Operation Steve Kent

Published on July 24, 2014

Until recently, Steve Kent was, among other things, in charge of the province’s Office of Public Engagement.

The office, in case you aren’t familiar with it, was set up to “emphasize the weight that the provincial government places on acquiring feedback directly from Newfoundlanders and Labradorians on policies, programs, or other related initiatives.”

Its mandate? To “ensure every provincial government department can launch effective, targeted and interactive public consultations, including social media. The office builds on the existing strengths of current functions and co-ordinates the efforts of departments to increase access to information resources.”

If the mandate was truly to make sure the government was “out there” publicly, Kent might seem like a good fit: after all, he was among the most active of the Tories when it came to radio talk shows and Twitter comments, almost guaranteed to be loyally espousing the Tory line on one form of social media or another.

Now a candidate for the Tory leadership, Kent has been shuffled out of cabinet for the duration of the campaign.

But he’s not taking a break from his “engagement” efforts.

No, that dive-bombing is continuing.

You may have seen his smiling face, for example, tucked in among your Facebook friends. The candidate has been paying to post sponsored links on Facebook pages connected to this province, and has appeared 10 or 12 times on some accounts already.

Have a email account?

You might see him there, too. “Straight Talk from Steve Kent: An Open Letter to Progressive Conservatives in Newfoundland and Labrador” is the headline on an email that appeared to be sent broadly by steve@stevekent.ca earlier this week.

And if the only electronic link in your house happens to be your telephone, you’re not immune there either.

There are plenty of people who are being contacted by a robocall version of Kent, a recording asking for their support for his campaign.

The robocalls are sophisticated enough technologically to recognize whether or not they’re speaking to a person or to an answering machine or voice mail: the message to a machine is different, but features Kent asking for support from whomever the phone line happens to belong to.

Imagine going to your summer place to escape it all and having Kent burbling out of the phone at you. In St. John’s, you may have received a robotic call of that sort several times already.

Now, every politician has their own methods for trying to reach prospective supporters. In this electronic age, it’s probably cheaper and faster to let the computer do the talking, dialing and emailing — especially in a province as geographically spread out as this one is.

Perhaps it even demonstrates a little of Kent’s campaign slogan: “ready, able, and experienced with a twist of innovation” — because he’s twisting that innovation for every single drop possible.

But it does beg one important question: shouldn’t a former minister of public engagement understand that engagement is meant to be a two-way street, while sponsored Facebook links, robocalls and gang emails are far more a one-way style of communication?