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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.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Thinking Outside the Partisan Box with @GHoakz + @ZPaikin

Zach Paikin and Greta Hoaken.
Full confession - I consider both Zach and Greta to be friends (though one of them still owes me a non-coffee). 
The first time I had a serious chat with Zach, we ended up talking philosophy, politics and occupational mental health - in about four different languages.  I consider myself a polyglot, but Zach's facility with language (right down to regional accents) is awesome to behold.
I've got a particular soft spot for Greta.  I first met her on the last Ontario Liberal Leadership race, where we both were part of Team GK.  17 at the time, she first walked into the campaign office with wide eyes and a bright smile, dressed in a school uniform.  It didn't take me long to realize that behind those bright eyes was a burning intellect, a passion for positive change and a wicked organizational mind.  It wasn't 'til later that I learned she'd been an entrepreneur since she was 13.
Both Zach and Greta are part of a growing movement that doesn't see gaining power through the existing system as the only means to effect change; they see the as-is system as part of the problem to be addressed.  You can see this movement reflected in organizations like Samara, civic engagement groups like Why Should I Care and of course, all things Open Government.
I love the fact that they're willing to challenge the status quo and present an idea that transcends partisan politics.  I would argue, however, that they need to dig a bit deeper to discern the core problem and then work out from there towards a viable solution.
A couple of key quotes that stood out to me:
- centralization around party leaders has made it less evident to the public what potential prime ministers wish to do with power.
- a theoretical Liberal prime minister would have a tough time explaining to his caucus why he was putting a handful of Tories and New Democrats in cabinet in place of some of his fellow Grits.
- A theoretical Liberal prime minister would have a tough time explaining to his caucus why he was putting a handful of Tories and New Democrats in cabinet in place of some of his fellow Grits.
- establishing a coalition-government norm would reaffirm the fact that we elect Parliaments, and not governments, in this country.
The role of Parliament is to hold government to account on the people's behalf - such has been the case since Magna Carta.  Government is the Crown and the Crown's Ministers.  It's not part of our constitution that Ministers need to be selected from among elected Members of Parliament; that's convention, not law.  The Party system evolved as a way to ensure broader interest groups had sufficient voice for their collective concerns to impact policy.
Understanding where we came from helps in seeing why things have gone so screwy.
When politicians elected to represent specific, geographic constituencies become subservient to the interests of political parties as a means to ensure support in their riding, but also to build the brand necessary to get "promoted" from the Parliamentarian side to the Crown's side - who is serving who?
As Samara's MP exit interviews demonstrated, Parliamentarians don't know who they're supposed to answer to or even have a clear sense of what their role is.
While I commend the idea of increasing the plurality of voices and views at the decision-making top, I wonder if opening up all Parliamentarians to compete for higher position would make them more, not less subjective to centralized power (the PM and the PMO).  From a real-world perspective, if I'm the guy/gal making choices about who's in cabinet from a broader range of players and I know that "getting the promotion" is a key motivator for MPs, I'm playing them off one another to get more of what I want across the board.
That's the opposite direction of where we need Parliament to be heading. 
Knowing how clever and committed Greta and Zach are to strengthening our system of democracy, I would encourage them to turn their energies towards Open Government, participatory budgeting, etc.  Also, the emerging field of workplace culture change is worth considering; the House of Commons is all-too-often a toxic environment that hinders rather than supports the development of shared solutions as we focus on stopping what we don't like rather than collaboratively creating things we do like.
That, and civic engagement.  Perhaps the best thing that bright, engaged and thoughtful leaders like Greta and Zach can do is share their passion, networks and understanding of the system with other Canadians of all rank and file.
The kind of structural change we need isn't going to be flowed from top to bottom; it's got to be grown from the bottom up.


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