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Today we say goodbye to a good friend and associate, Gilles Paquet; he passed away last week at the age of 82. His contributions to the field of government and specifically the study of governance in all its forms live on.
Notes from Colleagues:
I first met Gilles Paquet when I was at the Treasury Board of Canada. In those days he did a lot of consulting work for the government, speaking ‘truth to power’ indiscriminately and passionately to everyone from deputy ministers to lowly contractees like me.
Most recently, in the evenings he would come to speak to our Executive Leadership Program for EX-1 federal government managers on leadership. He would arrive with typed speaking notes, to be handed out, often supported by his own Invenire publications.
He would always begin by teasing me and the IOG about our approach to leadership, and then follow with the presentation of his meticulous and logical arguments to the end. I remember one evening when he got carried away – he was always passionate about what he cared about – and his language got a trifle salty.
Reviews noted that his language was a little strong for but that the content was fascinating.
– Toby Fyfe
My first encounter with Gilles was in an MBA economics class at the University of Ottawa. I was fascinated at his ability to clarify some of the more arcane aspects of economics. But it was his storytelling that struck me most. He would weave compelling stories about how economics impacted governance, governments and citizens.
Since then, I worked with him often on several projects. He was kind, patient, and connected with people in a way that made everyone feel important. He would always end our discussions with “take good care”…said in a way that I knew he meant it.
Au revoir Gilles. You will be missed.
– Greg Richards
It would not be an exaggeration to describe Gilles as a true friend of the Institute on Governance. Ever willing to share his considerable experience and knowledge of governance in its many forms, his presence livened many Institute events and initiatives. Having Gilles in the room guaranteed lively debate and discussion. A public intellectual in the truest sense, Gilles possessed the rare talent of making the complex issues about public governance simple and relevant to the many participants in Institute conferences, learning events, and panels. He was never shy about taking an unpopular stance on issues, but was even handed in his critique of those who disagreed with him. A prolific author, Gilles many writings are foundational to much of the work the Institute developed over the years.
– Michael O’Neill
5 minute read
I was waiting in line to have a smoked meat sandwich at one of Montreal’s most famous smoked meat restaurants: Schwartz. It was a very pleasant fall day and we were lining up outside on St-Laurent boulevard. And we had good company, as a group of anti-meat pro-vegans stood across the sidewalk screaming at us how shameful it was to eat meat, pleading to save the animals, stating how the planet cannot support everybody eating beef. The lady running the demonstration profoundly believed in her cause and was screaming that conviction through a megaphone in our ears less than five feet away.
I stood there thinking “well, at least this lineup isn’t going to be boring today!” My 18yo daughter, who was waiting with me commented: “why is she doing this? Does she think she’s going to convince people that way? It’s useless!” I couldn’t help agreeing with her. I understood the demonstrators point of view and somewhat agreed with parts of it. However, standing in front of a lineup of hungry carnivores and screaming at us that the meal we are starving for is disgusting, unethical or irresponsible was probably not going to change many people`s minds.
This all reminded me about the Change Management principles I learned when I was being “indoctrinated” as a Manager: People resist change. That’s what we learned and that’s something we can count on. And our challenge as managers is to overcome that resistance, to steer the resistors towards performing the change we are proposing or need to implement.
As I went through diverse management assignments, I started diligently using the learned principles with some good successes but also some outlying dissatisfaction. I faced challenging reactions I didn’t know how to handle. The most difficult for me was not resistance, it was indifference. I can be very patient explaining a vision, very supportive of someone apprehensive. But trying to deal with indifference was like pushing a rope. Until someone brilliant told me bluntly: “It’s not because you said it that they will do it!”
We human beings are interesting creatures. We all know that we should quit smoking, stop drinking, eat healthier or exercise more. We know that. It’s stored in our brain with all the facts and data that supports it. Yet, we don’t change until the Doc says “If you continue, you’re dead in two years”! It takes more than knowing about a situation to trigger our action. So yelling at the carnivores that they should quit eating meat just adds another thought in their brain, just beside “Stop eating junk food”. When managers explain why staff should change and how much better everything will be, all of this info goes right into people’s brains, alongside “Quit Smoking” and “Exercise More”. So do people resist change? Well sometimes yes, when our proposal triggers fear for example. But I’d say most people are indifferent most of the time: our issue isn’t theirs.
I started to chat with the woman leading the demonstration. This, I must admit, was totally to stop her from screaming in that megaphone which was now 1 meter from my ears! “What are you trying to achieve?” I asked, thinking that a question would be less threatening. “I want people to stop eating meat! We’ve tried everything, but it doesn’t work so we’re down to trying this”. Hmm… “Everything? Really? And how is this working for you so far?”
Thinking of our employees as resisting puts the blame on them. We’ve tried everything but, hey! They’re resisting! Not our fault! However, reframing our view to see our employees as unengaged puts the situation, and the responsibility, in our hands. As David Rock, well known researcher in Neuro Leadership, states: Engagement is something the employee has to offer, it cannot be made part of the conditions of employment.
So what does it take? Maybe a feast?
My wife convinced me to try veganism by cooking me the tastiest food! My mother-in-law, also a vegan Masterchef, puts it this way: “to most of you carnivores, a meal is a plate of meat and potatoes. When you’re told Eat Vegan, you picture the same plate without the meat”. Yet, I assure you that eating at her table is a real feast! I told our vegan activist “Look, there is an empty commercial space right beside Schwartz. You have with you an army of people energetically committed to the cause! You guys should open a darn good Vegan restaurant right there, and you’d have a perpetual lineup of hungry people, right in front of your restaurant, that you could try to convince to try Vegan food instead of waiting endlessly in the carnivore line”. She got interested in the idea.
I’m sure you’ve heard about change’s ubiquitous “Burning Platform”, that sense of urgency one must create for people to start changing. However, in real life, there are few real burning platforms. When we articulate events, statistics and context in a way to present it as a “burning platform”, our people can smell it and it adds another piece of data in their brain. Besides, the Burning Platform triggers fear in our brains, not commitment. So what we need is a Vegan feast: an alternative, an appealing path to transition that appears feasible and doable to our people, one that triggers a positive gut, not mind, reaction. We need to engage people for them to start making change! Talking to them is not enough to trigger action.
I know everything I’ve been saying here, I’ve been teaching it for years and yet, when I succeed at doing it 50% of the time, I consider that pretty good… I am very enthusiastic about my work, absorbed in my goals and may sometime consider the time spent in engaging others as slowing me down. That haste has ended a few times in me screaming on the street with a megaphone! What about you dear colleagues? Are your using the megaphone with your employees, or are you working on the Vegan feast? On my side, I made a commitment to myself: next time I’m near Schwartz, I’ll eat at the Vegan restaurant!
4 minute read
A few years ago, I rediscovered The Emperor’s New Clothes, the short tale from Hans Christian Andersen. My children, (young at the time!) had selected it as their bedtime story. I was in shock! The author was telling a tale I was living every day in the Public Service of Canada! My kids, more pragmatic, were seeing it differently: “But, dad, why didn’t he just tell the emperor there was no fabric?” We all wish life was that simple…
After this bedtime reading, the tale stayed with me for a good while. Could I learn something from it? Everyday, we face the challenge of telling our boss, our partner, our colleague things that he/she does not wish to hear, as open minded as they may be. What is the consequence of saying something? The Minister and the Officer of the story certainly meant no harm. What happened to this Minister after his boss discovered the fraud and realized he was not warned? Should we talk anyways, knowing we are going to be beheaded, or stay quiet hoping to live a little longer, hoping the problem will go away or hoping to be able to blame someone else? A very good Values and Ethics case study!
A few years later, I had the idea to use the tale to start a conversation between Deputy Ministers of the Government of Ukraine, as part of a leadership program I was working on in this country. After testing the exercise with my team of leadership development specialists, I asked them what they thought. I was blown away by their answer: « Come on! You’re the emperor here! Why should we really tell you what we think? »
As a public servant, I had accepted that the fearful advice was part of my duty. However, as the emperor of the story, I assumed I would receive loyal advice from my team. Was it always the case? How could I know? What was the difference between someone telling me what I wanted to hear, someone giving me a sincere advice about a risk I was ready to assume and someone warning me of a real and imminent threat? They all sounded the same! If you spoke to my closest collaborators, they would tell you that I’m an initiator and a risk taker and that they are trying to keep my feet on the ground most of the time! But isn’t this the very nature of leadership? So, how could I hear the difference between deference, resistance or danger?
After pulling my leg for a while, my team members eventually shared their thoughts with me. However, with humour, they had raised in my mind a very real issue: Of course, it’s all about trust. Am I creating a climate that allow my team members to tell me the “real things”? How does one do this?
In these days where the public sector is scutinized more than ever, and rightfully so, public opinion is merciless when errors are made. Public sector leaders are held to the highest excellence standards. In his book The speed of trust, Steven M.R. Covey reminds us that organizations with high trust deliver three to four times better business results. Leaders should make building a high-trust culture a top priority. However, how does one do this? How do we extend trust? What do we do to deserve the trust that put in us? Do we admit our mistakes or do we continue, like the emperor of the story, to walk naked to the castle? Do we treat people who make mistakes in such a way as we uphold this hard-won trust or do we do things that destroy it?
Do you remember that, in that story, only one person was bold enough (or reckless?) to tell the truth: a child in the crowd. Why a child? Maybe because its judgement was not yes obscured by his ambition, his desire to make a good impression, his fear for his life or his reputation. People who play that role for us are priceless. As we caught in the daily whirlwind, we often judge them too quickly and consider their points of view too simplistic. Yet, they are the only one who tell it like it is, sometimes bluntly, but most of the time with a great deal of common sense. Do you know who does this for you? I found mine, and I hope she will not “grow-up” too fast!
You will probably remember this children’s tale : An emperor with a passion for clothes is offered by two crooks to have a garment made from a material that is invisible to those who lack intelligence or those who are unfit to perform their duties. Convinced of the practical aspect of such a garment to judge his subjects, he invests considerable sums in the making. He sends his old faithful minister and one of his officers to supervise the progress of the work. They dare not say anything. When the day comes, during a public parade with the new garment, the crowd is ecstatic at its beauty until a child exclaims, “Why is the Emperor naked? And the crowd to exclaim. The sovereign persists and continues his march proudly, naked, to the castle.
5 minute read
Sir Francis Galton was a cousin of a cousin of Charles Darwin. Now that you’ve read this, would you be surprised if I told you he believed leadership traits were hereditary? In his book Hereditary Genius Galton argued that Leadership is a unique ability that is part of an individual’s genetic makeup. In other words, you inherit your leadership and you pass it on to your children. He proposed selective mating to produce individuals with extraordinary leadership qualities. Later researches, still inspired by the eugenic theory, concluded that leaders were likely taller than the average, more extrovert than the average, more good looking than the average or more intelligent than the average. I am sure that as you read this list of traits, you can think of great leaders who defeat those definitions: Napoleon for height or Ghandi for extroversion for example. (Being politically correct, I will abstain giving examples of exceptions for the latter two attributes.)
In ancient Chinese literature, Lao-tzu described leaders as hardworking, honest individuals who handled conflicts fairly. Medieval authors talked about wisdom and reasoning capacities. More recent approaches looked at personality types, skills and expertise. The first attempts to measure those traits were done during World War I in order to select the most competent men for responsible positions. During one of my visits to Russia, the Rector of one of the Academy of Public Administration explained to me how, during the days of the USSR, young people were selected based on psychometric tools at a very young age to become leaders. He described to me how if you made the “A” list, you were considered a leader, would be developed and your future in responsibility position was assured for life, while if you made the “B” list you could never aspire to become a leader.
Is it inherited?
The largest studies of leader’s traits were conducted using Costa and McCrea’s NEO-PI and the well-known Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Despite those studies successfully identifying common preferences for extroversion and for being intuitive, for example, they found leaders everywhere, in all quadrants described by their models. In other word, personality types or preference were not predictors of leadership qualities or success.
Why is it that we can recognize a leader and feel the influence this person has on us and yet fail to define permanent attributes that would allow predicting high leadership skills? What those studies have shown is that despite leadership qualities being well recognized (for example maintaining good relationships, having a clear vision, being able to influence and generate powerful engagement from others), individuals who did not have a specific personality trait were able to learn the associated skills to become effective leaders.
The talent analogy
I have two children (young adults now!) who learned to play the violin. Being myself a pianist, I could recognize very early on that my son was naturally gifted for music. At a young age, he sang in pitch, was able to recognize and reproduce complex rhythms. When he asked me to take violin lessons, it was a no brainer. My daughter was also a gifted artist, at drawing for example, but music was less natural for her. She did have talent for music, but it came much less easily to her. However, she has that quality of being amazingly self-disciplined (I admire her for that!): still today she does what needs to be done when it needs to be done rather than when she feels like doing it. Her brother, on the other hand, the gifted one, relied on his talent and always started practicing at the last minute, the day before his lesson. As a result, after six years of violin, they were about at the same level, playing together the Pachelbel canon accompanied by yours truly!
Having spent over to 20 years teaching, facilitating and supporting leadership development, it has been my experience that leadership is like talent for music or sports. I’ve seen literally thousands of people every year committing to work on those leadership skills. Some of those people are extraordinary naturals, while some others are like my daughter, tenaciously working at it, determined and tireless. I have to say I have the highest respect for the latter, for the commitment and energy they put into improving their skills. Some of them have told me that when they try out a new communication approach or attempt for the first time to engage their employees on a difficult road, that they feel staged, scripted, like an actor playing a role in a film. But as they keep working at it, they slowly become proficient and less uncomfortable and can use the skill when needed, as far as it may be from their natural preference or tendency. Of the two groups, where will find the best leaders be in the end?
It’s in your hands!
Ian, one of my great colleagues, used a metaphor of a leader as the driver of a car. You can always decide to drive or not. If you don’t want to, you can always park on the side of the road and walk away. However, if you make that decision to drive and to continue driving, you have to cope with what you will encounter. You can’t blame the road for being curvy or icy, the road does not care. As a driver, you must develop the skills and experience needed to drive to become less intimidated by various road conditions and more competent in facing various driving situations, but in the end it’s always your decision to drive or not. It’s in your hands. Some people take the bus!
We often feel sucked into the spiral of Leadership and yet, it is a choice. I have to admit that there are days more difficult than others where I have to remind myself that leading is my decision… What about you esteemed colleagues? Are you driving? Do you assume this as your choice? Are you honing your driving skills?
4 minute read
Some of you may know Jacques Languirand, Officer of the Order of Canada, a writer, actor and at 83 years old, 42 season veteran radio host of CBC`s Par 4 chemins. I was listening to him last weekend talking about his troubled teenage years, until he met someone who told him something significant: “I need you”. That person also added something very important: “I didn’t say I needed someone, I said I need you!” This was a request for him to become involved in his community, in one of Quebec’s first youth centers in the 1940s. It triggered in him a passion for the welfare of others that he still has today.
I need you!
A powerful message for the recipient. No doubt a self-esteem booster. But it also calls on us to give our very best: we are seen as part of the solution. It calls on our courage and our resilience: if the other person needs our help, it will likely be a difficult task. This request asks us to work together, it is not a request to succeed alone. We are asked to contribute to someone else’s or to a team’s success. This message gives a meaning to our efforts, a sense of purpose and a feeling of contributing to something bigger than us. Isn’t that the strongest motivator of all?
I need you!
If these words are so powerful, why don’t we use them more often? Maybe because, for starters, they require a good dose of humility. We must accept to communicate that the success rests not only on our abilities, but also on that of others. When we say this, we must also assume the implicit collaborative appeal of this request: it’s no longer about us only. From now on, there will be expectations of communication, consultation and collaboration with someone else. These words also need to come from a true and genuine appreciation of what the other person can bring. They can easily backlash if they are seen as superficial or lacking true conviction. But, above all, saying those words requires courage. The courage to accept that the answer to our request may be a polite or direct “No!” The courage, interestingly enough, to accept the consequences of an enthusiastic “Yes!” If we get people into something difficult and challenging, we need to live with the leadership responsibilities that come with this, including the risks and the pain that we ask others to face with us or for us. It takes courage. The courage to lead.
I need you!
Could employee engagement be as simple as saying I need you? That’s actually only the starting point. If we have any luck, our interlocutor is going to say “Yes!”, but for how long? Keeping the commitment high is sometimes more challenging than getting it in the first place.
We have a lot to learn from volunteer organizations. Their success is directly related to their ability to spark off their volunteers’ commitments. I was once told “I need you” by a volunteer organization who asked me to lead, as a volunteer, the fundraising and the construction of the largest daycare center in Quebec at the time. God knows there was lots of work, traps and risks in this project! So why persevere? The opportunity to contribute to a success is a strong motivator in itself. But above all, the appreciation for my contribution is, I believe, what kept me motivated for over three years. Volunteer organizations are tremendously good at saying Thank You in a meaningful way.
So I need you does not exist in a vacuum. Its companion, Thank you, is equally important and actually creates the possibility of saying I need you once more in the future.
When I think about my professional career, I can count on one hand the times where I was told genuinely Thank you. We’re not particularly good at saying this when the other person receives a paycheck, we quickly conclude that thank you is being said through a paycheck. Yet, these words, Thank You, from your boss or from a colleague is very frequently the only gratification for going the extra mile.
What does this mean to our organizations in transformation times? We spend so much time on change planning and communication strategies, could we just say I need you and Thank you! instead? Organizations are tremendously complex creatures that need equally sophisticated approaches if we are to have any impact. As managers, we must do our homeworks. However, to get the best from everyone, we need to influence each one. Engagement happens one person at the time, we build our relationships one by one. As a leader, we are that point of contact between several nodes within the organization, we are the multipliers of engagement. This is why lies with us the responsibility of saying I need you and Thank you in a meaningful way if we are going to lead in a significant way.
When our complex transformation strategies seem too slow to operate, we revert too often and too quickly to “This is where we are going, if you are not going with us, we will help you find something else”. I’ve seen one large organization lose 20% of its workforce, 800 people within 3 months, after stating something like this. And it’s our best that leave first! They still hurt today. What could have happened if their leaders said “I need you” instead?
We don’t say it enough. This is what I’m trying to say. So let me go first: I need you Erica, Don, Michel, Marcel, Catherine, MF. I need you Toby, Catherine, Jane, Richard, Myriam, Sandrine. And I thank each of you deeply for having contributed your wisdom, your talent and your energy to the success of my projects in the last year. Your turn! Anyone you should Thank or say I need you? Then, go! go! Go see them now! Now!
1 minute read
In a world of rapid change, there is a desire for leaders who can show us the way. Polls in the US show that there is a growing acceptance for the strongman who can just get the job done over pluralistic democratic concerns. And look what they have…
Attractive though the idea might be, the challenge is that many of the problems we face are complex ones that can’t be solved by one person or even one institution, such as government. Take reconciliation, climate change, immigration, privacy – none of these can be solved by one leader, or in fact by one institution such as a government or a government department. There are too many legitimate stakeholders and points of view on the issues and the possible response to them, all of which need to be considered and engaged in working out long-term solutions.
In a world of social media that amplifies points of view and which feeds off simplicity, the pressure is on political leaders to come up with easy answers. As they move into election mode, IOG President Toby Fyfe had these words of caution for Trudeau and Scheer in the Globe and Mail.
3 minute read
Opinion Piece by Matt Jackson, IOG Research Director
As the calendar flipped to 2019, perhaps one of your resolutions was to work smarter. If this is you (and even if it’s not), the following tools can help you manage your time, workflow, and help you achieve your outcomes in 2019 without all the overtime you logged in 2018.
While enterprise versions of the platforms below typically are not free, they usually offer a trial period for testing to see if the software is a good fit and different pricing tiers based on the size of your organization and/or frequency of use. As usual, make sure that you check out these services to make sure their policies and privacy settings work for you (and your IT staff)!
Social Media Management
Communicating all the great things you are doing to the rest of the world is a key function of most organizations. Between Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, and, yes, even still Facebook, managing your professional social media can be a full-time job. A social media marketing and management dashboard, like Canada’s own multiple award-winning Hootsuite, can ease the burden, allowing you to schedule content on each of these platforms so you can spend more time developing that next great piece of work.
With remote work and distributed teams on the rise, keeping everyone in the loop can be a challenge. Rather than rely on messy email chains or group texts, consider using a messaging application like Slack to communicate with your team, share documents, and manage meetings. Messaging applications can also help to build cohesion among the team dedicating social feeds where you can share personal news the way traditional teams do by taking breaks together or catching up in the hallways, over coffee, or at lunch.
Sick of delivering the same old PowerPoint deck? While Prezi isn’t new, this cloud-based presentation software package is an alternative to traditional decks and can make your next talk more fun and engaging. Rather than scroll through a series of slides, Prezi zooms in and out of a single canvas, which helps you tell your story while also allowing presenters to adapt on the fly to respond to audience questions and/or comments. Prezi also allows includes features like audience insight analytics, control over privacy setting (beware the free edition makes presentations public), and automatic translation.
Even if you are not a data scientist, chances are that in the digital age you need to find creative ways to clearly communicate important and often complex data. If you are not an Excel power-user or fluent in R (and even if you are), a business intelligence program like Tableau can help you easy discover and analyze your data and present it in a way that promotes greater understanding and use of data to make evidence-based decisions across your organization. Most programs allow you to connect to pre-existing data sources and embed your content within the tools that you already use. The larger platforms also have user communities, blogs, and support to help you step your data game up in 2019.
How many passwords do you have? Personal email, work email, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Airbnb, Dropbox, fantasy sports platforms, the baseball blogs you used to write for in the evenings, Ebay, cellphone and internet service provider portal(s), GitHub, Kijiji, LinkedIn, Netflix… the list undoubtedly goes on.
A 2018 workplace survey showed a quarter of employees use the same password for everything and a healthy dose of introspection may reveal that you don’t update them often enough, if ever. The convenient answer for most is to save their passwords in their web browser and automatically sign in to websites using those stored credentials. Outside of the Opera breach, in-browser systems are fairly secure, but password managers like LastPass offer the added benefit of helping you set and update different random and complex passwords for each account and then remembering them for you. All you need to remember is your master password! Is it a little bit less convenient? Sure, to start you’ll have to set up your password manager, but strong password hygiene might be the best new year’s resolution you could make.
2 minute read
What makes for good coaching in the workplace? I remember doing a training session with an Indigenous Elder, Mr. Phil Lane, who told me “the longest journey one will ever undertake is from the head to the heart.” These words have served as my mantra throughout my career. They are so profound in their simplicity and they are at the centre of good coaching in the workplace.
Very few of us will sail through a career unimpeded. Invariably, most of us will encounter a difficult situation in our work life, sometimes of our own making and other times thrust upon us. It takes strength of character and an unwavering belief in oneself to overcome these situations. Hubris should not lead to the false sense that you personally own solutions to all problems. That is indeed why coaching matters.
Phil Lane talked about a journey and a destination: the heart. Coaching is very much a journey, both for the coach and the coached. It starts with establishing a relationship deep in respect and trust. It evolves by recognizing that good coaching does not just teach the skills, techniques and strategies within the narrow confines of resolving an issue. Instead it looks for opportunities where important life lessons can be taught such as mastering hardship, handling and rebounding from setbacks, and emotionally dealing with winning and losing. And it ends by strengthening your heart. For these issues you may face do not reside in intellect, but rather in relationship, values, understanding, beliefs, which are all matters of the heart.
Phil Lane, whose informal lessons where grounded in Indigenous wisdom, was an excellent coach. He had an understanding that I am unique in attitude, personality, response-ability, sensitivity and how I handle adversity. He did not lead me, he guided me through self-discovery. If you were to encounter Mr. Lane and address him as “coach,” it is likely he would not recognize himself as categorized, yet he was, and hopefully still is, a coach.
There are many Phil Lanes in our workplaces; honest, smart, dedicated employees who are willing and ready to help us progress for no other reason than to do good. All you need to do is be quiet inside so that you can listen to the life lessons of workplace coaches that surround you. The more I reflect on my moments of growth, the more I appreciate how I learned more from these nuggets of wisdom from colleagues than I ever learned from books and academia. I am now in the enviable situation of giving back and taking opportunities, as they present themselves, to help others. I am not alone in this endeavor, and I encourage you in your constant stream of consciousness to seek support as you navigate through life’s enduring journeys.
6 minute read
2019 Governance Resolutions offered by Executive Director Karl Salgo
January is famously the time when we resolve to better our behavior in some way, shape, or form. However, in my observation most of our resolutions pertain to diet, exercise, and the reduced intake of various ingestibles deemed physically or morally noxious. Astonishingly, many people neglect to make resolutions specifically about public governance (forgive me if I have this wrong). Fortunately, we at the IOG are not given to negligence in this connection and accordingly I offer you the following personal and rather patronizing thoughts on how various players in the public sphere (including the public itself) might resolve to improve democratic governance in the year ahead.
1. Stand up for our democratic institutions
First off, let’s admit that 2018 was not a banner year for global democracy. Sure, Canada has fared better in this sphere than most, but we have no basis for complacency. So, let’s all of us resolve to stand up for the institutions that underpin our democracy. First among these is Parliament, and I would urge our politicians and their handlers to resolve to show a bit more respect for parliamentary processes in the year ahead. Things like showing up, answering questions properly and in a civil manner even when they’re posed by ambulance chasers, and understanding why a party leader might want to have a seat would each be a good start. Further, this being an election year, everyone should resolve to run a campaign marked by serious discussion of the issues and respect for the electorate (the same thing, really), as well as a keen commitment to the spirit of the election rules, which was occasionally absent in recent years. And while electoral reform has been put on the back burner in someone else’s kitchen, that doesn’t diminish the need to address the things that once made it an issue – like overbearing governments and members trained to think their only job is learning the day’s talking points. Individual citizens could help by honing their knowledge of how Parliament and different electoral systems actually work. I suggest starting with ranked ballots – if you understand those everything else will be a piece of cake.
Other mainstays of our democracy have been under assault in recent years – not just by American presidents but by people who ought to know better. I’m thinking about things like free speech and due process. With all due respect to, well, everyone, democracy without such accoutrements can be perilously close to mob rule. Everyone from parliamentarians to university administrators to John and Jane Protestor should resolve to distinguish between liking what someone has to say and accepting their right to say it, and between personal outrage and a system of justice.
And as for the Senate, well, that’s not actually a democratic institution is it, so I’m off the hook there.
2. Use social media in a responsible and civil way, and act nice
It’s now conventional wisdom to observe that social media, rich with potential for broadening and deepening public discourse, has actually debased it. Go figure. But gosh, when you can instantly rant to gazillions of like-minded people, in seeming anonymity, about the stupidity of people who think differently, why show restraint? Alas, however, this seems to have contributed to a Manichean polarization described by one commentator (okay, Conrad Black, mea culpa) as the near-criminalization of policy differences. So, what do we do? Let’s all resolve to force ourselves to tune in to the discourse of a perspective not our own, not merely for the purpose of trolling, but of actually trying to internalize, respectfully and in good faith, their erroneous thinking. And let’s insist on high standards from our own side, beyond recognizing the perspicacity of people who agree with us. For example, we should call out our own side for its misleading characterizations of our opponents’ views.
One of the time-tested ways to encourage civility with people is to actually break bread (by which I mostly mean drink) with them. To this end, I would encourage each of the major political parties (you know who you are) or at least their parliamentary caucuses, to host a social event (otherwise known as a party) specifically for the purpose of mingling with their electoral rivals. Ein prosit!
3. Make government more citizen centric
With this glamorous resolution I lay down the gauntlet to the people responsible for organizing Canada’s machinery of government. The organization of the executive branch of government is largely the executive’s own doing: Parliament obviously gets involved when legislation is used to create or (more rarely) wind down an organization, but the government of the day has lots of power to mix and match organizations and bureaucrats according to its requirements.
And therein lies the problem. Government organizes according to its needs; the needs of citizens, not so much. For example, the government, including Parliament, is very seized with the matter of ministerial responsibility, and rightly so. Each minister has a sphere of responsibility and (in most cases) a goodly number of keener bureaucrats to provide support. Ministers account to Parliament for the management of their spheres, including the programs and funding provided to them, and God help them if they stray beyond them, especially when it comes to spending. The problem of course is that fewer and fewer important issues fit tidily within any one silo (think climate change). What’s more, in an age when digital technology supports customized service in the private sector, citizens are increasingly wondering why opening a business or reaching retirement or having a disability requires dealing with scads of different departments that don’t seem to have been properly introduced to one another. This is an issue that governments have talked about for decades, and every once in a while have actually done something to address (think Service Canada). But be it resolved that in 2019 government will concretely advance single-window service to Canadians even if it’s a wee bit of a stretch on the issue of individual ministerial responsibility.
4. Actually encourage innovative, risk-smart leadership in the public service
Governments have been blah blah talking about innovation blah blah blah for a long time. Yet the public service remains notoriously risk averse (read blame averse) and ready to innovate as directed and according to established protocols and historical precedent. But what can be done to change the normative culture of the public service? Lots of things (more movement between the private and public sectors, for instance) but let’s focus on one: get rid of the Federal Accountability Act. Well, maybe not get rid of it, but take a hatchet to all the ways (and they are many) in which it encourages a rules-bound, compliance focused, whipped-like-a-backbencher public service. Let people really take responsibility for outcomes. No, really. And reward or discipline them accordingly, remembering that attending meetings or establishing a committee is not an outcome. Why hasn’t anyone truly hacked away at the web of rules that everyone claims to hate? Why do flight attendants still show you how to buckle seat belts? Why does your hair dryer still say “do not immerse”? Because no one wants to be the one who got rid of the rules before (inevitably) something goes wrong and it gets blamed on a lack of rules.
5. Anything else?
There are lots of other ways in which the common weal, like each of us individuals, could better itself in 2019, but I propose to stop here. (I mean heaven knows we were ill-prepared for the governance challenges of legalizing marijuana – sorry, cannabis – but why rant and rave when there’s a more immediate and wholly legal way to chill?) Whatever happens in 2019, we know there will be another first-past-the-post election and a new mandate, and with it a fresh crop of governance challenges for a new set of resolutions in 2020.