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Monday 23 September 2013

On Compassionate Grounds: Some Advice for Tim Hudak

Tim Hudak is a compassionate man.  

No, honestly - one-on-one, he's capable of concern, even empathy.  He's human, after all; we can all be moved to compassion when we see atrocities.  It would be worth while to get his take on the treatment of Ashley Smith; I'm sure he'd be as horrified as Stephen Harper was (rather than as dismissive as Vic Toews).

There's no reason he can't be serious about helping children with developmental disabilities maximize their personal potential; he could come up with a streamlined plan that ensures the right supports in the classroom, both physical and human assets, ensuring teachers have the right tools and time to provide equitable education to all.  Heck, he can even follow the Drummond Report's recommendations around Provincial Schools reform to show fiscal acuity and social responsibility at the same time.

Hudak could even go big, taking the lead on a file that's near and dear to all Parties and ensure Ontario has one seamless, streamlined and easily accessible mental health system.  In fact there's all kinds of fiscally responsible, structurally sustainable and socially conscious things he could do to strengthen Ontario's workforce, resulting in better quality-of-life and as a result, economic performance.  There's lots of demand for Open Government, whatever that looks like - Hudak could be the first out the gate with an innovative plan.

There's just one problem.

Asked about compassion, Hudak immediately pivoted back into the discussion of crisis.  It's his default setting; he can't help himself

He's a super compassionate guy, really.  You're going to be blown away at how nice he can be.  But first, he has to destroy our enemies to get there.  He wants to be compassionate and supportive to students, and he'll get there by destroying unions.  Hudak probably wants to spread the love with marginalized communities and the unemployed, too, which he'll demonstrate through a tough-on-crime approach and some new variant on workfare.  

It'll go on and on, both in terms of policy and his political narrative; Ontario's a mess, the Other Parties are corrupt, unions are evil, welfare recipients are bums, etc., etc.  We love the world but fear for its safety; only we are compassionate enough to destroy the foes of Ontario.  It's an oxymoronic narrative that simply doesn't work; people are hard-wired to spot communicated dissonance and when they do, they can't but help think there's a hidden agenda at play.

The average Ontarian won't be weighing each Party's electoral platform leading into the next election - they simply don't have the time for it.  Instead, they'll rely heavily on the soundbites they get through the news and partisan ads.  If Team Hudak relies on aggressive, competitive, fight-against messaging as he has for his entire stint as leader, the average voter will not surprisingly come to the conclusion that Hudak's PCs aren't compassionate, they're political surgeons - disingenuous ones, at that.  

Compassion is a difficult balancing act; there's no one-size-fits-all solutions, meaning no one program will solve the problems.  To develop sustainable solutions, you have to be willing to listen, to broker and to compromise.  None of those things are possible in the absence of trust; with his tough language and wedge-politics, Hudak is intentionally alienating the very partners he needs to work with if he's serious about fixing Ontario's structural woes.

It's not enough for Hudak to be a compassionate guy; he has to learn how to translate that personal compassion to the broader sphere.  As a leader, it's his job to be be understanding of each person and organization in the province, especially those he considers his foes.

If Hudak wants to be taken seriously as a compassionate man, he's got to 1) change his narrative and 2) start acting like he cares.

Sitting down with Sam Hammond would be a great start.  Spending time working in homeless shelters (not just for a photo op, but substantial time), having some in-depth conversations with the people he sees as the problem - social assistance recipients, youth with criminal records, residents of slum tenant buildings, etc. would also show a commitment to compassion.  In fact, if he wants a powerful example of what compassionate leadership looks like, it'd be worth his while to sit down and chat with the leaders of the Ontario Native Women's Association.  They live and breathe strong compassion every day.

Then, mine those experiences for the PC's public persona; change the narrative from "rise against" to "raise all ships."  If you clearly demonstrate you're utmost willingness to work with your most obstinate partners, it'll be very clear to the viewing public who is at fault if they refuse to respond in kind.

Don't tell people what you will do if you make Premier - lead by example.

My ten cents, for what it's worth.  I'm always happy to offer advice; after all, I like to see everyone do well.

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