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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.

Wednesday 19 February 2014

A Post-Partisan Charter

Are they aware, all these partisans, how very similar they look from beyond the magic bubble?

There are a lot of smart people in politics.  Some of them are achingly so - folk whose brains work at such a speed that they are literally incomprehensible to more ordinary citizens.  If these smart people got it into their heads to work collaboratively and to consult with regular people, I have no doubt that we could land on some amazing shared solutions to our collective problems.  Maybe even set some best practices other jurisdictions would follow.

But that's not how the system works.  People who get in and manage to stay in function at the upper echelons of society - they are courted by the heads of interest groups, attend the fanciest of functions and eat at the finest restaurants.  That goes for partisans of all stripes.

A big part of partisan operation is believing your side deserves power more than the other guys.  You have to believe that, otherwise what are you selling to voters?  Partisans have to believe in their cause and almost revile their opponents - it's the basic ABC of sales.

And sales is what it's about.  Voters aren't participants, they're consumers that partisan shillers need to woo, cajole, threaten into donating and voting for them (or against the other Parties).  And if you're doing a good sales job on behalf of your clients, you're entitled to some entitlements, right?

So picture this collective brain trust viewing citizens as consumers whose behavior needs to be shaped via messaging, nudging them into behaving one way or another.  Picture them sitting in separate-yet-similar wood-walled board rooms pouring all their energy, creativity and savvy into framing partisan wins.

This is more than just an inefficient use of resources - it's a tragedy.

But these staff are only doing the job they are paid to do.  Remember, they are staff - not officials themselves.  They are paid by partisans (either their Party or elected officials of their Party) to serve the partisans, not the people.  Winning, not the public good, is their motivation.  Nowhere in their contract is it said that they have any form of accountability to Canadians themselves.

There was a time in the past where something similar was the case for government; it was answerable to the Crown, not to Parliament.  Cabinet Ministers are still agents of the crown - which is why we call them "Ministers of the Crown."  There's not even a legal obligation that these Ministers be elected officials.  It took the Magna Carta and English Civil War for that accountability to shift from the Monarch to the People's Representatives.

I would honestly love to see these big political brains go into work every day asking the question "how do we best serve Canadians?" instead of "how can we secure wins for our Party?"  In a dream future, I'd love to see political staff of all stripes pooling their experiences and ideas to land on collective win-win solutions.
That's not how it works now; it's definitely an unconventional approach.  But maybe Canada has been relying on convention a little too much of late.  

But nothing's going to change under the status quo.  Especially as jobs are tight and the emphasis is on skills and abilities other than those politics provides, staff are going to be focused on keeping their paycheques coming by serving their boss and Party to the best of their ability.  It will take more than a rare politician to change this partisan-centric culture.

Maybe it's time to rethink the system a bit - and to put a post-partisan charter on paper.

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