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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.

Saturday 5 July 2014

The Peaceable Revoltuion: Not Bought, but Grown

The Collapse of Canada, Inc.

If a vibrant Canadian democracy, an engaged Canadian public and healthy public debate about policy were things Harper cared about, then yeah - he's have a huge problem on his hands.
But the truth is he fundamentally doesn't care about any of those things.  Harper is an ideologue who thinks anyone who opposes his way of doing things is either clueless, dangerous or some combination of both.
Only he understands the real issues facing Canada; only he knows how to fix them.  Anyone who disagrees with him needs to be ignored, shouted-down, bullied, fired or disengaged. 
If only 20% of the voting public went out to the polls, but all voted Harper, he would claim that his majority government was reflecting of Canadians' support of his way of operating.  Then, he'd clamp down harder on everyone else.
Government isn't a business, nor is democracy.  It's about community and engagement, not consumption and transaction.
They don't care - they're focus is on wins, not sustainability.  If we don't want our country to turn into North Korea, it's we citizens that need to step up our game.

Friday 4 July 2014

Richard Pietro and an Affair at Queen's Park

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A bit more background that Richard wasn't privy to, but that explains some of the structural challenges we face in making Government open.
They weren't OPP officers who came out to say hello - they were Legislative Security staff.  Their job, as implied, is to keep the Legislature secure.  It's the centre of Ontario's government, after all, where some unpopular decisions get made.  It's also a target for disgruntled people in general, as politicians always are.
I've seen massive protests on the Queen's Park lawn that have involved angry crowds that felt like kindling, waiting for the right spark to set them off.  I once watched a disturbed man drive a van through police cars onto the lawn and light himself on fire.  At the same time, I've been part of great events like Canada Day celebrations and farmers' produce markets on the lawn of the Legislature that are community-building uses of some amazing public space.
It's not for nothing that there are specific security protocols in place. Legislative Security aren't hired to use their judgment, but to enforce those protocols.  This, in theory, allows for a standard application of the rules to all and sundry, which is fair - at the same time, it impedes little things like Richard's send-off that cause no harm, but according to the rules need to be booked in advance.
There are great guards at Queen's Park who are comfortable about what they do and knowledgeable enough to exercise their own judgment - they don't stop staff who've forgotten their pass for one day from entering, because they know who they are.  At the same time, should anything happen as a result of this judgment being exercised, those individual guards will be the ones who carry the consequences, possibly in the form of lost jobs.
Should Richard have notified Leg Security he was coming in advance?  Probably - but how should he have known that was necessary?  The average citizen doesn't know what Queen's Park protocols look like, nor is there any reason they should, nor is there an easy way for them to discover those rules.
Somewhere in the middle of responsible citizenry, flexible public servants (including Legislative Security) and greater education/access for all parties lies our shared solution that will make Open Government a reality.
A great example of which, by the way, is what happened yesterday.  At the end of the day, Richard got his bike onto the lawn and we got our picture.
Only when we bridge all these gaps will we all be able to put the whole affair behind us.
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A Fiscal Truth for #cdnpoli

From Warren Kinsella's non-blog.  His piece is all about why the Conservatives should be worried and why Stephen Harper may be thinking about retirement - a bit of nudging, as War Rooms do. 
That's not what interested me.  The millions spent on ads that haven't worked did.
Think about this for a second.  Stephen Harper and Canadian Conservatives in general are all about efficient use of the tax dollar.  If a public program failed as miserably as the CPC attack ads have done, they'd axe it.
The same holds true in the private sector - that which doesn't perform gets culled.  It's as simple as that - except when it comes to advertising and the boss' pet projects.  If anything, we can expect the Harper Tories to up their ad spending as they try to take Trudeau down.
What's wrong with this picture?
How can fiscal conservatives so wantonly waste their donors' dollars on failing initiatives?  How can they similarly waste taxpayer dollars on massive ad campaigns for things like Canada's Action Plan that produce no demonstrable value for their cost?  How can the Private Sector drop $200 K on consultants with nothing more than brand and bluster in their corner, yet refuse to give raises to hard-working front-line staff or invest in Corporate Social Responsibility programs like youth training?
The answer is an easy one.  We're not rational.  Even the fiscal conservatives are hypocrites, when you scratch the surface just a little.  We waste, because we have no clue what we're doing; we just try to sound confident while we're doing it.
I never trust tough-talking sales folk who stick to their "I am the best at what I do" messaging and invest heavily in their brand.  I know from experience that the more gets invested in image, the less is invested in substance.
It's too bad the people with actual capital and influence don't see this.  Society could be so much less wasteful and business so much more productive if they could just get out of their Cave and see the light a bit.

Thursday 3 July 2014

Experience Ontario from the Grassroots Up

That's great - truly.  We can do so much more than that, though.  What about empowering youth with leadership skills, business management, project management finance, etc. - and doing it through NFPs like SoJo or through youth job subsidies to employer that require certain training components attached?
There are so many innovative, cost-effective and community-empowering ways this stuff can be done, if the consultation and planning process behind these initiatives is done right. 
Two things not yet addressed that I hope to see - you can't do labour and hiring better unless you include things like management training and cognitive labour, which has to include some emphasis on mental health.  This is simply what the evolving nature of work requires.  It'd be great for government to take the lead.
And - Open Government.  That one has to happen.


Teachers and the No-Fail Mission

Failure is a loaded term.
There are those who disdain feel-good marks and "cushioning" students from bad marks.  Failing, these people say, pushes people to work harder. 
Sometimes this is true - but sometimes, it encourages people to think different.
Standardized tests aren't about teaching students, but about rating students.  Standardized education is, likewise, about turning out a few narrow streams of workers - applied vs advanced, arts vs sciences, so on and so forth.
Life, however, is not so linear.  Not any more, at any rate.  It's unreasonable to expect any student to get boxed by school, shipped off to a career path and stay there until retirement.  The world doesn't operate that way, and hasn't for a long while.
This is why a rebranding of failure is necessary - it's not about demarcating students, any more than it should be about eliminating competitors.  Failure, pure and simple, is about adaptation.  You need to make mistakes, plenty of them, and develop intuition about how to handle failure, how to learn from failure and how to adapt for success. 
It's not a one-off process, this; life is a constant battle of adaptation, skill-building and communication.
Slowly but surely, leaders are cluing in to this new reality and adapting their own management practices to benefit from the social evolutionary wisdom of behavioural insight.

The smart leaders are cluing in to something similar - it's not tough bosses that students will promote of their own volition, but their educators.

#OGT14: The Adventure Begins

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He's off.
Richard Pietro has set off on the journey of a lifetime, an epic trek of exploration across Canada in pursuit of community and in promotion of Open Government.
In communities from coast to coast, regional organizers are setting up events like the one that happened last night at Toronto City Hall where Richard will discuss what Open Government is, how Open Data can improve everything from our economy to our democracy and, importantly, how where we go for here is up to all of us, together.
Richard's journey has been in the works for a long time, with a great deal of support from the folks at Make Web Not War, especially Keith Loo and Bruce Chau.  Make Web Not War has revitalized the artist/patron relationship, providing Richard with $10,000 in support of his tour - #OGT14, for those of you on Twitter - with the ask of nothing in return.
It's important to pause on this for a second.

Make Web Not War is a corporate social responsibility arm of Microsoft.  It has a financial purpose (drive traffic to their cloud), but that comes second to their mission, which is to promote the values of openness, transparency and engagement they believe in.  And they've given $10,000 to a little French Canadian guy with a dream and a motorcycle.
The people who've dedicated countless hours to Richard's quest have not done so for monetary gain, or to build their own brand - nobody's made headlines or fortunes from this venture.  They, like the MWNW team, believe as Richard does, that our future must be shared, open, accountable and engaging.  It's this vision that has brought everyone together, sharing their skills, times, resources and networks to make Richard's trip a success.
Why?  There are so many causes, individuals and whatnot out there, seeking dollars and donations of time and resources - why has Richard garnered the support he has?  He's not a politician, a corporate leader or a wicked salesman.  He's a server with some knowledge and a dream.
There are many reasons as to why people are so willing to empower Richard in the realization of his Open Gov on the Open Road tour, but one towers above all others: Richard is the embodiment of his dream.  Open, authentic, collaborative and engaging, Richard lives his life in the exact manner that he envisions our country functioning.  You can learn more about his Principles for an Open Live here.

We believe in Richard because we know that he believes in his vision and ideals. 
We believe in Open Government because it's absolutely necessary for us to move forward.  It may be corny to say, but we believe in the willingness of Canadians to engage, too.  Canadians do care - they just need opportunities to participate.
Richard is a catalyst, setting small stones in motion.  The hope is that as his journey progresses, interest and participation will grow; like Forrest Gump, he will inspire the country to go on the adventure with him.
A former backpacker, I know what it's like to start off on an unfathomable quest across a continent with nothing but your kit, a couple coins and whatever charm and empathy you can muster.  As the world you left behind closes in and carries about it's business, you find yourself unattached, a tumbleweed blowing across the country, touching down on the lives of countless others.  Maybe you leave a kernel of an idea or two behind; maybe you act as a social synapse, bridging those communities together.
It's the best feeling in the world.
At the same time, I know what it's like to feel the immensity of landscape, to experience the tight bonds of community as an outsider and that wearying feeling of waking up each day with no idea what to expect of the day ahead.
Richard will be putting his head down in a tent for much of his trip - and as his dad says, Richard's idea of camping tends to be sleeping in a bad Holiday Inn.  He has to carry his whole world on his bike, through varied landscapes and whatever weather Mother Nature throws his way.  There will be cold, wet days, cold, dark nights, moments of fatigue and loneliness and a feeling of being lost where, I'm sure, Richard will question his purpose.

As a former backpacker, I know all too well the challenges that are in store for him.  I had a chat with Richard's dad today, who expressed concerns about what happens if his son gets caught in a flood, or finds himself without enough food, or if lord know what else happens to him. 
As a dad myself, I can relate to his concern.  It's not an easy journey to take on your own, this quest of his.
This is where we come in, Canada.
Richard Pietro has a dream, one that is shared by many, if not most of us - that we need to renew the relationship between citizen and government and that government needs to be more open, accountable and engaging.  We, as citizens, need to want to engage. 
As he rolls across the Canadian landscape, Richard is daring to do what many of us have longed for someone to do - he's picked up the gauntlet and is being the change we collectively want to see in our country.  Here's how we can help.
If you see Richard on his quest across Canada, offer him an encouraging word.  I'm sure a bite of food wouldn't hurt, from time to time, too.  If you're on social media, follow his tour via #OGT14 on Twitter; there will be videos that emerge, feel free to share them. 

Embedded image permalinkIf you feel so inclined, hop in your car or on your bike and join him for a spell, as Bruce Chau has done already.  We can be Richard's community as he seeks to bridge Canada's communities together.
More than all of this - if you believe in the mission, if you believe in the vision, then engage.  Post a video, write a blog piece, attend a session, take pictures, talk to friends, make new friends.  Write to your Member of Parliament, call up your local press.  Talk to your kids about what it means to be a citizen.
Richard is one man on a bike, but what he is doing, he's doing for all of us.  Canada doesn't belong to one community or to elected officials; it's something we are all part of.  When we recognize this and engage, we can shape the country we want to have, together.
Which, ultimately, is what openness is all about.

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Where Church and State Align

It's a message we're hearing a bit these days - that each man for himself isn't going to work, that market forces don't create social balance and that the only solutions that work are ones that we build together.
It's the antithesis of the notion that Canadians don't care about the way our democracy functions, and that we're all on our own to survive as best we might with the resources we have or can wrest away one way or another.
The Conservative Party has been attempting to rebrand itself as Canada's natural governing party - or, more appropriate, to rebrand Canada in its (Stephen Harper's likeness).
Alas, governments don't shape society in their image - it's society that, ultimately, shapes government.


Wednesday 2 July 2014

Fordshow Goes Shirtless

It's quite a skill, actually.  No matter what he does, this Mayor creates a sideshow.

The Most Interesting Man In The World - I don't often challenge my mayor but when i do, i do it shirtless.


Kevin, Christine and the Way Forward in Ontario

That report called for a comprehensive mental health and addictions strategy.  Phase I of this strategy was targeted towards children and youth - it made sense that, to start addressing the problem in a sustainable way, you begin by providing youth the best support and education available.  That way, you could hopefully inoculate them against future mental health challenges, or at least help them identify and find the supports they needed not to fall through the cracks.
Phase II was to look at occupational mental health; this got stalled during the last term for many reasons, not the least of which was the reality of competitive politics in a minority parliament.
Oakville MPP Kevin Flynn never expected that he would become a mental health champion.
I would like to think that Kevin Flynn's appointment as Minister of Labour is an indication that Team Wynne is serious about addressing all things mental health in the workplace, including reducing the stigma, preventing accrued psychological injury and maybe rejigging notions of labour to positively impact customer service, productivity and even innovation.
It's all possible.  It's also something Flynn is very much familiar with.  I remember sitting down with him and Christine Pelletier, currently working comms with Children's Mental Health Ontario to talk about what a comprehensive "cognitive labour" strategy would look like.  It was one of many conversations I've had over the years with countless stakeholders in mental health, health, labour, justice, so on and so forth about how that common thread that weaves between sectors - people, behaviour, the minds that shape our activity - must be at the root of any structural solutions.
This conversation dove-tails nicely with that of Open Government - the process by which we can fix our structural governance problems and re-engage the electorate in our democratic process in meaningful, dynamic ways.
You simply can't have one without the other - what we need is a culture change, and the only way that can happen is by a majority of people inside and outside the system changing their view.  It's where mental fitness and behavioural insights overlap.
There's a good chance that a colleague and friend of Kevin's - Progressive Conservative MPP Christine Elliott - will be the next Leader of the Opposition.   There are few people in the Legislature as committed to fixing Ontario's mental health challenges as these two.  There are strong voices in the NDP Party, too - including France Gelinas and Cheri DiNovo.
I'm hopeful about what can be done - that collaborative change that starts on the common ground of mental health - can be achieved.
Time will tell, I suppose, but I'll say this - who'd have thought we'd be where we are now even three years ago?

Who Cares Who John Galt Is?

Which is kinda funny, because all those folk who came of age in the 60s had the same mindset, once.
The truth is the world works the way the people who run it do.  The people who run the world are successful only in as much as they are able to manipulate the masses.  It's hard to do that, successfully, when there is a going demographic that you simply don't understand.
Maybe the Millennials "don't get" the way the world works.  They will, however, be shaping how it works tomorrow.  It's not the first time such a shift has happened.
If the people wielding power and wealth want to check out and retire to wealthy estates somewhere warm, now's the time to do it.  The shifting demands of the younger demographic in both what they consume, what work means to them and how they are willing to define their work/live divide are such that if you aren't prepared to adapt, your future as an active player is limited.
Such is the nature of evolution - that which adapts, etc.  It's simply an interesting coincidence of history that when people put their own interests first, society falls, while those who believe in moving forward together thrive.
And who are we to challenge the natural order of things?

Too Bad Ayn Rand: The Truth About Society

True, this.  We are all connected, all consuming, all producing something.  It's a complex business, less like a financial transaction - and more like an organic system.
Which is what society is; what we are.  A system.  The sooner we realize that from top to bottom, the more we can start doing it well.

Monday 30 June 2014

Ender's Mayoralty Election

First - didn't know that Quito was becoming a go-to guy for media hits; good for him.
Second - yeah.  Rob Ford continues to defy accepted wisdom and changed everything.  Right now in mayoralty War Rooms across the city, seasons political campaign teams are reassessing, digging in or pushing back at gnawing doubts that are tugging at the backs of their brains.
Can Rob Ford be defeated?  With all their experience, all Ford's follies, how can it be that Rob Ford even has a fighting chance?
A good many of the organizers behind the front-running candidates have run multiple federal and provincial campaigns; this shows in the way mayoralty candidates are being portrayed as the only one with plans to right the City and the only one who can beat Ford.  Of course, Toronto's Mayor isn't the head of a political party; they don't have the ability to whip votes, though we've clearly seen Team Ford try to play it that way.
Who knows, one of the teams may pull off a win, prompting their candidate (and themselves) into four years of "power" at City Hall. 
Then again, maybe not. 
As we've learned following the recent Ontario election, traditional wisdom is hardly as reliable as once it was.
Which, to my mind, suggests that perhaps a new approach is needed.  A different way of thinking, of approaching politics.
Rob Ford has definite strengths, but ultimately the decisions made by voters aren't about him - those choices are about them.

Partisan Indulgences

Once upon a time, Communist-related insurgent groups around the world engaged in kidnapping for political purposes.  These organizations, largely funded by the USSR, had distinct political agendas.  When the USSR died and their funding dried up, these groups realized that kidnapping was also a great way to make money - hence, the K&R business was born.
It's a dirty, cruel, manipulative business that can justify itself any way it wants to, but at the end of the day, it's about making money.  Kidnappers employ brutal tactics to subdue their captives and frighten their targets into paying ransoms.  It's psychological sales, with the well-being of actual humans ending up as collateral damage.
I thought about this as I read my email this morning and received this little message:
If you've been thinking about being part of the 5,303 who contributed $270,561 to this campaign, follow these instructions...
You may be surprised how good it feels to give - and be part of something this big.
If, by "something this big" you mean the industrial political complex, than yeah.  How much of this money trickles down into the Canadian economy, resulting in more jobs for youth, under and unemployed Canadians?  How much of it goes into the pockets of well-heeled advertising or polling consultants, who then spend it on renovations to their summer home in the Bahamas?
Political Parties are streamlining staff, consolidating their operations and trying to be as "businesslike" as possible.  That means earning more and spending less - except on all things marketing-related, including data-mining and behavioural insights-informed manipulations like these.
While raising money has always been a big deal for political parties, increasing restrictions on corporate donations has changed the game in fundamental ways - just as the death of the USSR did for the K&R industry.  
We still see high-priced, closed-door fundraisers where privileged access to policy makers is exchanged for ridiculous sums of cash, but now there's an increasing effort to target those Canadians who don't have as much money to donate.
The stakes are high, we're told - they have raised more money than us this quarter; if left unchecked, they will use their funds to manipulate even more Canadians than just those on their email lists and unleash the Zombie Apocalypse
Forget donating to your kids' summer camp, the Red Cross or some food bank or whatever - all those donations are wasted if they are left unchecked.  Feel the pressure?
Ah, but our souls aren't entirely forfeit - not if you put a few sheckles in our coffers, and do so regularly in small sums that add up to big sums in annual aggregate.
Only our leader can save Canada from them, restore peace and prosperity to the land; not your local charities, or even your local church, unless by church you mean political party, i.e. us
Every party is guilty of these sorts of manipulative tricks that are designed to hit social-emotional triggers, compelling donations in the way a moth is driven to a flame.
Let's put it another way; those pols who smirk and tell Canadians not to care about what happens in Parliament and suggests they fend for themselves when it comes to saving and sustainable living?
Those are the exact same ones that are condoning the use of sophisticated techniques of psychological manipulation designed to make Canadians feel the only way they can "fend for themselves" and invest in the promised land (where you, your friends and your family have a real and fair chance to succeed) is by giving their money to political institutions that won't visit a single dollar back to the benefit of those Canadians or their communities.
Remember that division between Church and State?  Well, now we have political parties setting themselves up as the Church, offering political indulgences and communion with the Leader at BBQs and what not in a way to fill their coffers. 
Here's the real deal, folks, that we periodically need to be reminded of:
We are already part of "something big" - something bigger than any institution, something that doesn't require a payment to contribute to.
It's called society.  By extension, it's what democracy is all about. 
They hold no power except what we let them assume through laws, manipulative ads and by outsourcing responsibility to them.
We remain as we always have been - the problem, when we disengage and the solution when we choose to work together, to listen, to bridge gaps and build collaboratively.
It's not a message you're going to hear from the people at the top - they're too reliant on compliance and psychological tricks to see how trapped by the game they themselves have become.
Leadership, folks, never comes from the top of a tower; it always comes from the ground up.
That nugget of wisdom is yours, free for the taking. 
You have to want to get engaged but when you do, you can make a difference.