Maple Leaf Foods CEO ‘livid’ after Iran plane crash

Michael McCain used the brand's Twitter account to express candid feelings about what led to the tragedy.

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Maple Leaf Foods CEO Michael McCain turned to Twitter to express how “livid” he was after a plane crash in Iran last week had a personal impact for him and his company.

Late on Sunday, Maple Leaf Foods’ corporate Twitter account published a series of tweets that were “personal reflections” from McCain, who said he was “angry” after a colleague at the company lost a wife and child, directing that anger at the U.S. government for escalating the situation.

“U.S. government leaders unconstrained by checks/balances, concocted an ill-conceived plan to divert focus from political woes,” one of the tweets read, continuing that “a narcissist in Washington tears world accomplishments apart; destabilizes region” and led to the “collateral damage” of Canadian civilians losing their lives.

McCain was referring to a U.S. airstrike that killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani on Jan. 3. That led to an escalation of tensions in the region, and fives days later, Iran launched a series of missiles targeting bases in Iraq housing U.S. soldiers. During the strikes, Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 was struck and crashed, killing everyone on board. Among the 176 passengers, 63 were Canadian, with 138 headed to a Canadian destination. Many were students and researchers returning to Canadian universities after visiting Iran during the holiday break. Iran has since confirmed the incident was unintentional.

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McCain will likely not be commenting further on his words; requests for comment to Maple Leaf Foods from several outlets have been met with a statement that McCain “would prefer to let messages in his tweets speak for themselves.”

It’s easy to look at McCain’s tweets and be brought back to 2008, when he sat in front of camera and apologized for his company’s role in a listeriosis outbreak linked to 57 cases of the infection that resulted in 22 deaths. In PR circles, the response is widely regarded to be a great example of crisis management, for the honesty and accountability in his words and for showing a level of responsibility and remorse rarely expressed from those in the corporate world.

But a key difference is that while 2008 was a PR-approved statement on a situation linked to Maple Leaf, no one expected the CEO of a Canadian food company to comment on the Iran plane crash, let alone with such candor. After all, it was not well-known that someone at Maple Leaf had been personally impacted, and likely wouldn’t have been had McCain not said so. Given Maple Leaf’s recent efforts to expand its U.S. business, it’s also not like McCain is just a Canadian safely lobbing criticisms from across the border.

But then again, why wouldn’t this be expected? Canadian brands have been quick to express condolences and provide needed support in response to other tragedies that have resulted in the unnecessary loss of Canadian lives. In just the last few years, brands have sent messages and donations to grieving families in Humboldt following the Broncos bus crash, Toronto following a deadly van attack and a shooting on Danforth Avenue, and to Fort McMurray and British Columbia after being ravaged by wildfires. There’s many uncomfortable reasons that could be confronted about why Canadians both in and outside the corporate world have been relatively silent about the crash – the fact that the passengers were Iranian-Canadian, or not feeling equipped to weigh in on a situation related to a potential military crisis – but simultaneously “mourning” and being “livid” is a very simple human emotion to express when it comes to a tragedy, and one that should be easier for leadership to express without fear of backlash or their own crisis to answer for.

That’s not to say no brands have been working to provide help to families impacted by the crash.

On Monday morning, Mohamed Fakih, CEO of Paramount Fine Foods, announced at a press conference with Toronto mayor John Tory the start of “Canada Strong,” a fundraising campaign that aims to raise $1.5 million for the families affected by the crash. Fakih is well known for taking a stand on issues he sees as important, especially after helping Toronto Syrian restaurant Soufi’s re-open last year, when the family who runs it – themselves refugees from Syria – were targeted with death threats online. For “Canada Strong,” Fakih pledged $30,000 and to cover expenses related to the campaign, while Tory called on both regular Canadians and the corporate sector to help the campaign reach its goals.