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The Perpetual Reign of Vladimir Putin

1 minute read

Barring some unlikely turn of events, Vladimir Putin seems poised, courtesy of thinly veiled constitutional manipulations, to solidify his perpetual grasp on power in Russia. And, despite an element of courageous (and sometimes short-lived) opposition, he will do so with the support of a majority of Russians.

Putin is plainly not the only populist and nationalistic strongman to emerge in recent years, and frankly Russia has a tradition of admiration for strong leaders and a very thin history of voluntary withdrawals from power. But the reality of majority support for such leaders, often expressed through forms of voting, raises the question of whether they measure up to the core governance principle of legitimacy.

Admittedly, while legitimacy is a non-negotiable element of good governance, strictly speaking it is about general acceptance of a regime rather than particular processes. Thus Max Weber described “traditional” forms of authority (check out the dei gratia reginainscription on Canada’s coinage) and “charismatic” forms (think of Mussolini, Mao and Che Guevara), in addition to “rational-legal” forms like electoral democracy. That said, most modern leaders, Putin included, prefer to claim democratic legitimacy.

But in fact Putin miserably fails the democratic legitimacy test even as low-in-the-polls leaders in truly democratic systems pass it. First, a litmus test for legitimacy is the general acceptance of a government’s decisions even by those who disagree with them. The willingness of Putin’s opposition to suffer harassment (and worse) suggests he has a real problem here. This reflects the absence of “voice” – a genuine opportunity for all stakeholders to be fairly heard and their dignity respected. Historically, dictators have often used plebiscites, enjoying large and even enthusiastic majorities. But heaven help you if you were in the minority.

Putin’s brand of legitimacy and supposed democracy is wholly incompatible with other principles of good governance – transparency, accountability, and equity. It is all but impossible, especially at the level of national leadership, to have meaningful accountability without a democratic reckoning in which opponents get a fair shake. And it is equally impossible for a system like Putin’s, which relies on a pseudo-democratic veneer, to function without the systemic corruption of institutions and free media.

Elections and majority rule alone do not a free society make.

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The ‘so what’ of governance

2 minute read

In recent weeks the IOG has become increasingly outspoken on issues of governance in Canada. What is governance and why are we so vocal about it? In a nutshell, governance is the system of rules we give ourselves to make decisions that represent the will of our citizenry, reflect our collective ability to reinforce our societal values and to maintain social cohesion in Canada.

At the IOG, we are self-professed ‘geeks for governance.’ We spend our days examining how decisions are made, who makes them, how decision-makers are held accountable for their actions, and what avenues of recourse are available for those who aren’t in the decision-making circle.

As a non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Ottawa, Canada, the IOG also brings a distinctly Canadian lens to our work. This lens is rooted in a recognition of the rule of law, and the recognition that we live in a free and democratic society.

Respecting the rule of law, freedom and democracy are the principles upon which Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms is based. The Charter also outlines a series of freedoms that every Canadian is afforded by law. These include but are not limited to freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression; freedom of the press and other media of communication; freedom of peaceful assembly; the right to vote; and the right to life, liberty and security of person.

At IOG we believe these rights and freedoms are worth defending and protecting.

How does the IOG distinguish between good governance and a governance system that aspires to be good? We apply the following five principles to governance challenges. Variations on these principles are found in much literature on the subject of governance. They can be in conflict at times, and so it is important to consider how the principles are applied in context, and how they inform the result as well as the process.

  • Legitimacy and voice– that all people have a means by which to make their voice heard (directly or indirectly), and that governance mediates differing interests to reach broad consensus which reflects the best interest of the group.
  • Direction– that leaders and the public have a broad and long-term perspective on good governance and human development, and a sense of what is needed for such development. There is also an understanding of the historical, cultural and social complexities in which that perspective is grounded
  • Performance– that institutions and processes try to serve all stakeholders, and in so doing, produce results that make the best use of resources.
  • Accountability (and transparency)– that decision-makers in government, the private sector, and civil society organizations are accountable to the public and their institutional stakeholders. This accountability differs depending on the organizations and whether the decision is internal or external. Accountability requires transparency – the free flow of information – such that processes, institutions and information are directly accessible to those concerned with them, and enough information is provided to understand and monitor them.
  • Fairness – that all people have equal opportunity to improve/maintain their well-being and that legal frameworks are fair and enforced impartially.

Do you have questions about governance? Write to us anytime, at

By Rhonda Moore

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Leading With Emotional Intelligence

2 minute read

On June 9, Greg Glassman stepped down as CEO and founder of CrossFit Inc. Pressured to take a position in social media about #blacklivesmatter he, in his own terms, “created a rift in the CrossFit community and unintentionally hurt many of its members.” In a video call with affiliates and company executives, he stated “We’re not mourning for George Floyd,” sustaining a theory that Floyd’s death was related to money laundering. He later apologized for his comments in a tweet: “I made a mistake in the words I chose” [they were] “not racist but a mistake.”

Horacio Arruda is the much-loved Quebec’s Director of Public Health. His popularity and credibility skyrocketed since the beginning of the COVID-19 confinement. In May, however, he faced a public storm. In a video with a Quebec rapper, he performed a “confinement dance”. Many people took offense, including the charity organization who was to benefit from this fundraiser video. People saw the dance as disrespectful to those who were suffering. Arruda gave a very emotional apology, during a national government briefing, acknowledging that the dance “made the families who are bereaved feel sad or insulted” and offering “sincere apologies”. He is still seen as genuine, caring and trying his best for the people of Quebec.

As leaders, we make decisions all the time. And these decisions are often off the beaten path. We are bound to make mistakes. Why were the reactions to those two leaders’ mistakes in judgment so different? What can we learn from this?

One cannot help to note that Mr. Glassman did not really apologize for what he said. He called his words a mistake, said he was deeply saddened, but never apologized. Mr. Arruda, on the other hand, acknowledged the suffering felt by those hurt by his gesture, and apologized. Did this make a difference?

It is also interesting to note that Mr. Glassman’s mistake happened in a private video call with associates and executives. It was leaked on the net; Buzzfeed received it through its anonymous tip line. Somebody at CrossFit must have been deeply angry.

When we take a position as a leader, our teams will usually advise us. While some of this advice means “I don’t agree” or “I’m scared by what you are proposing”, others really mean “You are screwing up, buddy!”. When we do not take the time to listen genuinely to our team’s advice, the person who said it just wants to say it louder, on Buzzfeed for example…

As leaders, we must be perceived as relevant to those who follow us. Why would they follow us otherwise? Shedding tears like Arruda did is not mandatory, but genuineness is.

Finally, recognizing that what we have done or said might have hurt someone else is sometimes difficult. It’s hard to recognize that something is a mistake when we genuinely don’t believe it is. At times, we also see this as weakness. However, is it possible that apologizing for hurting someone is different from stating who is wrong and who is right?

Stephen Covey used a metaphor about relationships: each gesture we do toward someone is a deposit, each time we hurt the relationship is a withdrawal. We must make more deposits than withdrawals to maintain our relationships. In the midst of the action, we often forget this, driven as we are to achieve our goals. Would Mr. Glassman still be CEO of Crossfit Inc. if he had remembered this?

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The Expulsion of Jagmeet Singh from Parliament

1 minute read

“Mr. Speaker, I withdraw my statement that half the Cabinet are asses. Half the Cabinet are not asses.”

-Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881)

Few parliamentarians of his day or ours could boast the verbal gifts of Benjamin Disraeli. But even had he not found so clever a way to accomplish it, he would have been required to withdraw his unparliamentary assertion that certain among his parliamentary colleagues were (ahem) asses.

Fast forward a century and a half to June 17, 2020 when NDP leader Jagmeet Singh refused to withdraw his assertion that a fellow parliamentarian, Bloc Quebecois member Alain Therrien, was a racist for declining to support an NDP motion on racism in the RCMP. Singh was expelled accordingly.

There is little doubt the term racist constitutes “unparliamentary language”; the word was specifically ruled to be such in 1986. But what’s the big deal about that?

Unparliamentary language refers to words that are not permitted in the legislature, a large portion of which consist of nasty epithets. It is a corollary of parliamentary immunity, by which parliamentarians are protected from civil action for slander and libel while they are in the legislature. This in turn is an element of parliamentary privilege, a broader body of principles that protects in independence of the legislature from interference by the executive.

The basic logic is straight forward. To protect free speech in the legislature, members receive immunity from defamation suits. The price they pay is that they can’t say certain potentially slanderous things about their colleagues. Thus for instance, parliamentarians cannot call a colleague a liar, though they might try to sneak in a comment that the colleague has a relaxed relationship with the truth.

The accuracy or inaccuracy of unparliamentary language is irrelevant. That may seem odd, but try to imagine an effort to debate the accuracy of an ugly adjective. Parliament might have time for little else and the dignity of parliamentary debate would likely tumble from its already dubious heights.

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From Ideas to Policy – The Role of the Public Service

1 minute read

Canadian politicians are not on the whole a philosophical lot. You’ll seldom hear the words of Burke or Mill or (yikes) Marx tossed around the House of Commons. There are a few aficionados of Ayn Rand but they don’t drop her name much.

Still, ideas do influence our elected officials. At a minimum they have broad opinions about the relative importance of economics and the environment, personal responsibility and societal obligations, getting tough on crime versus harm reduction and social reform.

But, speaking frankly if sweepingly, ideology makes bad policy. This is roughly what we mean when we say policy should be evidence-based. The broad and hotly contested realm of political and social theory must be tempered by a careful observation and assessment of outcomes. This is the sphere of policy experts with subject matter expertise, such as a professional public service.

We live in a time when a myriad of voices in social media, some of them very sophisticated, put forward social analysis with demands that it be translated immediately into action. But the line between the world of big ideas and public policy should seldom be too short. It is the job of politicians to weigh competing values and interests. And it is the job of public servants to advise on the consequences of proposals, intended or otherwise, and to provide options for achieving the outcomes that elected officials hope to see.

So in these tempestuous times, thank you to our professional public service for its expertise. Bring on the evidence!

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What’s in a Name? Is it time to rename Dundas Street in Toronto?

1 minute read

On 5 June, Mayor Muriel Bowser (District of Columbia) renamed a portion of Lafayette Square Black Lives Matter Plaza. The new plaza name is emblazoned in yellow paint that can be seen from outer space. Renaming the plaza is part of a growing movement that calls for statues, streets and parks named after historical figures that fall on the wrong side of the civil rights movement to be removed or renamed. Activists and town councils alike have moved quickly in England, Scotland, and the US to respond to requests for these name changes.

In Canada there is a petition to rename Dundas Street (Toronto), because the Scottish-Canadian citizen after whom the street was named was a strong proponent of slavery. (His monument in Edinburgh has already been removed.) That most white Canadians don’t know who Dundas was is not a sufficient reason to oppose the petition or leave the statue standing. Dundas’ statue symbolizes of a time when society condoned slavery. Anti-racism activists and academics suggest the street name is a symbol of the institutionalized racism that exists in Canada; oblivious to everyone except those who are oppressed.

Renaming streets and parks and erecting new statues does not disrespect our history. History books will continue to discuss Dundas, his accomplishments, and tell the history of slavery. But perhaps it is time to re-examine the criteria we use to determine who gets a statue or a park or street named in their honour. For example, the city of Ottawa guidelines for the naming of a public park that include (but are not limited to): a) someone who has worked to foster equality or reduce discrimination, b) someone who has an extraordinary public service record, and c) someone who has demonstrated excellence, courage or exceptional service to the city of Ottawa, province of Ontario, or Canada.

Could similar guidelines be applied to street names and public statues? In the same vein, is it appropriate to introduce periodic reviews of public features named after individuals to ensure that our public symbols continue to support the kind of inclusive, equal society we are working hard to build?

By Rhonda Moore

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Leading Through COVID-19 with James Baxter: Communications in a Crisis

7 minute read

Jb 6 Months

On June 4th, for IOG’s live webcast, Leading Through COVID-19 #leadingthroughC19, IOG President Toby Fyfe interviewed former Founding Editor and Publisher of iPolitics, James Baxter. Baxter, a career journalist who is currently working as Special Advisor to the Assembly of First Nations, provided insights on Canada’s media landscape and how it relates to the government and the current Covid-19 crisis.

When asked if he thought the media was responsible for the consensus that seemed apparent among Canadians around the Covid-19 crisis, Baxter instead attributed this to the overall consistent, factual messaging that came from the federal government and public health authorities. “I think Canadians really look to find ways to build a consensus — I don’t think the media was all that responsible for it, I think they passed along information that was much needed and craved.”

Jb Consensus

He continued, “I think Canada’s governments writ large did a really good job of singing from the same song sheet getting their facts straight — not burdening Canadians with a whole lot of options — and that helps build a consensus. I think the information that Dr. Tam and others provided came arguably too late in some ways, but by the time it did, the appetite was there and the fear was there, and the information was at hand and the press conferences became must-see viewing and destination radio for a lot of people.”

In comparison to the U.S., Baxter described Canada’s approach to building consensus in a crisis by citing what he calls “blizzard culture”. According to Baxter, as opposed to the American ethos of “rugged individualism”, Canadians seem to approach crises more communally, and he thinks this is largely due to nationwide access to consistent media coverage via the CBC, for example. “I call it the blizzard culture”, said Baxter. “In Canada we grow up and every couple of years we have a blizzard. We all get shut in together and look after each other — you remember the ice storm of ’97? We have these events in Canada, and our communities (particularly outside of Toronto and the big cities) are quite isolated, so there is a sense of commonality and community that perhaps is less apparent in the United States.”

He continued, offering further comment on the U.S. media and how it might affect some parts of Canada moving forward. “I mean, nobody can rally around the flag like the Americans when they want to, but it also serves them very badly in moments like this. When somebody says ‘well, I’d rather die going to my job than not go’, forgetting that by going to the job they can infect their mother, their spouse, their neighbors, their desk mate, who then takes it home to their mother — so there’s a lack of forethought or generosity there that I think we may be a little bit fortunate to have.” He continued, “…we are being polluted by Fox News particularly west of Lake Superior. Fox has a lot of viewers who don’t tune into the CBC, they don’t watch CTV, so a lot of Saskatchewan, Alberta and even the interior of BC get their news from Fox, so I think we could see that sense of Canadianism erode.”

Jb Cbc

When asked about the future of Canadian media, Baxter seemed both hopeful and discouraged. “[The Canadian media] is past going through troubles — it is decimated; it is wreckage at this point. The TorStar Corporation was a billion dollar enterprise not that long ago, and it sold last week for 52 million dollars. I mean, that tells you what’s left – not much. So, what do we have? We have one thing that other countries don’t necessarily have, which is the CBC, and that does help with this broader consensus partly because we all see the same news, we all hear the same radio and it is uniquely Canadian and it does feature Canadian scientists and Canadian doctors and so I think we’re fortunate in that regard. CBC is an important piece (Radio Canada in Quebec).”

With the current Covid-19 crisis in mind, Baxter reflected on how the consistent media messaging may have affected political responses among Canadians, but he wonders if this will last. “I think while there’s a crisis and people are still going to hospital and still dying there will be a general sense of rallying behind the flag, rallying behind the leader. I think Trudeau and company at the federal level and Doug Ford and others at the provincial level will get an opportunity to take some bows at the end of this. Once there’s a vaccine, once the hospital wards are empty, once I can give my mother a hug again without fear that I’m going to be giving her a death sentence, I think then we will get back to a normal sense of politics and the numbers will come down. They’ll either come down gently like a leaf in the fall or they will plummet to earth if there are signs of a lot of mismanagement and/or crass politicking.”

Jb Public Servants

So, what does Baxter think public servants need to consider when it comes to the media, as they move forward and course-correct after this current detour? “I can’t tell you which way it’s going to go, and obviously one of the lessons we will learn from this pandemic is: how do we get information out to an audience? Government going forward is going to have both a disability and a responsibility for informing people, and we will need to do something if we’re going to have a unique Canadian media scene which we don’t have right now.”

He continued, stressing the need for public servants to rethink media post-Covid-19. “I think [public servants] need to be ready to be the media. It’s a terrible thing for me to say, and my brothers and sisters in the business will no doubt bristle, but I’m concerned that we will actually not have the mechanical tools available to get good information, often self criticizing information out to the public when they need it. An informed electorate is a useful electorate and other than that, they become unruly and unproductive and I think that’s something that as Canadians we need to be looking at very, very thoroughly. For the government departments, they should invest in good Comms people, but let them be honest –don’t micromanage the message. Let them tell the stories of what’s going on in the department and encourage it. And use the tools, the social media tools and the web tools that are available because I fear there will be no other way to get the message out — and without an informed electorate you have other problems that are perhaps worse.”

Thank you to James Baxter for sharing his experiences and opinion, and offering key advice to public servants surrounding media and communications.

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This webcast series is brought to you with the support of SAS. Together, we can make a difference with passion, expertise and technology. Click here to learn more about SAS COVID-19 Response in this resource hub.

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Event Recap – Policy Crunch June 2, 2020: Energy Transition: Does a Sweet Spot Exist?

2 minute read

In the June 2, 2020 Policy Crunch, panelists Serge Dupont, Monica Gattinger and Scott Vaughn each agreed that a sweet spot does indeed exist; namely, that Canada’s energy industry can be both successful and Canada can advance its environmental objectives and meet its climate commitments.

However, all underscored the challenges.

Arguments were made that it is in Canada’s strong interest to have a heathy, viable energy sector, including oil and gas. This will be even more important as we emerge from the COVID crisis and the economic impact it has caused. Given the oil and gas sector’s economic importance and that the sector accounts for some 25 per cent of Canada’s GHG emissions, the sector has to be an important part of any climate change strategy for Canada. Not working with the sector would be economically damaging given its outsized contribution to GDP.

As well, it was noted that an opportunity exists for Canada to invest smarter as it allocates money to emerge from COVID. Those countries investing in green recovery from the 2008 recession created more jobs and recovered more quickly than those that didn’t. Additionally, there are intermediate structural changes underway with some momentum — the shift from internal combustion engines to electric, for example, and the sustainable finance work in the “greening” of financial markets. Finally, as countries allocate recovery money to sectors it should consider doing so with “green strings” attached. So, for example, if money goes to the oil and gas sector, companies should produce a clear de-carbonization plan.

If the sweet spot is elusive it is in part because it has not been defined. No clear ambitious plan has been put forward by government nor by industry on what environmental expectations might be set.

No government has chosen this path because it is hard politically.

We heard that the issue of “transition” is deeply polarizing and that opinion survey work underscored two realities among respondents in the environmental and energy sectors. The first reality is measured; GHG emissions are reduced through a diverse energy portfolio and an energy policy that doesn’t impose excessive costs on the sector. The second reality does not see a future for oil and gas in Canada’s energy mix and believe fossil fuels should be eliminated.

These divergent realities have unfortunately increasingly become associated with partisan politics. To find the “sweet spot” bridges will have to be built between federal and provincial governments. This has proven elusive but is necessary.

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Policing and Racism

2 minute read

In 1829, Robert Peel established London’s first professional police force. The “general instructions” given to the force included nine principles that remain models of sound policing to this day. To cite only the first two principles:

  1. To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.
  2. To recognise always that the power of the police to fulfill their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour, and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.

These two principles are at the core of the #BlackLivesMatter campaign that is gaining global attention and spurring anti-racism protests around the world. First, that the police are not a military force geared to repression. Second, that effective policing requires public confidence and trust.

In the U.S., municipal and state-level leaders in more than a dozen states have responded to anti-racism protests with policy measures that propose to reduce or redirect funding for police forces, and to reform or restrict aggressive and violent police behaviour. Minneapolis has gone so far as to say it will “dismantle” the police force. Defunding refers to a redirection of some police funding to social prevention initiatives. No one seems to know what dismantling means, though it presumably has more to do with police governance than a utopian-minded elimination of an obviously necessary function.

Is there scope to redirect police funding? We won’t rush to judgement, but the question is worth asking. Practices vary from city to city, but in many U.S. cities, large and small, police funding consumes more than 40% of budgets, versus 17% in Montreal and 11% in Toronto.(Interestingly, Minneapolis doesn’t appear to fall into the mega-police budgets category.) Toronto has 5,400 police; New York City with perhaps three times the population has over 36,000. And police have increasingly been equipped with military style hardware.

In Canada, Prime Minister Trudeau endorsed (on 8 June) the use of body cameras by RCMP officers as a “substantive solution to allegations of racism and brutality”. The Prime Minister also announced his intention to push this subject with provincial premiers and RCMP Commissioner, Brenda Lucki.

Trust in public institutions is a core principle of good governance; restoring trust is a slow and painful process that will take time. Let’s hope that the eventual outcome of the current upheavals is improved trust in the vital and honourable function of policing. After all, to quote Robert Peel’s seventh principle, “the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.”

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Leading Through COVID-19 with Kate Moran: Leadership Lessons During a Disaster

4 minute read

Km Reaching Out

On May 28th, for IOG’s live webcast, Leading Through COVID-19 #leadingthroughC19, IOG President Toby Fyfe interviewed President and CEO of Ocean Networks Canada, Kate Moran. Moran, who worked in the U.S. White House Office of Science and Technology Policy during the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, recounted her involvement during that time, and offered key tips that public servants can keep in mind to help them before and during a crisis or disaster.

Moran outlined the events that unfolded around the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and described the process that was followed in her department to help troubleshoot and manage the disaster. She highlighted the leadership and expertise provided by the former U.S. Secretary of Energy (and Nobel Prize winning physicist) Steven Chu, who was essential as a key advisor in the government’s response to the oil spill. One of the many things then Secretary Chu did very effectively was leverage expertise from outside of government, particularly from the academic sector. Following suit, and on the heels of work that was already being done by Moran and her team who happened to be developing a National Ocean policy at the time, science and technology experts were also called upon.

Km Table

The response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, much like the responses to myriad crises we have highlighted during this webcast series (including the current pandemic) required collaboration within government, and, as illustrated thus far, outside of government. However, echoing some of the other leaders we have featured on this webcast, Moran stressed that a government cannot simply manifest this type of collaboration overnight. In addition to two other tips, she offered key advice for managing a crisis or disaster, including what to do before the crisis occurs, hence, something that should be done regularly: establishing interdepartmental relationships and systems. In a word, collaboration.

Moran offered a few key pieces that, after much reflection from her own experience, she feels are important to consider.

To quote Moran, it’s important to:

  • have pre-established interdepartmental machinery so that when a crisis happens, you don’t have to get it up and running again.
  • document the policy throughout the crisis, because then you have that ability to make change in the future — or if you can on the fly — and I’m impressed with this federal government’s amazing policy agility during this Covid time. Documenting those policy roadblocks or issues will help in the future in terms of developing future policy.
  • make sure that your decision-making goes up. Decision making sits at the bureaucratic level all the time, but we were finding it very important that both the President and the Science Advisor (Secretary Chu) always knew everything that we were making decisions on, and that really strengthened not only our work, but it allowed us to have more freedom.”

Thank you to Kate Moran for sharing her experiences, and offering key advice on leadership when faced with a crisis/disaster.

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This webcast series is brought to you with the support of SAS. Together, we can make a difference with passion, expertise and technology. Click here to learn more about SAS COVID-19 Response in this resource hub.