Alex Binkley on how to make your case

The Binkley Report

Alex Binkley is a foremost political and economic analyst, whose website is Readers will be aware that his columns in True North Perspective have foreseen political and economic developments in Canada. I this edition he says ...

Grandma's advice stands the test of time

To convince, use more honey less vinegar

By Alex Binkley
True North Perspective

Remember your grandmother’s advice about catching more flies with honey than vinegar?

Bruce Anderson, a respected Ottawa lobbyist and pollster, has a version of that advice for proponents of everything from infrastructure projects to modern agriculture that stresses environmental improvement and sustainability.                                 Image: Cover of Humanity's Saving Grace, a novel by Alex Binkley. Click to purchase at

In recent presentations to conferences sponsored by the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transportation in North America and Grow Canada, he urged proponents of major new infrastructure projects or new agriculture techniques to talk positively about the potential benefits or outcome. The majority believe that economic growth can become green and that everyone has a role to play.

Tell the public what’s involved in the new project or technique and what’s in it for them, Anderson said. Most importantly, respond to opponents’ objections with facts rather than belittling their position and ideas. In other words, don’t act like too many governments and corporations do these days with their attack dog mentality.

From the polling done by his company Abacus Data, Anderson has concluded about 15% of the population is instinctively opposed to change. However, a much greater portion wants to understand all sides of an issue if given the opportunity. Too often it just hears attacks on a new highway or farming technique or in response, denunciations of the motives of the critics. In other words, the messages are neither informative nor positive. The two sides demonize each other rather than discuss each other’s views. Politicians compound the problem by failing to look for compromises.

The opposition to the Energy East pipeline draws much of its vigour from public concerns about the safety of using an old natural gas pipeline to ship crude oil. People remember the pictures of the American community soaked in oil from a broken pipeline.

Rather than respond to these concerns, most of what we hear are attacks from pipeline backers on Ontario and Quebec for being anti-Alberta. That just trivializes genuine worries and hardens opposition.

GMO developers have let the debate about modified crops focus on the process of modifying corn, soybeans and other varieties rather than the talking about the benefits of producing more food with fewer pesticides and less fertilizer on a dwindling land base to feed a growing world population, Anderson notes. “The agriculture industry isn’t speaking in a language the public understands. People hear about the problems of growing more food from time to time but not often enough to grasp the problem.” Many consumers harbour concerns that GM foods aren’t natural.

The way to respond is not long monologues about genetic modification but by highlighting the potential for improving human health, increasing nutrition and easing the pressure on food producing lands. “Tell them how these techniques can boost nutrition while easing the environmental impact of farming.”

Or as he told the CILTNA conference a few days before that, “Avoid rancorous debates and leverage the information about the benefits of an infrastructure project.”

His polling also found that better health care, an improved quality of life for the retired and elderly, a stronger economy and a healthier environment mean far more to the public than fighting crime and cutting taxes. Almost twice as many believed that the environmental improvement can go hand in hand with a strong economy as thought the contrary.

Almost 60% believe that improving the economy and environment are either extremely or very important, he pointed out. These views are spread across the political spectrum. There is plenty of evidence “that it’s possible for companies to make good profits and reduce their impact on the environment.”

Through the many pages of polling results that Anderson presented, it’s clear that the state of the environment is important to many Canadians and politicians should be paying attention to that ambition.

Or try more honey and less vinegar.