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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 12 February 2014

Visionary Leadership: Ontario's Less-Traveled Road

Ontario happens to be at a fork in the road, only this one is three-pronged.  Depending on who you talk to, 

- the Tories are the only man with the plan/will turn Ontario into a socio-economic Bangladesh

- the NDP have no plan and are playing crass politics/are the only Party that hasn't been in power for a while and can't be worse than the others

- the Liberals are doing a tricky balancing act between economic and social sustainability/are same-old, incoherent, wafflers

Of course the truth is never black-and-white simple.  The fact is that each Party has its core constituencies, core funders and pet causes that, taken in isolation, do not a sustainable province make. 

This is particularly true in this hyper-partisan age where Parties are so hell-bent on differentiating themselves that they will intentionally ignore good ideas from their competitors so as not to appear as weak tea.  

Each Party is supported in this endeavour by special interest groups (yes, they all have special interest groups) that aren't looking at the big picture of structural sustainability, because that's not their job - that's what government is for.

But if the Parties that aim to lead government are focused on disunity and scoring support from specific constituencies, they're not serving the public good, are they?  It's a cycle we've seen before - one side gets in, scores wins enough for their base to piss off someone else's, who are that much more motivated to kick the bums out, etc.  It's tiring, its cynical and worst of all, it's ineffective.

Worst of all - the focus on fighting over wedge issues keeps ignoring the creeping threats that should be concerning each of us - democratic disengagement, severe weather events and a diminishing sense of individual agency among individuals in an increasingly consumption-focused society, which in itself is symptomatic of our worsening and all-pervasive mental health crisis.

Don't believe me?  The data backs me up; productivity loss, healthcare costs, insurance costs, road rage, depression, medication usage, suicide, spousal abuse, people who aren't on social assistance but have given up looking for work - the list goes on.  

You could read up on the details and connect the dots between sectors, if you had access to the data and if it was presented in a user-friendly format.  Which is something governments of all political stripes are starting to pursue, globally.  

Which is what Open Data is all about.  I'm pretty sure that's something all Parties are behind.

As all three Parties (and their Members and Candidates) start fine-tuning their approach to an election likely to come in very short order, they're going to be focusing with increased intensity on what it is they think will land them a win.  Typically in politics, you do that, and punt figuring out how to make it work down the road.

I'd like to see something different.  I'd like to see all Parties take the road less traveled and dedicate at least some time during the pre- and during-campaign season talking about the things they all believe in and recognize, publicly, the need to work collaboratively and without snide partisan gamesmanship around these issues.  

Here's what my high-level list looks like:

- Occupational Mental Health (framed this way because it's work, not home, that has become the centre of our lives; this framing impacts HR practices, employment training, economic growth, labour safety, etc, etc.

- Individual Empowerment (don't give people fish, don't tell them to fish and get mad if they don't - teach the skills - this works for entrepreneurship, community engagement and preparedness for the next ice storm, flood or epidemic)

- Democratic Engagement (changes to voting?  Maybe, but even more important than this, political literacy, capacity building and fostering new partnerships and creative ways to encourage people of all walks of life to get involved)

The candidates would hate this, as they will largely look to build their individual wins by demonstrating how their Party is different than the others, who all suck.  Too bad for them.  If they want to be elected officials, that means they want to be leaders.  Leaders don't ride on the coat-tails of others, they set the example themselves.

To stand out in a crowd, candidates shouldn't be looking to their leader and explaining how they're better than the other guys - it's deeds, not words that matter.  Smart candidates can start showing how they would lead and what they would do right now by setting the example.  If you empower your community and raise your voice on their behalf now, you'll be that much more likely to do the same in office.

We're likely to end up with a minority situation anyway - Parties can focus on beating down their opponents now, continue beating down their opponents after the election and then start focusing on beating down their opponents for the next election, or they can do what they are elected by the people to do.  

We don't elect our politicians to oppose - we elect them to lead.

So I would propose that each Party Leader spend a little time off the beaten campaign path this election season and dare to tread on some common ground.  Forget the catchy sloganeering of any one group - it's not for nothing it's called The House of Commons, not The House of Partisans.

Think about one big vision that ties all Ontarians together, that all partisans can agree upon.  Then talk to them about it - talk to everyone, friend and foe alike, about what that vision means to them.

Attack your opponents on all else, if you must, but when it comes to this common ground, focus on how Parties can work together, bring different voices to the table and ensure that moving forward truly leaves no one behind.

The name doesn't matter; it can be the Open Society or Successful Society; what matters is that it sets a big enough foundation that everyone can see themselves in that future.

Lords look to secure their own holdings; it takes a leader to unite the commons behind one purpose

Or, in this case, it might take three.

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