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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 16 October 2015


If you’ve never volunteered on an election day before, I can tell you it’s an incredible, can’t miss experience that you won’t soon forget.

It's true, this - especially if you've been invested in a campaign and a cause for the duration of the election, or even longer.

You'd think Nationbuilder might have been used a bit more effectively to ensure that those who have worked E-Days before got a slightly different message, but alas.  The mechanization of the electoral machine has led to more standardized mass-outreach initiatives to the volunteers, with personal contact being left to established insiders or new keeners.  It's the way of things.

I know where I'll be on E-Day - working in support of a cause I believe in.  It's one I've been invested in for a long, long time.

Who knows, maybe I'll see you there.

Harper's Place in Trudeau's Shadow

Canadians feeling like Harper has taken Canada astray with a risky social experiment and economic programs that are oblivious to the concerns of chunks of the nation?

Canadians wanting to get back to a more "traditional" version of Canada - you know, like the Just Society?

AND Justin Trudeau being touted as the guy to reverse the centralization of power and resulting corruption - that thrived under Stephen Harper?

Even though Harper had some successes (like 'em or not) under his reign - to the world, PET is still the leader Canada is most associated with?

That has GOT to sting.

Thursday 15 October 2015

Teacher Trudeau for the Win

Trudeau standing up for journalists and tough questions - to his supporters?  It's gotta be staged, right?  A way to distinguish himself from Harper even more now that Harper's numbers are slipping?

It might be, but watching the footage, that's not how it feels.  Nope - what it feels like is something every one of us is familiar with, if we dig back into the recesses of our memory (pun intended).

What Trudeau sounds like in that moment is a teacher leading a class on a field trip.  "Come on, guys, it's not about you right now, listen to the speaker!"  My wife is a teacher - I am more than a little familiar with that tone.

Regardless of the why, the presentation does make a difference.  Harper, the "tough leader" that he is, has regularly run away from questions.  His caucus has taken heckling to a new art.  Even his supporters have called the press "lying pieces of shit" without a correction from their leader.

I don't think Harper connects the dots between what he says and what his supporters do.  I genuinely think he buys into the whole Jedem das Seine thing and thinks people are not connected, nor that behaviour from a leader impacts behaviour from others.

Harper probably doesn't feel that his partisan attacks on Muslims have played any role in the attacks Muslim women have faced in this country after he started his attacks; he probably feels they were happening already, but that maybe the media is talking about these stories now to build false connections.

Truth is, though, that the leader sets the tone for all those who follow them.  The Tory base aren't rational actors who support him because he makes the best, most logical policy decisions and case for them - they are emotionally invested in him and the Conservative tribe.

From voters to caucus members to even staff, Harper's demeanour has set the tone for how the rest of his people operate.

Now, here's Trudeau, actively siding with media over their right to ask tough questions instead of looking a blind eye while his team shouts them down.  This is a moment that will be noticed and internalized by Trudeau fans everywhere - and by the media.

I don't think there was any big nefarious plot behind the line - I just see a seasoned teacher falling back on his training and experience.  What that experience leads to, however, is responsible conversations, which include tough questions.  The best teachers want to be challenged by their students, because it's as much about shaping their social skills as it is about conveying information (or having the highest test-scores in the school).

“Hey! Hey! We have respect for journalists in this country,” Trudeau shouted. “They ask tough questions and they’re supposed to. OK?”

Trudeau - Be Open, Be Innovative but above all...

I enjoy this article.

Whether this was a prepped-for moment by Team Trudeau debate prep (the length of time it took to get to that answer suggests otherwise) or no, it's a cool moment.

It's a political truth that you don't have to answer the question put before you - instead, you can pivot to the safer ground of your talking points.  The problem with this is that pivot-and-message is so damned insincere.  Yeah, it helps keep your message clear and minimizes your risk exposure, but in the field of life and leadership, that's not how things actually work.  

Sometimes, you need the ability to think on your feet, to adapt to a situation, to take a risk.  It's in situations like this that a person's true "character" is expected to emerge.

Additionally, it's when your opponents think they have you cornered that you have the chance to throw curve balls.  This can be trained for, a bit, but by and large the ability and instinct to think laterally is simply part of who you are.

Asked a question riddled with landmines, Trudeau's first instinct was to play safe - but, when cornered, he moved laterally.  He didn't pivot and pull out a canned rebuttle; he applied what he knew and took off in a different direction.

Time and again, this ability to change the game has gotten us - parties, countries, society in general - out of downward spirals, out of ruts and over the obstacles before us, be it paratroopers or peacekeepers.

This is the ability of innovation.  It doesn't play the math, it doesn't carve out a critical path - it recognizes the landscape, has knowledge of what came before and is able to see things from a different angle and shift the game.

Trudeau has this.


Trudeau also has something of a totalitarian streak in him (which hardly sets him apart from his competitors or many leadership aspirants in general).  

Harper might have poo-pooed Trudeau's China comment, but the truth is Harper has done everything he can to make himself Canada's Putin-light, an alpha who accepts no challenge to his authority and sees any idea not his as inferior and banal.  This approach hasn't served Canada well - our politics has gotten uglier, our economic policy has become more singular and short-sighted, information has been lost, crucial services cut, the public service undermined.

We don't need more of that.  What we need is what Trudeau promised way back when:

Does Trudeau have it within himself to be that kind of leader - the philosopher king/benevolent dictator?

Of course he doesn't.  He's a pugilist, and the more his role gets framed as about him, the more it will go to his (and his inner circle's) head.

So, no more talk of being Canada's next CEO, people.  Walk the walk.  Be innovative, be high-minded, be all of that - but remember it ain't about you.  You don't have all the ideas and it is not a weakness to listen to others.  

Everyone I know from Team Trudeau has, at one time or another, rejected the "we are smart, they are dumb" mentality all-too pervasive in party politics.  Yet every one of them has embodied that attitude in their approach.

If they win - still a big if, especially where GOTV is concerned - then they will have both the opportunity and responsibility to be the first to truly reject the top-down status quo and be the conduits we need them to be.

Of course, that's what Harper promised too, and look how quickly he lost his way.

Be Open, Team Trudeau - open gov, open data, open source.  Be innovative - go off in different directions, nurture those instincts in your leader - but also build partnerships across the aisle and out into society beyond.  Trust the public service.

Above all, though, be mindful.  Power is a heady tonic, but it is equally a poison that will bleach your ethics without you even noticing.

Leadership: Alpha vs Omega

Anyone who's been following Canada's 42nd general election has been exposed to some pretty dispiriting stuff from people presenting themselves as the best leaders for our communities and our country.  

We've seen corruption, brutal personal attacks, refusals to accept responsibility, the throwing under the bus of loyalists and the intentional marginalization of minority groups for partisan gain.  

A common theme among all this mess - only one can keep the country safe, on track, strong, etc. The future of the country hangs on the shoulders of only one individual.

Which, plainly, isn't true. If anything, the increased consolidation of power in the person of the Prime Minister and their team of privy operatives has led to the hollowing out of Canada's democracy and increasingly short-sighted policy and action. 

This all got me thinking about leadership - about the kind that's effective in building strong societies and the kind that ‎is really about control.  

Alpha Leaders - the earliest form of leadership, more accurately defined as dominance. The alpha male in a grouping of apes, the chief in a tribal community or the king in a feudal society all get the best of everything and the subservience of their people, provided they keep the community safe and solve internal justice issues. 

The same theory that drives Free Market Capitalism drives Alpha Leadership - the strongest will best all competitors to end up on top, meaning whoever ends up on top is the strongest boss.  

Equally as important to note - in an Alpha-dominated society, the only way to gain the riches and power that comes from being The Boss is to challenge and replace that boss. The corollary of this is that to stay on top, the Alpha Boss has to continuously be proving their dominance and necessity and quickly knock down any and all challengers to their position. 

This means swatting down anyone who challenges their ‎authority or ideas - which also means shooting down any ideas that don't originate with them. To do otherwise is to allow the impression that survival and success isn't entirely dependent on them, which is another form of challenge. 

Feudal societies aren't known for being particularly innovative for good reason.  

This campaign has been dominated by Alpha-style leadership - the partisan pugulism of the leaders, the tight scripting of the ‎candidates, the attacks, the narrow policy focus, the emphasis on threats, etc.  

That's one type of leadership, and as mentioned, not a particularly effective one. Where it has appeal is that it ideally provides a certain level of social security, while also minimizing the active participation of the people. 

If you believe people are sheeple, or simply don't care to be part of community-building, this is the leadership style you want. 

On the other hand, if you believe in the core principles of democracy, you may believe that collective decisions or majority-supported decisions are better. You don't get this without community participation, however - so the question becomes "how do we turn 'sheeple' into societal sheppherds?" 

This is where Omega-style leadership comes in.  

Omega is the opposite of Alpha - instead if doing everything to  get to the top, Omega leaders always ensure the people come first.   Their job isn't to cower or control any more than it is to single-handedly solve every problem or stop every foe.  

Omega leaders are visionaries, inspiration-providers and cheer-leaders who trust and empower the people to be the agents of change in society. They encourage engagement, innovation, collaboration and emphasize societal ownership.  

When the Omega Leader's work is done, the people say "amazing! Look what we ourselves accomplished!"

Under the guidance of an Omega Leader, the people see themselves as powerful and carry the same spirit of empowerment to others. In this way, the whole of society is sustained, engaged and active in community-building. When threats come, people are willing to step up and even make sacrifices, because they feel both powerful and responsible. 

Omega-led societies are agile, solution-based, innovative and internally supportive.  

Of course, Omega Leaders place the well-being of the people above all else - even their own well-being. The theory is that the people around the Omega will be inspired to help them be their best for the return their leadership provides for all. 

There aren't many Omega Leaders out there  ‎these days; we're in this odd place where a growing number of organizations and communities are seeking that kind of leadership but expect it to come in the self-promoting, hustle-based packages typical of Alpha Leadership.  

The implications in this are clear - we aren't really ready for Omega leadership, or at least don't feel that we are. We favour giving power to bosses rather than promoting Omegas who serve as conduits for power, leaving a high level of societal responsibility with us, the people. 

When we're ready, though, there's no shortage of Omegas out there making a difference right now, and having fun doing so.  

And when we all start moving in their direction, you just know good things are going to happen.

Wednesday 14 October 2015

Breaking Bread and Catalyzing Community

"If you really want to make a friend, go to someone's house and eat with him... the people who give you their food give you their heart."

Cesar Chavez

How does one build community?  

What's the secret sauce to building an organization, a party or a movement that's more than just transactions, but where the parts add up to a greater whole?

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This is Salad Club at the Centre for Social Innovation, Regent Park (located in the amazing Daniels Spectrum building run by Artscape).  

While each CSI has a salad club - on different days of the week, so you can attend all of them if you so desire - Regent Park is my favourite.

Apart from having a manager who is one of my favourite people in the world, the big reason for this is that CSI:RP also does this:

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"Food, in the end, in our own tradition, is something holy.  It's not about nutrients and calories.  It's about sharing.  It's about honesty.  It's about identity."

Louise Fresco

That's the CSI:RP Potluck.  Whereas the Salad Clubs are aimed towards CSI members, the potluck is designed for the community of Regent Park itself.  There's food, introductions, games, an opportunity for neighbours to learn more about each other, their hopes and talents and opportunities and concerns for the future over a meal they make together.

"What I've enjoyed most, though, is meeting people who have a real interest in food and sharing ideas with them.  Good food is a global thing and I find that there is always something new and amazing to learn - I love it!

Jamie Oliver

The Open Government Team at Queen's Park has started their own variant on this theme with the Cookie Club.  Idea is similar - the host provides some basics (in this case, cookies) with guests bringing their own coffee.  There's less "let's create a meal together" - but perhaps that's something they should explore.

As I've written previously, food is at the core of community - the breaking of bread, sharing of the basic essentials and collaboratively building a meal is exactly he same process as building a broader community.  It makes sense that these two things would be so closely intertwined.

There's a movement - or more accurately, the seeds of a movement - forming throughout our society in government, the public and private sectors and in communities of all kinds.  These nascent communities of engagement are collectively looking at the sorts of issues that, individually, we have a much harder time wrapping our heads around - Wicked Problems like poverty, climate change, mental health, etc.

These interactions happen in committees and hackathons, in conventions and coffee shops, at civic meet-ups like WSIC or online through forums like #SamaraChats.  As the different initiatives and groups begin to orbit each other, gravity is pulling them together around common purpose.  

At the centre of all this activity, you will increasingly find what you would expect to find: the sharing of food and the building of meals as a catalyst for the sharing of ideas and nurturing of community.

"Come with us, and become gardeners of community."