of more than a quarter billion dollars. Even the company’s U.S.-based hedge-fund owners appear to be edging toward the doors. Journalistic wags are starting to refer laughingly to the company as Toastmedia.

Surely it can’t be that long before the corporation that dominated Alberta media for generations finally flatlines!

Meanwhile, the arrival of an NDP government under the dome shone a light on the weird way lobbying was done in this province – with the Tory insiders who used to haunt the dimly lit Legislative rotunda seemingly confused that the lights have been turned on, and rattled by an apparent shortage of connected Alberta New Democrats interested in helping them figure out how to fix their business model.

ElanOnto this chaotic stage, enter Impact and Alberta Counsel, with a smattering of names listed on their websites that are known in NDP circles, like former NDP communications director Brookes Merritt at the former and Pascal Ryffel and Heather MacKenzie at the latter.

Don’t be fooled, though, the movers and shakers at both firms seem to have connections to conservative circles. Elan MacDonald at Impact was a former senior political advisor to PC Premier Ed Stelmach. Shayne Saskiw at Alberta Counsel was well known as a Wildrose MLA once touted a potential leader of the Opposition party.

Impact’s Beyond the Headlines and Alberta Counsel’s News are both slick and colourful publications.

The former seemingly takes aim at Alberta Scan’s analytical style, although without much information about who is actually writing up the analysis. Ms. MacDonald’s name is the only one on the publication, as publisher.

The latter appears to target Insight’s more news-oriented presentation, with coverage provided by senior editor Alexandra Zabjek, late of the Edmonton Journal, and feature writer Samantha Power, well known to readers of alternative online media in Western Canada such as The Tyee.

MerritBeyond the Headlines promises “weekly analysis and perspective on Alberta’s government, politics and current affairs.”

The News calls itself “an original source of political news and commentary (that) will provide a fresh look at legislation, policy, committee debates, the civil service, along with party updates and events.”

It’s not immediately clear if these two new publications are expected to earn a profit on their own for their proprietors, or merely act as loss leaders for customers of the two firms’ lobbying departments and a come-on to potential clients.

Count on it, though, they’re bound to shake things up for the emailed PDFs that currently occupy this niche. Moreover, they are likely a sign of more disruption to come, including similar publications pushed by similar lobbying firms, advocacy groups and general rabble-rousers.

This has the potential to upset the applecart for the folks who used to have this business to themselves. Well, you know what they say … Get used to it! Because everything changes again tomorrow!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

6 Comments to: Shakeup? Lobby firms launch new publications to compete in a previously comfortable niche under the dome

  1. TENET

    April 26th, 2016

    In St.Paul, the name Shane Saskiw is synonymous with scorched earth.

    That constituency is a vivid example of what becomes of a political landscape in the wake of an MLA that spent his entire term trying to advance his personal lust to be leader. His party collapsed as he connived behind the scenes. His former constituency is awash with decrepit hospitals, under funded programs, and unfunded proposals. Nothing but crumbs trickle down as the beleaguered constituents continue to suffer in silence with the less than illustrious David Hanson (yes he is an MLA) as their representative.

    The St.Paul constituency has several big and bold projects completed during the days of prolific Progressive Conservative Cabinet Minister Ray Danyluk. But time, “restraint”, and political realignment take their toll. St.Paul should serve as a showcase for Tories who want to illustrate the consequences of reverting to self serving and weak kneed MLAs (Saskiw/Hanson).

    St.Paul was once such a prolific place, saints and reigning monarchs would include it on their global itineraries: Mother Theresa, Queen Elizabeth II made very public appearances and the world spotlight also shone on St.Paul as the Centennial Star of Canada and a front row participant at the UN Habitat Conference. Today, there is not even a Greyhound bus station, the beacon at the crumbling airport is dimming. World Long Drive Champion Jamie Sadlowski would return only to find The Tin Cup Club House reopening after being moth balled, and the Golf Club is wracked by huge deficits and divisive debates -all pivoting around lack of funding. And, there is the crumbling St. Therese hospital where dedicated health care professionals put more band aids on the crumbling hospital than their patients.

    Good luck to Saskiw et. al. in trying to peddle their “influence”. He had better hope St. Paul remains silently in the shadows and out of world spot light.

    Reply
  2. jerrymacgp

    April 26th, 2016

    I wonder, what would happen to governance in Canada, at both the provincial and federal levels, if lobbying as we currently understand it were abolished completely, and all government decision-making had to happen in the full light of day, perhaps via an enhanced role for parliamentary/legislative committees? Require corporate and NGO spokespersons to offer comment on public policy in the public sphere, not in back rooms.

    Reply
    • Sam Gunsch

      April 26th, 2016

      Jerry,
      You’ve made a great proposal for generating actual citizen-based democracy.

      If you haven’t read John Ralston Saul’s book The Unconscious Civilization, he speaks to the issues you raise and discusses how the legalization of lobbying has actually legitimized corruption. Vested interests now dominate public policy with the seal of legitimacy via lobbying registries.

      Your proposals are democratizing proposals. And would directly undermine the corporatist governance system that is actually functioning all developed Western countries.

      Saul in his book Doubter’s Companion describes how in the corporatist governance system currently in place, governments, both politicians and civil servants, simply manage public policy negotiations between vested interests and if public interest groups have enough political profile, say in healthcare or environment they get to be party to the negotiations as well. And concern for the public good that serves all the citizenry, society as a whole, is mostly is an add-on, an afterthought.

      Saul describes lobbyists as modern day ‘courtiers’ like once roamed King’s courts. They are the representatives that deliver the group-based i.e. corporatist governance of society.

      I’ve found that corporatism and neo-corporatism are discussed widely in the academic literature. But writers like Saul discuss it in much more accessible terms for the lay person.

      As I’ve shared many times in comments at this blog, Mark Lisac’s 1995, book The Klein Revolution, in Chapter 9, The Corporate Province, documents the explicit growth of group-based — corporatist — governance of public policy in Alberta that became widespread and entrenched early under Klein. If you represented a powerful and favored economic sector, you and your group, e.g. CAPP of course, Lisac documented how your group was brought right into the public policy process in government, usually behind closed doors mostly but sometimes in the open. Barry Pashak, a prominent NDP politician at the time, called the policy process fascist…Lisac pointed out that this sort of

      Corporatist governance now fully dominates public policy process and governance in the developed West countries. Citizens have mostly been marginalized.

      Again all your proposals are spot on.

      As a supporter of the NDP, I wish I could see signs of moving away from corporatist policy making processes. But then, no governing parties are doing much to substantively reduce the power of lobbying groups in the policy process and invest in substantive consultations with ordinary citizens anywhere in Canada, as far as I can see.

      Sam Gunsch

      Reply
      • Sam Gunsch

        April 26th, 2016

        re: ‘Barry Pashak, a prominent NDP politician at the time, called the policy process fascist…Lisac pointed out that this sort of ‘

        oops… Lisac pointed out this sort of governance model was actually known as corporatism or syndicalism… and was not just the enhancement of the influence of big corporations but a different form of governance. As Saul summarizes, legitimacy resides with groups under corporatist governance, and in democracy, legitimacy must reside with the citizens.

        Reply
  3. Mike in Edmonton

    April 26th, 2016

    LOL “Toastmedia”? I hope they last till middle of May. That’s when my subscription to the Edmon-Sun Journal expires, and I’m NOT going to renew!

    David, are you considering a subscription-based newsletter of your own? Please talk to Graham Thompson and/or Paula Simons. Surely the three of you know enough people under the Dome to make a go of it.

    Reply
  4. Pogo

    April 26th, 2016

    Well, let’s re-cap. Andrea Horwath? Three swings er actually she didn’t like bats so she cowered in the corner.
    Ok then! Adrian Dix? Oooooo let’s set a world record for tanking at the last minute because we just couldn’t be, well, anything?
    Rachel Notely, finally stepped up and much to her surprise? Victory! Tom Mulcair… the Adrian Dix of our only chance at the PMO. Nice job you BC loser campaign know-nothings!
    (polite is my case workers mantra). Now we will see the corruption of all our politics, Fuck-yah! What a species. Asteroid? Climate change? Stupid war started by stupid people? Par 3 mothers!

    Reply

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