As Canada prepares to celebrate its 150th birthday, the Liberal government has enlisted a group of hand-picked ambassadors to help spread the word. But with the clock ticking down to the biggest party since Confederation, there's no clear sign how those big-name Canadians will participate in the festivities.
“Ambassador programs can be fabulously successful or disastrously stillborn,” Bob Pickard, a principal with social public relations firm Signal Leadership Communication, told BNN in an email. “The conception and planning of these initiatives is the decisive factor in determining how well they run.”
Canada 150 ambassadors are described on a government website as “trendsetters and influencers, who together form an inspiring group of Canadians from across the country and around the globe. They come from all walks of life - musicians, actors, athletes, scientists and other, who are well known in their field of work.”
“As of Spring 2017, we have been in touch with Canada 150 ambassadors approximately once a month, or more frequently when planning their attendance at specific events or when responding to their questions on Canada 150 projects, events or their online activity,” Heritage Canada Spokesperson Jon Schofield told BNN in an email.
As for the specifics on their role, the website simply states these individuals “will come together as one voice in 2017 to promote Canada 150 in their community.” It also highlights a handful of recent social media posts, in some cases indicating where in Canada the ambassador will be celebrating on July 1st. The official Canada 150 Twitter account has also shared recent tweets from ambassadors like hockey great Yvan Cournoyer, Olympic gold medalist Jennifer Jones, and author Yann Martel, among others.
“No events were organized with the sole purpose of highlighting the role of Canada 150 ambassadors,” Schofield told BNN. “However, when a Canada 150 ambassador attended an event or posted on their social media, they were introduced as a Canada 150 ambassador.”
“I understand the intent of the program -- to get into as many social feeds as possible, celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday. But I am not sure this is a true dialogue or a story being told in social media, as much as a broadcast and, in that, it fails to really accomplish much,” advertising executive John Yorke, president of Toronto-based Rain43, told BNN in an email. “It is nice to recognize ambassadors and have people feel good about being good Canadians, but I’m not sure there is value beyond that.”
Some of the high profile ambassadors include Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek, tennis star Milos Raonic, astronaut Roberta Bondar and musician k.d. lang. Through a spokesperson, Lang declined BNN’s request for a television interview. A spokesperson for Trebek also declined an interview request, saying in an email he was “otherwise engaged.” A spokesperson for Raonic said he was not available for a television interview due to his schedule. A spokesperson for Bondar said she is travelling this month and not available for an interview.
Prominent business leaders serving as ambassadors include David Ganong, chairman of Ganong Bros, the New Brunswick-based chocolate and candy company; as well as former BlackBerry Co-CEO Jim Balsillie.
“My understanding of the role of Canada 150 ambassadors is that we are supposed to engage in telling Canadian stories via social media,” Balsillie told BNN in an email. “I am not a social media user, so over the last few months I have conducted several interviews with traditional media outlets focusing on the topic that I believe is important for Canada, which is innovation."
Balsillie, who is currently chair of the Centre for International Governance, was one of the first Canadians to be designated as an ambassador during an event last March organized by the Department of Canadian Heritage. He told BNN he was not available for a television interview due to his schedule.
“Canada 150 ambassadors have received a generic tool kit outlining their role, key themes of Canada 150, tips and key contacts for questions,” according to Heritage Canada’s Jon Schofield. “We have also provided some suggestions regarding their social media activity around significant days (i.e., International Women’s Day; World Environment Day; Celebrate Canada Days) that echo Canada 150 key themes, and answered their questions related to Canada 150 and their participation.”
“Celebrating Canada (via the 150th birthday) is an important thing to do, especially in the world of divisive politics at home and globally. I feel that the government can only do so much to directly promote nationalism,” marketing expert John Yorke of Rain43 told BNN in an email. “This really needs to be an authentic movement that comes out naturally and no amount of prodding or provoking will do that naturally.”