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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.

Friday 14 August 2015

Spoils of War vs Fruits of Labour

Two lovely red tomatoes from my garden.

A healthy crop of fresh carrots from my garden.

There's nothing quite so rewarding as nurturing fertile ground, planting seeds and helping them to grow - providing each plant the infrastructure it needs to reach its full potential as its form emerges.

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Tina and Barb, two CSI DECAs I'm training (foreground) with Regent Park superstar Tash (background) setting up for the monthly CSI RP potluck, where individual fruits of labour come together and become something more - community.

Political war rooms may compete for their share of the spoils of war.

I wonder - would they throw down their ads and join us to become gardeners of community?

The Heart of Nigel Wright

By all accounts, Nigel Wright is a stand-up, ethical, Christian values kind of guy.   You could see that when he went to work, when he went to church, when he paid his taxes.  

There was no way, the in-the-know chattering classes said, that a man like that would do something unethical.  

Yet as evidence emerges at the Duffy trial, even Wright has admitted his actions were not particularly well thought out.  

Which is why his quoting of scripture fascinates me. 

To many commentators on the trial, the impression is that Wright is trying to place himself on moral high ground by quoting the Bible, or worse, using scripture to further his spin.

All that may be part and parcel of his presentation, but again - from what we've heard, Wright's the kinda guy who believes scripture and probably tries to live his life by it's code of conduct.  

From a strictly messaging stand-point, Wright is smart enough to know that a US-style reliance on Bible quotes won't help his reputation among the majority up here. If the purpose of quoting ‎Matthew et al was to create a positive, moral persona for himself in the eyes of the public, it was poorly conceived. 

What if his Bible-quoting ‎wasn't for our benefit? What if he was saying it outloud more for reasons of internal validation?

If Wright sees himself as a religious, ethical man, you see, there would be something wrong with him acting against the public interest in order to protect his political boss and party.   That would be contrary to his ethics, and none of us like to think we're hypocrites. 

Yet we are, aren't we? We demand from others what we're not willing to do ourselves and validate in ourselves what we giddily criticize in those around us. It's especially true in politics, and egregiously so in campaigns. 

Most of the time we can live as hypocrites in unchallenged manner; instead of accepting fault, we can simply lash out at others. (oh yeah? Well YOU are doing THIS)! Sometimes, however, the personas of how we view ourselves and how we actually are‎ come into unavoidable collision. 

The term for this is cognitive dissonance. 

Human beings have a hard time balancing perception of self with reality of self - when these things some into conflict, we are prone to justify these disparities rather than correct them.  

A floor-crosser, for instance, isn't abandoning their principles for some kind of personal advantage; it's more like their party has left them and the opposing one has started to align with their world view.  

They didn't change, you see, nor were they being hypocritical.  

In Wright's case, the message he seems to be telling himself (and us) is that his conduct was aligned with the Biblical values he lives by; it wasn't egregiously partisan and immoral.  

Of course, that argument doesn't hold up much once you scratch the surface. As we've already read countless times, Duffy was a wealthy man, in no need of alms.  

And if Wright is so committed to giving alms to the poor, why would he be writing a cheque for $90K to someone who doesn't need it instead of one who does?

 Matthew 19:21

20The young man said to Him, "All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?"21Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me."

Yet here's Wright, easily dropping more than many Canadian households bring in all year on one cheque for a partisan crony.   Can he be that wealthy and narrow-minded with his wealth and ‎still feel that Jesus would approve?

Is Wright wilfully deceiving himself and us, using scripture as validation? How ethical is that?

Nigel Wright, by all accounts, is an ethical man - except here he is, by even his own account, leaning in an unethical direction.  

Let's not hastily cast stones in Wright's direction.  There's more to this story than personal hypocrisy.

Wright is no doubt familiar with the concept of original sin - the first people were sinful and now, sin is coded into humanity's DNA.  

From a metaphorical perspective, one could say the core concept is that, as Rob Ford might argue, we're only human - we're not super heroes, not saints, and therefore prone to reactive, short-sighted and influenced decisions.  
Political attack ads are bred from this notion.

If we accept this - that we are not entirely rational, bur rather largely limbic-driven creatures that are responsive to our environments, then consider: Wright could have been a saint, but working under the conditions that the House of Commons create, he slid from generalized ethics to a more nuanced, more political variation thereof.

That, to me, is the real problem - that scandals have become routine in politics and even those who in other conditions might behave to the highest standards can still find themselves mired in the muck.

A culture that cultivates a war-room mentality, selfish pursuit, secrecy, absolutist power and the rest of it is not one that's conducive to the highest standards of democracy.

That's the heart of the matter; the culture of our politics is a mess and needs to change.

Until it does, the horrors will only increase.

I'm Officially a Postie!

Heart-Based Leadership Vs "Who's the Boss?"

Still on the Care Bear Economics thing, but moreso - the topic of leadership:

There's a real emphasis this election on The Leader.  Harper is either a failed leader, because he's made bad choices, or a tough leader, because damnit, he's not afraid to make decisions.  Trudeau is either a visionary leader or a guy not up to the task of being a leader.  Mulcair must prove himself to be leader-like to the masses.

Step back from this frame, and what emerges is the impression of democracy as this thing that's run by one all-powerful guy at the top.  

Like a corporation.  Or a monarchy.

That's not what democracy is about, though.  In our system, decisions are supposed to be held to account and even informed by representatives of the people.  That way, regional issues aren't ignored and no one person can universally declare war against any group, internal or external.

When all the decision-making power rests in one set of hands - well it can't, can it?  Even if they want to think that's the case.  So you end up with people doing the job of being the boss besides the actual boss, but trying to make sure they don't get caught.

The Duffy affair, if the current narrative holds, is all about that.

Beyond this, when the boss is calling all the shots, people aren't particularly inspired to contribute their ideas, to fact-check or double-check the lay of the land.  Innovation isn't encouraged, because hey - that's the boss' job.

As much as centralized parties led by Tough Boss leaders running our institutions is their narrative, it's one the people to a surprising degree support.

Those for Trudeau say he's the man for the job.  Those for Harper say he's the only one to keep the country safe.  Mulcair's fans also tout him as the only one to course-correct ship Canada.

Where are the demands for increased consultation, democracy between elections, co-designed policy?

They exist among a subset of the public service and engaged citizens, but by and large, they're absent from the general discussion.

One of the big complaints elected officials will articulate (but mostly off-record) is that all they hear from constituents is complaints about what's not working and demands to do better on what's working only marginally.  Appreciation for good deeds is scant, and ideas and plans almost non=existent.

Heart-based leadership is about empowering people; picture politicians as facilitators rather than feudal lords.  The tough decisions would be joint decisions steered by Members and Ministers, because that's how democracy is supposed to work.

That's not what we're asking for, is it?

We talk a lot about the failings of democracy in Canada.  I come back to this:

You can't have an Open Government if you don't have a Responsible Society.

For that, we need a revistiation of the social contract - what we get, what we expect, but also what are responsibilities are.

If we're not proactivley looking to make that happen, then the state of affairs in Canada are as much a reflection of us as it is of them.

Thursday 13 August 2015

Political Truths and Behavioural Economics

Nigel Wright has a reputation as a stand-up guy; folk on all sides of the partisan divide have said so. He is, the subtext almost seems to be, one of them.

For most Canadians, politicians are a species apart, governed by different ethics shaped by political truths, which is to say they lean where favour directs them.  In this perspective, politicians are surely not like us, in much the way terrorists are not like us.

Thing is, there's only one species of human out there; we are all a lot more similar than we tend to consider.

If it's not that they are different, though, what gives?  

It's a sociological question with a behavioural economics answer.

The trick to uncovering that answer is one both Harper and Wright should be familiar with - recognizing oneself as being imperfect and equal to others.

CPC: No Home for Tom Sawyer

Nope; Tom Sawyer would never make it as a CPC candidate/MP.

Hell, he wouldn't even make it into one of Harper's rallies.

But he would feel right at home as a Virtuous Schemer.

Enough is enough.  Leadership isn't about inane cliches, warm feelings and emoting.

It's about making decisions, often hard ones.

Seas of troubles lapping at our shores?  That's kinda cliche.

What about choosing not to make tough decisions, then getting mad when other people step up and do the right thing for you?

Are those acts of leadership?

Leadership most definitely involves emotions, because leadership is about leading people, not doing math.

Anyone can declare war, but not everyone can convince a country to follow them.

Considering the Armed Forces recruitment levels, I'm gonna go out on a limb and say Harper's failed on that one, too.

But on, Sun; we all know that it's not the universe, but market forces, that ensure all things unfold as they should.

Completely different thing though.

Enough is enough. Leadership isn't about inane cliches, warm feelings and emoting.
It's about making decisions, often hard ones.

Care Bear Economics + Pugilist Politics: This One's From the Heart

Here's the Post headline:

Here's the quote, in full:

Folk are having a field day with this, mockingly referring to "Care Bare Economics" and calling this Trudeau's campaign-sinking flub.

All that's spin, of course - his opponents and detractors are always on the look out for the campaign-sinking line; the detractors of each leader and party are doing the same.  Hence the focus on Mulcair's eyes, or Harper's lack of personality; these are sound-bite simple things that ads can be based on.

Being politics, the emphasis is always on tearing down your opponents, not trying to understand what they mean, only what they're trying to convey.

I'm going to ask the question because I think it's an incredibly relevant one:

What does economy from the heart outwards" actually mean?

It actually surprises me that the spin class can't figure this one out all on their ownsome.  Really, they should be the first to glean the substance of the phrase.

So let's make this relatable for them.

Do attack ads work?  Of course they do - that's why partisans use them.  The gurus of spin and emotion-based advertising get that people think with their head but act with their heart - their emotions.  

We may not like attack ads, because they are intellectually offensive to us, but they work because they play on our emotions, going over the heads of our conscious, contemplative selves.

Put it simply - it doesn't matter how much the party spokespeople try to portray themselves and their leaders as logical, evidence-based communicators; the substance of their presentation is emotional, not factual.

The Kory Teneyckes of the world may put down Trudeau and his "Care Bear economics", but they're just as invested in emotionally-driven messaging and planning as anyone else.

People think with their brains, but act with their hearts.  Their actions are driven by emotion first, logic second.  It's basic behavioural economics.

Which is what Care Bare economics is; a cutesy way of referring to growing field of study that is reshaping the way we view everything from voting behaviour to innovation to motivating productivity.

Stephen Harper is an economist.  He's studied economic theory; he gets the math of economics.  That should make him an excellent economic manager, right?  Able to predict trends through simple calculations?

Yet like so many economists, he's gotten more wrong that he has right.  He has not managed to steer the country away from our latest recession and in fact, when you look at his positions on everything from cutting childcare cheques to stifling pension supports, he's piling on our socio-economic structural deficits.

How can this be?

It's because Harper doesn't get people; he doesn't get behaviour.  He's thinking about numbers, about markets and banks and purchasing power - not about human motivation.  That's not something he knows how to do.

Harper wanted to be leader because he wanted the country to look the way he wanted it to.  To him, being the leader equates with being the boss - when he's in charge, he calls the shots, full stop.  

Yet look at his litany of failures.  The US didn't tow his line on Keystone.  The provinces have essentially ignored his anti-national health care stance and are going it alone.  The Supreme Court has knocked down legislation as unconstitutional, his attempts at burying the Duffy Affair - one of his own making - have failed; the list goes on, and on, and on.

And on.


Two reasons.  The first is the easiest: Harper doesn't get people.  He doesn't know how to inspire, because he can't emotionally relate to what drives people to act.  There's a diagnosis in this, but the bottom line is that Harper uses the emotional equivalent of a sledge hammer (fear) because it's really the only tool in his motivational box.

Not everyone is afraid of him, especially when it comes to international partners.  Harper likes to be the smartest, most unchallenged person in the room, and that doesn't happen on the global stage.  He fails at achieving his goals.  

Some people are more committed to what they do than they are to themselves, something else Harper doesn't get; so when staff go rogue or stakeholders he can completely undermine stand against him, he can only see these actions through the lens of "why don't they get it?"  

Harper consistently fails to understand the behavioural consequences to his actions and, as a result, walks into one political rake after the other, from Prorogation to pension reform to corrupt Senators.

The second reason spins off of the first; because Harper doesn't get people and doesn't get motivation, his starting point is way off the mark.  His "vision" of Canada is of a static, neo-con box that he wants to stuff all of Canada into.  It's a completely unachievable goal that will never happen, because people aren't all the same; the world is more complex than the Platonic Cave of Harper's dream Canada.

Stephen Harper is a great tactician, but he sucks at complexity theory.  He understands numbers, but he is clueless about people.

This is why he consistently falls short of his objectives.

Back to Trudeau.

From all indications, Trudeau is no less an egoist than anyone who runs for high office; from words he chooses to some of the positions and messaging he approves, he's not directly in line with the average Canadian either.

One thing that's emerging about Trudeau as the campaign gets underway, though, is something we kinda knew already.

To sum it up with an analogy; 

If you're in a fist-fight, the objective is never to hit your opponent; it's to punch clear through them.  

If you're giving a concert, or teaching a class, or delivering a speech, the goal is never to project to your audience - it's to captivate them, own them.

This is a thing that Trudeau gets, regardless of whether his execution leaves something to be desired or not.

His debate close is evidence of this.  Many people who don't like him didn't like it, but many people who are neutral about him were moved by his words, and that was the whole point.

The goal of leadership isn't to force people into your box, as Harper has consistently tried and failed to do; the purpose of leadership is to inspire people to be full partners in the realization of a vision that everyone relates to, but you have taken it upon yourself to articulate.

When people put themselves first, collective action is short-sighted.  Tragedy of the commons scenarios ensue:

- people rush the yellow light to get ahead and slow down all traffic by crowding intersections
- Senators will take whatever they can get, because they can, without consideration to the broader consequences for their teams
- employees will do the bear minimum and offer no insight, because that's all that's on offer

When people believe in something, they can be more than the sum of their short-term interests; they can be a community.

This concept of communal drive and inspired action is referenced heavily in modern business classes, at economic forums like the Toronto Global Forum and is a core principle of incubation spaces, social innovation leaders like CSI and any good User Generated Content campaign on social media.

Government policy is increasingly moving in the crowd-source direction.  Millenials are motivated at least as much by what they can contribute, when inspired, as what they can take away, carrot-and-stick style.

His wording might not be perfect, but Trudeau's general perception of Care Bear Economics is in tune with broader societal trends as we shift from the 20th Century Industrial economy to the 21st Century social capitalism.
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Which of course means nothing in the heat of an election campaign.  If you can't explain all of this in a bumper-sticker sized quote and a hashtag, you're wasting your time.

Big picture, though, it doesn't matter.  

Whether led by Trudeau or, as is more likely, led by a coalition of grassroots activists, virtuously scheming public servants and heart-based leaders from the corporate world, Care Bear Economics is on the rise, and that's a good thing.

It's a generational thing; if you don't get it, don't panic.  I guarantee your grandchildren will.

Wednesday 12 August 2015


I'm sure this seemed like a good idea at the time:

"Give us your money so we can stop Harper wasting it."

From a public that already believes the "plus ca change..." line about politicians, this might have been reconsidered.

Game of Seats Gets its Dragons

Or at least a very big goose.  We may have a sense of self-importance about our politics and impact on the world stage, but in reality, this is where we rank on the world stage:


It's kinda hypnotic, really.

But it's definitely not this:

Message?  If there is any, it's this - we're not dragon slayers, so we might as well have a bit of fun with the game.

Tuesday 11 August 2015

Ground Up Leadership

If you're an archetype, or a caricature.  Real life is less Lord of the Rings, however, and more Game of Thrones.

And there are no Supermen from above, on a mountain top or in an ivory tower.

The secret of leadership isn't being a superhero; it's about building communities of engagement. They, not you, will build that world.

To dominate, have an enemy.  Live in silos, tear others down.  

To be a leader, have a vision.  Be the bridge between that vision and the people around you.  Believe in both.

It's that simple.

Monday 10 August 2015

There is no Dear Leader in Democracy

This morning, while training new DECAs at CSI Regent Park, I learned that Thomas Mulcair was launching his book and his campaign on the 1st floor of the building (Daniels Spectrum).  For a while, it seemed like he might come up for a tour of the facilities.

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I hardly qualify as a Dipper (I'm an aspirational post-partisan Liberal), but I was still glad that a party leader was visiting a public space in the community and might even pop up to CSI for a tour.  With a couple staff and CSI community members, I went down to plug social innovation in general and CSI in particular.  I had no problem tweeting promos that let people know he was there, nor in taking pictures of him with people who may or may not be supportive of him.

There were security folk present, but at no time was anyone pushed away, sniffed with dogs or ever made to feel like they didn't belong in the presence of The Leader for any reason.  Heck, I even got a pat on the back from one of Mulcair's folks for trying to coerce him up to the 3rd floor (offer's still open, btw!)

Maybe it's because Team Mulcair isn't as experienced with public engagement at rallies as the other guys; maybe it's that the audience was only a few dozen people.  I don't know.  What I do know is that everyone in the room was polite, engaging and non-confrontational and the leader was as approachable as anyone leading a book-signing can be.

Worth noting - I saw no evidence that members of the CPC or LPC War Rooms were present, which might have something to do with the civility.  Had they been present, they would have been looking for gotcha moments or inducing some of their own, which would likely have put a chill in the air (naturally, the whole reason for doing so).

Contrast this experience with Susanna Kelley's experience with Team Harper.  She's well-enough known that her threat-level could easily have been verified, if Team Harper had any real intent on transparency in their events and engagement with the public at large.

As Kory Teneyck has made clear, though, that's not the intent of Harper's campaign.  

When the CPC is doing a manufacturing announcement, see, they only want manufacturing people as backdrop.  If they're doing a safe-zone rally of established Harper fans, they're keeping everyone else out, like bouncers turning away poorly-dressed folk trying to get into a posh bar.

Put another way - if you're not the market for whatever's on offer at a given event, you're not welcome.  Between outings, you're not welcome.  

Like a WWF wrestler, when the PM is off, he's off - you only get to see the showman when he's on stage.  When he wants you to see him.  

The reverse isn't the case; it's a dangerous world out there full of people who may not have The State's best interests at heart.  They could be terrorists, or eco-terrorists, journalists or public servants. You don't need to know what the Leader is up to when he's not messaging, but he needs to know what everyone else is doing, just to be safe. 

I wish that was hyperbole; I wish I could laugh along with the snide dismissals partisan flaks will drown such statements in.  The problem is, they're right on the mark.  

When you're inside the bubble, it's hard to see how the isolation impacts you.  When you're confident in yourself beyond all measure, it's impossible to see how success can erode your integrity.  Like evolution, it doesn't matter if you believe in the human weakness for corruption; it exists regardless.

We have a government that talks about memorials to the victims of communism yet doesn't see how so much of their action could easily be first steps on that same slippery slope:

 - tough-on-crime mixed with tough-on-ideological opponents
 - the leader is less and less present, the partisan machine takes over government to extreme degree
 - communication disappears into messaging
 - the truth is vetted and the facts censored

Of course, you could easily think (and certainly, opposition parties will reinforce) that this is simply a CPC/government problem that a New Government could fix.  That's how the game works, right?

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Campaigns are increasingly not places to risk unscripted moments, planted or unplanted uncomfortable questions, etc.  It's too risky; you might end up with a bad quote or image that could derail your carefully constructed campaign plan.

The purpose of that plan?

Not for the common and noble purpose of serving the public through politics, certainly.  The public isn't to be served, and certainly not engaged.  It's to be sold and messaged to.

See, the other parties are seeing what works for the sitting government and, like it or not, are cribbing from their playbook.  They don't want to be undermined by such naive principles as transparency and accountability - that's for elections to decide, caveat emptor-style.

Public service isn't the objective.  Winning is.  

Winning in modern politics means putting the Leader first and all competition behind, with the  public little more than captive audience to the race before them.

When that happens - when a chasm of engagement and communication forms between government and the people - policy makers get further and further away from the concerns, priorities and aspirations of the people.  

The people's representatives have less and less voice; the media is increasingly kept at arm's length; the people themselves are being vetted on partisanship before being allowed to access their own government.

When the Leader comes first, the people come last.  That might be smart campaigning, but it makes for very poor democracy.