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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Friday 13 December 2013

The Hudak Leadership Paradox, Revisited

Tim Hudak wants to be your Leader.  What he'll do there, he's working hard to make clear: despite spending his entire working career in politics, he doesn't like government much.  Government, in his view, does a bad job managing things.  The private sector would do better.

What tricks he'll use to become Premier are clear; he's doing to do what he's always done, playing the populist card.  He'll find people and programs for voters to get mad at and tell us, "elect me and I'll punish them for you."  His last outing, this approach focused on foreign students and workers, with a side-bar about turning prisoners into serfs.  This time out, it's unions and bureaucrats he's after.

What Hudak has never articulated, though, is whyWhy does he want to be leader?  To cut stuff, he'll tell us.  To cut loose the greedy people, cut off the needy people and generally punish the other parties and those who support them. 

That's al fine, if you're the conservative base, but any guy or gal on the right can do that.  Why him?

I honestly don't think he has an answer to that question - I think that he, like many people in politics and positions of power in general, likes the idea of being in charge. 

He wants to be the boss.

That means being in a position where he doesn't need to care what people think or what personal impact his approach has, he can just get things done.

When he tell us "he'll make the hard decisions," what he's really saying is "I won't waste time thinking things through, I'll shoot first and ask questions later."

The big problem with this top-down, "so what" leadership model is that it's been widely recognized as a failure.  Boss-thinking is narrow in its scope, does a terrible job of motivating excellence in teams and, as a side bar, results in less innovation and more internal resource abuse

Remember - Hudak pushed Peter Shurman to run in a riding he didn't live in so as to keep the seat, turned a blind eye when the Shurmanator started claiming expenses to make up for this deficit and then canned him when the story broke out. 

One mistake after another, all in the name of getting ahead.

I doubt Hudak even sees how he was the architect of his own (and Shurman's, and his Party's) misery in this.  If that's how he treats one of his caucus star performers, how would he treat the civil service?  If that's how Shurman responded, how would everyone else respond?

Hudak has also refused to criticize Doug Ford for lying, bullying and now even handing out cash to his constituents.  Why would that be?  Likely because he sees Ford as a potential seat-winner, full-stop.  Just as he used to see Shurman, until he canned him.

So, let's theorize Hudak gets in with a majority and can do whatever he wants.  What happens next?

He freezes public sector wages, fires a bunch of bureaucrats and reduces the number of departments.  Everyone is put on notice - do as I say, when I say it, or you're done.  Perform above expectations with less resources, well, that's what's expected - don't expect any form of recognition for just doing your job. 

Maybe he privatizes the LCBO, OPG, sells off a bunch of provincial holdings, effectively reducing the capacity of future governments to grow again. 

The 407 is an example of how that plays out. 

Funding for non-essential services, largely funding programs for Not-For-Profits, youth engagement and entrepreneurial supports disappears.  By his logic, you throw people into the deep end and the strong performers will show you they can swim all on their own.

The public servants who aren't canned won't perform better - they'll perform worse.  It's basic behavioural economics; if you don't empower, support and provide a sense of sustainability for your team, you kill their performance.  What services remain will be less efficient, less likely to add value or provide basic connections (can't help you, not my department, try someone else) and beyond this, you'll have an increase in presenteeism and burnout. 

Firing these people doesn't open up space for more dedicated talent - it does the reverse.  That's not speculation - that's simple behavioural math.

By cutting funding to Not-For-Profits that provide front-line services that provide programs like skills development for marginalized youth or diabetes type II information and training for at-risk communities, he's going to be tearing out some key threads of the social fabric. 

Maybe he could find creative ways to encourage the Private Sector to pick up the slack, but how?  Remember, he's just killed creativity among bureaucrats.  He's going to have to outsource innovation to consultants.

Private sector consultants in a regulation-free, market-driven world are going to be focused on profit.  It doesn't matter if a reduced government opens up a competitive bidding process for undefined creative solutions - government's a shrunken beast now, so why would business want to do business with them?  The only players who will jump at bids like this are either the usual suspects who don't care about systematic solutions, but only want to tweak legislation and such to further their interests or former staff.

As a result of this starving of public resources and general innovative growth (which has never been great in Canada and shows no signs of generally improving at the corporate level any time soon) there are going to be increased societal problems, with unemployment, poverty and related concerns varying from health and mental health to crime and civil disobedience growing as a result.

No no, you might say - reduced red tape and lower taxes will encourage the private sector to pick up more employees and innovate.  Look at Ontario's already-competitive tax and regulatory environment - where's that gotten us?  Nowhere.

The only way you can motivate hiring through reductions is by motivating the kinds of front-line manufacturing/transactional service industries that have migrated to Bangladesh to come back. 

Again, forcing people who used to have meaningful employent to work in Dickensian factories is a recipe for revolution. 

Then consider the commitment to a reduced cabinet.  I guess if government is giving up on public service, then you could get away with less Ministers, but unless Hudak wants to completely decimate his Party's fortunes for all time he would need to maintain some core functions like Community Safety and Correctional Services, Healthcare and Government Services.  Just these three Ministries, in their current configuration, are unsustainable. 

CSCS is actively (and wisely) pursing proactive measures to reduce crime and improve corrections, including more training and online/social media tools, the kind of stuff bottom-line minded politicians and bureaucrats love to cut.  Without system change, you're only going to see an increase of Sammy Yatim and Ashley Smith-style cases.

Healthcare.  Hudak pilloried Deb Matthews for not reading a report, because it was convenient, but he's willfully ignoring the fact that Matthews has more on her plate than most of Canada's Premiers. 

Ontario's health system is a monster, and largely a reactive one.  The Minister's job is impossible, no one person can in any reasonable fashion stay on top of the constant crises or hope to develop structural solutions.  Health needs to be broken up into more Ministries, which Hudak couldn't do - shrinking the cabinet and all.

Government Services is going big in the Open Government, Open Data direction, which means the sausage-making process of politics will be open to all. 

Hudak couldn't afford to stick with this approach, no matter what the rest of the world is doing; after all, he's spent his whole tenure as Opposition Leader jumping on every glitch or poor decision as an excuse to call for Liberal and bureaucratic heads.

With demotivated OPS dealing with an increased workload, less communication flow and of course, Ministers that are being pressured to do and know more than is humanly possible, Hudak would need to shut down anything resembling openness lest his opponents turn the tables on him.

If you throw everyone into the deep-end, you create a crisis situation - those who can swim will get out of the pool as fast as they can so as not to be pulled down by the non-swimmers.  The non-swimmers will drown.  The majority of everyone else will drown, too, being pushed aside by the aggressive swimmers and pulled under by the weaker ones.

Whoever is at poolside won't know who's job it is to throw in a life-preserver (or be willing to take the risk of reaching beyond their mandate).  The life-preserver won't work anyway, because nobody's been inspecting it regularly.

Hudak represents the kind of tough-minded leadership we embraced in the industrial economy, when the world and work was more linear, social problems were easier to ignore and frankly, it cost less to live. 

We don't live in that world any more.  The my-way-right-or-wrong leadership model Hudak is modeling is a bust.  His policy approach is not only a proven failure, long-term politically - it's proven to make the broader social situation worse.

There's time yet for Hudak to reinvent himself and his approach before a likely Spring election, but I see no reason to expect that to change - like his Conservative colleagues Stephen Harper and Rob Ford, he's demonstrated a distinct functional fixedness to how he thinks and acts.

Leadership isn't about being liked - it's about having a vision that represents the people (in the case of a Premier, all the people in the province) and being trusted to deliver. 

Hudak has none of this, nor does he care to.  He figures what worked before will work again - get angry, get tough, pick fights, divide and conquer.

Which brings us back to why.  Hudak doesn't know why he wants to be a leader because he doesn't want to be a leader.  He wants to be the boss.

If Hudak or his senior planners thinks there's appetite for boss-type governance these days, they clearly haven't been paying attention - which is what happens when you focus strictly on low-hanging fruit.


  1. Nice. Sadly, more typos, but otherwise, good work.

  2. Thank you, but good work isn't good enough!

    This blog started as a dumping ground for ideas without much expectation of anyone reading it. Now there's some audience, I'm going to have to be more mindful.

    Having an anonymous editor will help with that!