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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.

Tuesday 25 March 2014

Dear Alexis Pavlich, What the Hell is Wrong with You?

Chris Alexander


MP for Ajax-Pickering. Politics and public service for the common good.
Ajax, Ontario ·

Dear Alexis,

I sincerely hope this message pierces the partisan bubble you reside in and that you spend two minutes actually considering what it says.  

I would have tweeted, or even tried to LinkedIn message you, but you've got zero profile on social media.  That worries me, because it suggests you don't have much contact with the world beyond the Hill or a specific, non-blacklisted suite of stakeholders.

Let me be clear - I get it.  You're a partisan political staffer in a hyper-partisan environment.  You are probably told at staff meetings that it's kill-or-be-killed on the Hill, so don't be afraid to go for the throat, especially of those malicious Liberals.  Can't have Trudeau taking power away from the Conservatives, etc.

And yeah, when you get in a good hit, you may get a pat on the back from your partisan superiors - it's a bit like that scene in Goodfellas where Ray Liotta's character gets out of jail.

But Alexis, listen to yourself.

What you are doing, consciously or not, is fueling the contempt Canadians hold for our political process.  Honestly, when you have a specific question raised to you about a genuine concern of real Canadians, it's not about what your opponent has or hasn't said.  It's not even about whatever frame you've wrapped your record in.

When people are honestly asking you a question that matters to them, don't make it about your party, your record or your opposition.  Be there with them, Alexis - treat them like their concerns actually matter and make it clear that you are listening to them (by actually listening to them).  That's what they want - a bit of humanity, to know that someone in government is at least trying to understand them.  And you might even learn something useful along the way.

By messaging and pivoting, you are failing at your job.  It's not your Minister or your Party who pays your salary, it's the Canadian public, and they want to know their government has their ear.  The press traditionally serves as a conduit for conversation between communicators like you and the masses - you could be doing it via Social Media, but again - no Twitter.

Communication isn't the same thing as messaging - it's about honest-to-God conversations.  You can't have a meaningful conversation without a bit of empathy for your partner and a bit of exposure of yourself.  Alexis, when you keep such a low profile to reduce yourself as an appreciable target, you make communication really, really hard.

I can only imagine you got into politics because you care about Canada - not because you wanted to pad your CV for a good private sector job down the road.  That's a leap of faith I am willing to take on your behalf, Alexis.  The kind of pronounce, defend and deflect messaging all Parties are using these days are harmful to Canada's increasingly fragile democracy.

This isn't your fault - it's a culture that's been warped by successive administrations over time.  What training you've received will have only reinforced this culture of isolated superiority, which is sad - it doesn't have to be that way.  

But now that I've brought you into the spotlight for a bit, Alexis, know that you, as a human being, are not constrained by that culture.  You have it in yourself to buck the trend and stand up for what you, and we, believe in.  

Transparency.  Honesty.  Integrity.  And above all, in the people themselves.

Through people like me, through agencies like Samara and groups like Citizen Bridge, by firms that do real communications like Swerhun and Exhibit Change and through the growing Open Government movement, you can become more than Ottawa's political culture constrains you to be.  There's a whole other world beyond the Hill that wants you to be part of it.

Busy though you may be, you owe it to yourself to get to know Canadians and the communities like those worried about the implications of imposed language/education requirements for spouses.  To make it a bit easier, use an analogy - think about how elderly couples felt when they were forced to separate due to gender constrictions in senior's homes.

More than that, as a paid staffer of the Canadian people, you owe it to us.

When you stop being part of the problem, you empower yourself to be part of the solution.

Canadians want you on our side, Alexis.  Please, help me - the next time I write about you, I don't want the title to be about how you're part of what's wrong - I want it to be about how you're part of what's right.

I believe you're up to the challenge, Alexis.  I'm hoping you prove me right.

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