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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 2 January 2014

Trudeau and the Just Society Redux

If you're pissed off at the number of fundraising emails being sent out by the Liberals, they largely don't care.  They are assuming, as political people tend to do, that any and every grievance gets washed away by victory.  

It's typical campaign logic - push people hard, almost as if they were soldiers.  They may get mad, some of them might even walk away, but when you win all those who were brow-beaten, guilt-tripped or pushed beyond all rational limits will rejoice at being part of something successful.  All will be forgiven.  

Better yet, you will know who the weak links (the people who walked off) are so as to avoid them in the future.  You'll have your core group of soldiers, those who endure and are willing to put the win before all else.  What else do you need, when winning is the goal?

Of course, this is the sort of system that develops cynical political operatives that suffer from an almost PTSD-like need for continual combat and become unable to work with those they identify as enemies. 

It also results in the "entitled-to-entitlements" attitude that the public is so fed up with.   

As time marches on and the pressures grow, you find more and more people falling into your "unsuitable" column and your list of tough, aggressive, battle-hardened soldiers starts to shrink.  This is why Stephen Harper's grip is starting to slip - too many people are on the outside, know they'll never be on the inside and have stopped caring.   

Herein lies the great irony of Team Trudeau, a group of young, smart, capable people with lots of ideas, but who have come of age and largely lived within the political culture that Trudeau, as a brand, has chosen to stand against.  They want to change the system, yet are using refined versions of the tools they're familiar with - tools and tricks that, by their very nature, reinforce the political status quo.

The debate about whether to hold off on policy to present as limited a target for opposition versus a more substantial reveal now to start hooking Canadians to more than just platitudes is the wrong one, in just the same way that a strict focus on numbers to the exclusion of morale is counter-productive to what Trudeau hopes to accomplish.

Justin Trudeau wants to change Canada's political culture.  He wants Canada to feel like a society again; he wants people to have confidence in their leaders not on narrow issue-bases like economics or national security, but as leaders.  Trudeau doesn't just want to form government - he wants to catalyze a movement.

This is possible; quite frankly, the timing has never been better.  Canadians don't trust government; we don't trust the people in government, but beyond that we don't have confidence in the institution itself.  There is nothing, no identity, no brand, no vision that currently binds us together.  People are worried about security, sustainability and about what we're leaving behind.

Trudeau has opted not to be tightly scripted, meaning he's got as many opportunities of unexpected moments of brilliance as he does gaffes; over time, making these choices will get easier.  The important thing is that he's created his brand and differentiated himself from his opponents through sincerity.

I think this is the approach his team should be taking to policy.

Instead of throwing a massive book of policies at the people and bracing for the inevitable attacks that will emerge from opponents and media alike, the Liberals need to articulate a clear vision of what they think Canadians want their future to look like.  

This is what Pierre Trudeau did with The Just Society - the path to get there took time to build, but people could see where they were headed.  The same was true of JFK; the goal of putting a man on the moon was considered far-fetched when it was suggested, but it gave the people something to strive towards.

While Tim Hudak has smartly put out a series of policy white papers as litmus tests/catalysts for the sorts of policy prescriptions he may bring forward, there's no vision in place.  Smaller government isn't a destination, nor is fighting unions.  His is a technocratic approach, the same most politicians take.  It doesn't leave the people with a sense of where we may go, only what our leaders feel we should stand against.

Instead of focusing on what to reveal and when, Team Trudeau needs to define what their/his vision is, where they want Canada to head.  With careful thought and consideration, it's not too hard to find a series of connecting issues, ranging from the silver surge to economic stagnation and a dearth of innovation and tie them together into one theme.  The same holds true for environmental health, infrastructure well-being and the whole open government/open data movement.

Canada, quite frankly, is sick.  It's a country increasingly at war with itself, atrophying and decaying in all the wrong places.  We're falling behind as other jurisdictions race ahead to embrace new industry, new ways of engaging citizens and a practical, rather than just rhetorical commitment to transparency.

One-off perceptions aren't the way forward; to foster a Healthy Society, we need a holistic regimen of initiatives.  Most importantly, we need flow - not top-down, nor left-right, but circulation, engaging all people and all ideas within the body politic.  

This is an evolving process, meaning ideas will be presented, tested on smaller scales and if they work, expanded.  It means thinking laterally; how do the pieces fit together?  Forget isolated coalitions - what do shared solutions look like?

The more people see this approach working, the more the vision of a healthy society becomes like a virus, infecting people with the belief, the hope that things can work.  Opposition Parties can attack the idea as silly, but with every criticism they throw forward, they provide an opportunity for growth and adaptation.  It's a war they cannot win, so long as the focus stays on the vision first.

After all, when we focus on money and numbers, that focus becomes about us and what we get in opposition to others.  That's not leadership, that's opposition.  It's great for a Party to do well and yes, it's true that people like being part of something winning.  But what of the Party itself? What is it part of, except for a system that people no longer believe in?

Team Trudeau needs to think better - in fact, I believe they want to think bigger.  What we, as citizens need is the same thing they, as political operatives need - to be part of some whole that is greater than the sum of its parts, the parts being each and every one of us.

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