I wish Justin Trudeau and Brian Gallant had stayed playing with LEGO.
The two political leaders sat together in a Wee College classroom in Moncton this week, building block towers with children. Journalists snapped photos and filmed the smiling faces, then all the adults went to another room.
If our politicians truly want to reach the people, they needed to stay at the LEGO table, not move to the podium.
I watched the live stream of the child care announcement with my six-year-old daughter, while my four-year-old boys were at day care. This was information that could personally impact our family.
As the speeches went on, and little detail was given, I started to receive text messages from friends. Parents, child care operators, and tax payers in general were interested in the announcement, too. They were also watching and waiting for details
Details that weren’t coming. That’s not unusual for political announcements, especially these type of ‘feel good’ money declarations. But details were what people wanted, and if you weren’t going to give us that, then at least you could have kept entertaining us with LEGO.
One of the best nuggets of advice I ever received in journalism school was to explain things to readers and listeners in the same way in which most people think. Don’t describe the distance between two buildings as being 210 metres; say one building is about the length of two football fields away from the other. So instead of standing at a podium and announcing that creating “more affordable and high-quality child care will strengthen families, the middle class, and the New Brunswick workforce of tomorrow,” talk to the children and parents in real terms.
Tell us you’re going to spend about $70 million so that more kids can come to places like Wee College. Tell us how you’re going to help 300 day care operators and teachers change their businesses into Early Learning Centres. Tell us 200 more infants and toddlers in New Brunswick will be able to find day care spaces by the time these two-year-olds are in school. And tell it to us while you play LEGO with our kids.
Sure, it’s still a photo op and an announcement. The nay-sayers who didn’t like it done at the podium won’t like it done casually, either. But the parents who have young children, the tax payers trying to figure out what this actually means for their family, will listen more closely. They’ll watch to see how those decision makers play alongside kids. And they’ll feel more comfortable asking the questions that matter.
How and when do we find out which 300 centres are changing their structure? How much of the $71 million is going to support early childhood educators? Where do these changes live smaller day care operators? What about the middle class, who don’t qualify for subsidies but still struggle to validate the cost of child care when it will consume nearly half of the income they’ll earn by leaving the house? What about shift workers who need flexible care options?
I still don’t know the answers. And I probably wouldn’t know them if the announcement had been more informal. But I know this was a missed opportunity to make a connection with parents in our community.
Sit down at the table and talk. Leave the podium behind. Leave the speeches for parliamentary events. When you’re announcing changes to a system that potentially impacts every family in the province, give us clear, concise details. We don’t mind if kids are chattering in the background; we’re used to that. But we do mind being treated like children you don’t trust with the details.