Some apologies are effective, others make matters worse. Here's a list of the best and worst apologies by public figures within the past year.
When Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino had to apologize to veterans in January 2014, it was flat, insincere and read from cue cards in the House of Commons, writes R. Michael Warren.
By: R. Michael Warren Published on Sun Mar 30 2014
We live in an age of public apologies. Some are effective. Many make matters worse.
The latest comes from Hydro One CEO Carmine Marcello. If you receive a hydro bill, you've seen Marcello take personal responsibility for Hydro's recent billing and customer service problems. He says he'll make customers whole again.
As apologies go this one gets a passing grade — as long as Marcello transforms the utility's customer service culture as promised.
Over the last year we have been subjected to a steady diet of apologies that failed in multiple ways.
Apologies that resonate have several basic characteristics. They begin with a clear statement of what went wrong. They take responsibility for the failure and do so promptly, without being pushed.
Part of taking responsibility is saying sorry for offensive behaviour or inconvenience — with no "buts" or "ifs." A meaningful apology usually involves some form of reparation speedily rendered. Finally, an expression of gratitude for the support of customers, voters or whatever group was harmed.
Using these criteria, here are some of the best and worst political apologies of the last year:
Parti Québécois candidate Louise Mailloux has maintained that baptism and circumcision amount to rape, and kosher products are part of a scam that helps fund "religious wars." She "absolutely" stands by her comments. But they weren't intended to offend. But if they did, "I very sincerely apologize." Mailloux sets the record for the most "buts" and "ifs" in a single apology.
A bungled apology has New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, fighting for his political future.
He claims no knowledge of a payback scheme involving epic traffic jams on a bridge to an opponent's city.
Christie spent an astonishing 108 minutes — 20,000 words — apologizing, maintaining his innocence and blaming his staff. He holds the record for the longest apology.
Former staffers now claim the governor knew all about the lane closures. A legislative panel reviewing the issue seems to agree.
The record for the most meaningless apologies goes to Mayor Rob Ford. You'd think after so many attempts he would be getting good at it.
During Ford's fall "contrition phase" he said sorry multiple times. He made a "super" apology to council. He apologized to Star reporter Daniel Dale. He also accepted responsibility for his graphic language about prostitutes and his wife.
Ford maintained in interviews with Peter Mansbridge and Conrad Black that he'd "quit drinking" and was "finished with alcohol." This was followed by a series of drinking incidents. He excuses himself saying, "I'm only human."
The contrition stage is long gone and now Ford makes no apology for any of his childish, celebrity-seeking behaviour.
The Greater Toronto Airport Authority apologized twice in an effort to placate passengers stranded by the closure of the airport during the January cold snap.
First, GTAA president Howard Eng apologized for the inconvenience and promised an "internal review." Days later GTAA board chair Vijay Kanwar apologized again and promised to release the results of the review within 90 days.
Eng should have made one comprehensive apology and moved on. Kanwar's apology along with his promise to release the review of his CEO's decision further weakened confidence in GTAA's management.
Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino didn't fare well after his belligerent slanging match with veterans over the closure of offices across the country. When the veterans' plight gained public traction, Fantino headed to the House. There he delivered a flat, insincere apology read from cue cards.
He said the standoff was caused by the behind-the-scenes influence of big unions on the vets. Blaming the standoff on others and offering no remedy has further undermined the government's relationship with veterans.
This newspaper chased Canada Post CEO Deepak Chopra for two days to get an explanation for the weeks-long delivery delays in December. Chopra said Canada Post was so overwhelmed by the impact of the ice storm it "forgot to notify customers."
When officials have to be pressured to acknowledge long-standing mistakes, the value of the apology is diminished.
One of the reasons leaders hesitate to apologize, or do so reluctantly, is the fear of appearing weak. The opposite is often true. If the apology acknowledges responsibility, shows remorse and results in constructive change, the public is usually prepared to forgive and forget.
A sincere apology can be seen as a sign of courage, maturity and strength. Could that be why Stephen Harper never apologizes?
R. Michael Warren is a former corporate director, Ontario deputy minister, TTC chef general manager and Canada Post CEO. firstname.lastname@example.org
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The Canadian Veterans Advocacy Team.