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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 14 November 2015


Think of it this way.

Seven gunmen.  Untold thousands of emigrees who have tried to flee this kind of nonsense.  

You can alienate the whole to the benefit of the few, or you can welcome the many and isolate the few.

Which is the smarter strategy?

Friday 13 November 2015

Paris, Friday 13 Nov 2015

Yesterday, a group of young entrepreneurs from Paris, France popped by CSI Regent Park for salad club.  Participants in La Passerelle IDE, they were visiting Canada to learn about how we do social innovation, entrepreneurship and youth engagement here in Toronto.

It was beautiful to see.  The group showed up with boxes of pizza and snacks; despite the language barriers, they were sitting in with CSI members and chatting up a storm in no time.  When salad club was done, there they were, doing the dishes, embodying the DIY spirit CSI tries to evoke.  

Connections were made.  Dreams were discussed and ideas hatched.

When you look at the picture, you can see the diversity of the group - but they were all French.
If you had seen the CSI team, we were pretty diverse as well (even a WASP in me!) - that's how it tends to be.

People from different places, different experiences but similar visions for a better future connecting, building over something as simple as salad.  It's not only possible - we do it all the time.  It - the sharing, the building new relationships and fostering new collaborations - happens all the time.

Before they left, we (semi) joked about how cool it would be to join them for salad club one day at CSI Paris.

That was yesterday.
France has declared a national state of emergency and has closed its borders after at least 120 people were killed in gun and bomb attacks in Paris.
At least 100 people are reported to have died at the Bataclan concert hall in central Paris.
Gunmen took many hostages there before being overpowered by police.
Others died in a reported suicide blast near the Stade de France and gun attacks on city centre restaurants. Five attackers are reported killed.
Paris residents have been asked to stay indoors and about 1,500 military personnel are being deployed across the city.

I was in Korea when 9/11 happened and remember how completely unnerving it is to be getting sketch details about something earth-shattering that, for all intents and purposes, had happened to my next-door neighbour.  

This is, thankfully, a much smaller attack - but everything always starts out small.  The purpose of terrorism is to incite terror.  What happens next will determine how successful they are.  

What will our stance be on Syrian Refugees?  On Bill C-51?  

Was there a hard lesson learned about security nets and intelligence-gathering?

Then, the families of all those affected.  The loss will be immeasurable.

Across the street from me, a new family is moving in - a couple of professional Iranian-Canadians, settling in, chatting with neighbours, slowly building themselves into the community.  Will they be judged by the actions of people with nothing in common with them other than a skin tone or basic language?

I hope not.  I hope that, on that front, nothing changes. It shouldn't.

Lastly, my new friends.  Let's stay committed to that better world, but never forget there are those who would rather tear it down.  

If we stop making salads together and only build up walls, they win.

We can't let them.  We won't let them.

A New Hope: The Culture of Sunny by Default

Open Richard - I want to believe

All around Twitter today, federal critics are announcing their new files.  In turn, the Ministers they will be criticizing are responding to these tweets with messages of welcome and "look forward to working with you."  

Mandate letters to those Ministers are being made public - and what's more, they include protocols for how to interact with stakeholders, staff, opposition, etc.  These mandates aren't just about task, but about team and self as well.  The mission here isn't just legislative, it's cultural.

Much as they did with ousting Senators, Team Trudeau is really boxing themselves in on what they can do, what they can hide, and how they can deflect.  In short, they're kinda doing to themselves what Team Harper (the small gov party) did to everyone else.

The reality is, not everyone will want to play by those rules. Within our current political culture, opposition tends to look for gotcha headline moments instead of actively helping to keep government on course.  Media still struggling to adapt their business models to the digital world will still look for the story with the biggest appeal, not the most salient issue.  Entrenched opposition groups and organizations will look only to the bad, and dismiss whatever good as being not good.  The Clay Layer of the civil service who feels entitled, superior and comfortable will resist change in all sorts of ways.  Even within the Liberal Caucus, there will be those who chafe against the new way of doing things.

Team Trudeau is carving out a mountain of challenges to climb with little shade to hide in.  So much of what they're putting into place now goes against the political instincts of even their own seasoned vets.

Yet this is what they told us they believed in.  It was a selling point, sure, but it's also a mission.

One I happen to believe in, too.

I'm not alone; there's a whole community of current and former political staff, current and former public servants and interested community folk who have been pushing for the changes we want to see in the world start at the centre - in government.  Some have been at it more than others.  Some have sacrificed more on the alter of commitment than others.

Is it happening?  Is it really happening?  Is the man clothed in immense power and his unelected, unaccountable team of backroomers actually bringing the vision of an open, engaged government to life?  Can you change the system from within without falling to its vices, as every government previous has?  Are we mature enough as a society to engage back meaningfully?  What happens if we aren't?

I'm used to feeling determined; I'm not so used to feeling hopeful.  It's an uncomfortable feeling, really - live being the first to say "I love you" or speaking before a crowd or walking on a tightrope. It could all go so wrong, the let-down could be devastating.

No one ever said hope was easy.  

To quote another Liberal leader - "People don't look to leaders for despair; they can despair on their own.  They look to us for inspiration; they look to us for hope."

Trudeau has done no more or less than he committed to - he has brought us hope.  He's working to create a culture of openness in Ottawa and beyond; he's nurturing a community of engagement for all.

We have been turned from shadows on the wall towards a brave new world of open.

Now - where do we go from here?

Thursday 12 November 2015

Connecting Dots

Kevin Flynn headed up Ontario's all-party Select Committee on Mental Health.

It's how he became something of a mental health crusader.   

Workplace mental health, presenteeism and innovation have been hot topics within the public service of late.  Virtuous Schemers are putting a great deal of time and effort into understanding the mechanics of work, complexity theory, communication, etc, and occasionally rubbing up against a clay layer of middle management who trusts their experience and gut over evidence brought forward by these young whippersnappers.

But the clay layer is starting to break.

Open Government is a big thing these days - how can we have a truly open and transparent government?  What role does internal culture play in this?  The amazing folk in the province's Open Government team are exploring this.  It makes sense to engage with and learn from organizations that excel at developing supportive culture that improves productivity in a way that supports social-emotional resiliency among its team and partners.  CSI, for instance.

CSI is at the cutting edge of major economic and social shifts in work, training, exchange, empowerment, community-engagement, policy making, etc.  In many ways its an incubator for the future.

A big part of what CSI does - support innovators and change-makers.  A big thing they're moving in to - empowering communities, starting with Regent Park, not through direction but by being the stone in their soup.

Which is exactly what Community Solutions Lab does, which is why it's something many organizations are anxious to see come to life.

Empowered communities. Empowering employers.  Innovation.  Culture shift, changes to policy-making, changes to the model of work that sustained the 20th century but is inadequate for the reality of the 21st century.

Oh - and people looking aspirationally towards what we can do now to envision and start shaping the world we want our grandchildren to live in come 2067.

It may be raining, today, but I don't mind - I can feel the sunshine, just around the corner.

Wednesday 11 November 2015

Premier Dad Gets a Bio

Not gonna lie - I still admire Dalton McGuinty.  He wasn't perfect and I didn't agree with all his decisions, but he was a leader, through and through.

His staff held him in the highest respect.  He pushed them, empowered them, cared about them.  The same held true for caucus members like Jim Brownell.  McGuinty would even recognize backbench staff like me when we accomplished something special. 

The letter of congratulations he sent me upon winning 2nd Place in the 2008 Toronto Short Story contest is framed and on my wall.

That time he honoured my grandpa and the whole family with some pictures and convos in his office is a cherised memory - especially his graceful handling of my grandpa's unique sense of humour.

Then, there's the time he came to the last Brownell Night.  It was magic from the moment he walked into the room.

And of course, there's the annecdotes - the woman in the grocery story, the fellow on the elevator, so on and so forth.  I didn't realize until tonight how much I'd missed those McGuinty-isms.

Lastly, there's his infectious enthusiasm and his belief in what leaders stand for.

"People don't look to leaders for despair," he would say. "They can despair on their own.  They look to us for hope.  They look to us for opportunity."

It's my favourite leadership quote, period.  

I doubt I'll be attending the intimate launch, but I'm definitely getting the book.

Can't wait.

Why Soldiers are Heroes

Monday 9 November 2015

#NewWay2Govern: Digital Engagement

Let that sink in for a second.

Partisan politics is the opposite of this - it's about reinforcing messages, not having conversations; the focus is on driving people to act, not to think.  In traditional partisan politics, the people are pieces, not participants.

There are still some organizations out there who think social media is a broader push tool, rather than recognizing it for what it is.

In much the same way some folk still think emotional push-button campaigns are the way to drive votes your way.

Times are changing, the tools are changing, expectations are changing.

Those who fail to adapt won't be remembered as "history's actors" - they'll be lucky to be remembered at all.

The future is increasingly an open playing field.  And we're all players in the game.  

As it should be.

Jen Gerson Misses the Point

There's some validity to what Jen Gerson says.  Not everything Stephen Harper did was bad, nor is everything about Justin Trudeau lily-white.  Some media and members of the public service have taken a shine to the new government.  Of course, more than a few media sources have been unkind to Trudeau and opted to ignore some of Harper's faults.

Such is the nature of politics - you're going to have some people who like what you do and some who don't.  There will be folk who look back at Harper's 2008 prorogation as a cynical manipulation of Canadian law to cling to power; some will take the position that the (non-illegal) coalition of socialists and separatists would have destroyed Canada.  Or that omnibus bills were necessary to get stuff done on the one hand, or a cynical attempt to bury matters of importance where they might be missed.

By the same token, some will say that a "professional" service is supposed to do what the boss says; others will say that a leader should be respectful and that regardless, it's the role of the public service to provide evidence- and experience-based advice to policy makers.

At the end of the day, all this misses the point.

The Harper government came to power with a chip on its shoulder which was maintained rather intently throughout it's time in power.  The Laurentian Elites were against them.  The Media Party were against them.  The Supreme Court, StatsCan, countless public servants and non-for-profit groups were out to get them from day one.

In post-mortem, what we're seeing is more of the same - we were good, unappreciated in our time, the people are hypocrites for picking on us but loving on Justin Trudeau.  From unappreciated aggressor going over the heads of the institution to maligned victim with blinding speed.

Now, look at Justin Trudeau.  Years of attacks didn't knock him from his optimism.  Despite everything the Tories threw at him, Trudeau still views them as neighbours.  Despite the contempt Stephen Harper has personally held for him, Trudeau has been gracious in the transfer of power and even let Harper take one last ride on a challenger.

Contrast his approach with Harper's approach, or Tim Hudak's approach.  Look at where Mulcair fell and where Jack Layton succeeded before him.

It's kinda hard to miss the underlying trend.

Even Jason Kenney is exploring the potential of sunny ways, recognizing that cynicism and bitterness aren't traits that inspire loyalty or trust.

Pitting people against each other isn't leadership.  Contempt isn't leadership.  Leaders don't carry grudges or grind axes - they lead.  They provide vision and opportunity and above all else, they are cheerleaders of the people.  Leaders don't tell; they listen.  They don't message; the communicate.

For leaders, it's never about them - it's always about the people.  Everything - even failure - is an opportunity for growth.

Stephen Harper never understood leadership; he wanted to be the boss.  Canada didn't want a boss and when they finally had an alternative, they took it.

People don't look to leaders for cynicism; they can be cynical on their own.  People look to leaders for inspiration.

It is entirely Jen Gerson's right to be bitter, resentful and to dedicate her time to finding fault with the other guys instead of helping her side to grow.  

That's not a particularly good frame of mind to take if you're going in for a job interview, though.

Harper's successors and the Conservative Party as a whole are doing just that.  Everything they do between now and the next election should be viewed through the lens of putting their best face forward, of inhabiting the professionalism Gerson hints at in her article.  

Their approach should be #howmight we more than it is #youcantdothat.

Instead of looking for enemies, the Tories need to be nurturing allies - especially among the public service.  To do that, they are going to need to commit a bit of sociology.

Or they can focus on fault.  It's worked for them this far, hasn't it?

Flying Harper's Colours

Harper either missed the subtle genius of this move, or he's past caring.  I'm leaning towards the former.

There is no official sound bite of Harper admitting that he lost to Justin Trudeau.  That was by Harper's design; he knew any such clip would be played, ad nauseum; you can't spend years decrying an opponent as light weight and not expect that to be thrown in your face when he beats you.

Despite how mean-spirited Harper was to Justin Trudeau, by all appearances Trudeau has been magnanimous in victory, with this last flight just one more example of our new Prime Minister taking the high road.

Though there's nothing written that you can't accomplish two things at once.

Allowing Harper one last flight is, in my opinion, the right thing to do.  It will also be much more painfully obvious of who the adult in the room is if Harper's successor and former caucus maintain the mean-spirited tone of their former leader in spite of such gestures.

Beyond this, though, there was no way to avoid the media's scrutiny of Harper's history with the challengers in light of this last flight.

He was against them until he made solid use of them - much like he did with the Senate.

Harper has always been against excess - and yet here he is, taking one last turn on the taxpayer's dime.  Is this a reflection of Harper as a hypocrite, or has he come, finally, to recognize the importance of such sociological phenomenon as altruism and consideration?

It doesn't matter.  For all Harper's careful avoidance of providing the world a direct quote admitting that he and his bitter politics were beaten by sunny ways, we now have this story, this image to focus on.

One would assume that Harper understands the power of symbolism.  

Anyhoo, we wish him well in retirement - or, as seems to be the case, some time spent as a teacher.

For the rest of us, it's onward and upward.