The Parallel Parliament

by Glen Pearson

Tag: cooperation

Election 2015 – The Best Way For Canadians To Predict Their Future Is To Create It

businesswoman standing against business sketch

ELECTION CAMPAIGNS ARE ALL ABOUT CHOICES. We’ve known that since the early days of democracy itself. But it’s time for us to focus on the choosers, and in this case the federal government itself and the implications of its own choices both in and out of a lengthy election campaign.

I had dinner with Dr. Don Lenihan a few years ago in Ottawa and found him to be remarkably informed on issues of democracy. It was only later that I learned he had become a Senior Associate in Policy and Engagement at Canada 2020 – this country’s leading independent progressive think-tank. He’s well respected internationally as an expert on democracy and the new spirit of Open Government, and chaired an expert group on citizen engagement for the United Nations.

Yesterday, all that experience and knowledge were combined in a piece Dr. Lenihan wrote regarding what happens when a government refuses to listen to citizens. Titled, Should You Vote for a Leader Who Doesn’t Trust the Public?, the piece immediately drove to what is the central issue for the democratic spirit in this federal contest. He writes,

The use of omnibus bills, the refusal to comply with access to information, the gagging of public servants, the attack on officers of parliament, the manipulation of committees, interfering with the Senate, proroguing Parliament to avoid a confidence motion, refusing to work with the provinces or the media—the list of his democratic infractions goes on and on.

Lenihan’s conclusion in all this is pungent: Our prime minister doesn’t trust us. In an era of open transparency and accountability, this is indeed a troubling portent. You can catch Lenihan’s article here.

All this leaves us with questions: If government doesn’t trust its people, how then will they direct their future? Or can they?

When nations approach a series of crossroads, it all can be a bit unnerving. We know change is upon us and that our choices in such a setting take on extra meaning. Historically, we’ve trusted that our politic leaders would guide us through the shoals and bring us successfully to the other side. But in our modern world, citizens want a hand in that direction, believing that their opinions matter and that their discernment should be sought. Yet, again, what happens when a government isn’t interested?

It isn’t enough anymore for political parties to lay out their policies from which we are to choose one among them. Citizens are now more savvy, seeing in all parties solutions and leanings that make sense. Increasingly, they are discovering that no one party has all the solutions, or even the right questions. In such a setting, they desire parties that are open to input from citizens (voters), and are willing to build on areas of commonality with their competitors for the sake of the country.

We are now in an age of experimentation, where we can strive for enhanced levels of cooperation and discover new methods for facing the great challenges of our time. Political leaders might conveniently claim we, as citizens, are “innovating,” but in truth we are leading. In fact, that path through our present political wilderness lies in our hands. Whether we select our leaders or demonstrate leadership ourselves, the future is rightfully ours to imagine. Yes, we can entertain ideas from politicians, but in a fulsome democracy, they must also respect ours.

To live in a nation where government refuses citizen input, contributions from seasoned experts, and transparent dealings between government and people, is to refuse the progress history has given us and to turn our back on our own potential. Our best way to explore our own future is to create it ourselves, and for that we require governments that give us a seat at the table and welcome our ideas and convictions. The opposite to that is what we have at present. As Lenihan powerfully puts it: “Canadians who really want to make an informed choice in this election should not only consider how the party leaders are asking us to see them, but how they see us. And as they reflect on this, they should keep a key question in mind: If a leader doesn’t trust me, why would I trust him?”

More than any other Canadian federal election, this present campaign could be the one where citizens say “enough.” It’s one thing to have parties vie for our vote, but it’s another entirely when one seeks the keys to the kingdom while distrusting us in the process. And since that decision has already been made, it’s time for us to make our own.

Citizens: The Arsenal of Politics


THINK ABOUT IT: WOULD THE ARAB SPRING HAVE OCCURRED in the countryside, or the Occupy movement, for that matter? There was a reason Chairman Mao banished millions to the countryside in 1949 during the Cultural Revolution, or why Chairman Stalin forcibly removed most of the political activists to Siberian isolation.

There is a pattern to this, as when Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf of his, “dislike for that mammoth city (Vienna), which greedily attracts men to its bosom, in order to break them mercilessly in the end.” It was fundamental to Nazi philosophy that the grand movement from the countryside to the city had weakened the Aryan race to the point where a cleansing was required – a justification for Hitler to be the one to lead it.

Revolutions and renaissance in any age were largely driven on the fact that citizens had to come together in sufficient numbers to prompt governing or military forces to sit up and take notice. Political tumult often originated in rural areas, especially in much earlier times, but with the eventual rise of cities and city states, the threat to hardened power became acute, specifically because more citizens were living closer together. It made it easier to be educated, to culturally celebrate, to fund important institutions, and to press for the organized betterment of human living.

But it also made possible organized rebellions on a scale unknown previously in history. There were more places to hide and build a movement, more opportunity to locate funders and gifted writers, and, above all, there were more centralized institutions from which to press for change. It is one thing for any powerful government to come up against individual citizens, but to stand against empowered individuals and organized institutions is another thing entirely.

Even as city as placid and conventional as London, Ontario received a lesson in this only weeks ago. An initiative to extend a college campus into the downtown sector was defeated in a close vote by city council. What had seemed like a no-brainer was suddenly transcended by a non-enlightened politics. But in a rare occurrence, many in the community fought back against their political masters through both creativity and a joining of forces between citizens and some of the city’s largest institutions. It worked, but even if the revisiting hadn’t succeeded, the political culture was changed that day, as politicians looked up at a packed gallery and realized they no longer had an open field in which to operate at their leisure.

Regardless of how one sees it, the process of city life is largely a political one. Citizens and groups that have learned to co-operate together serve as a natural balancing force to a politics run amok. No sooner do citizens recognize this than politics becomes relevant again, because they can’t force change on others but instead have to persuade and enhance the democratic spirit in order to succeed. The very reality that once irked jaded citizens – a dying form of politics – suddenly becomes their way forward for change. Democracy can sometimes turn on a dime, as in London that day, but it is made possible by the fact that so many citizens and organizations co-habitate in relatively confined spaces: cities.

It is ultimately for this reason that the future of democracy will be determined by cities. Those that can keep citizens from organizing, either through despondency or willful ignorance, will drag the democratic spirit in the muck – a tragic possibility we will explore in an upcoming blog. But those municipalities that discover citizens and institutions working together might well witness the rebirth of a vibrant democracy for a new era. That especially holds true if political leaders read the tea leaves and begin resourcing and promoting citizen and institutional engagement.

Are cities really that vital? Just do the math. Already the world houses 28 cities that contain over ten million people each. Almost 3 billion people in the world now live within urban parameters. For better or worse, the future of civilization will be politically determined in those areas. Each location will have a different outcome, but the ultimate success of each place will inevitably depend on the balance achieved between citizens, institutions, and how political representatives will follow their lead. Tomorrow’s truly successful civic politician will be the woman or man willing to learn from their own community.



The Partisan Mind (2)


It seemed like a sincere enough request.  I was being asked by an MP from another party if I’d like to have a drink with other MPs just to be social.  “Sure,” I responded, and that evening, following a late vote in the House, we retired to a favourite watering hole in Ottawa.  Nine of us had gathered, from every party but one.  I listened in fascination as we all complained about how impossible it was to accomplish any cross-party cooperation because our party positions were so rigid.  Government and opposition MPs that evening bemoaned the decline of democracy but we were all stymied as to what to do about it.  When it was suggested that we take a public stand in the House for more cooperation and less animosity, the response was muted.

This is an all-too-common occurrence in our modern political structure, and not only in Canada.  The majority of elected representatives that I knew during my brief sojourn in politics were decent and hard working.  They easily could have worked together in a company or a non-profit organization.  Instead, all of us were stuck in a partisan world that brokered little innovation. We were as varied as a field full of daisies but, in the end, we had an essential likeness that spoke of timidity and the odd scent of barrenness.

This is ever the problem when partisanship has gone off the deep end.  Individuals caught in its tentacles steer their course by the lesser light of their prejudices.  Their convictions run by instinct and their thoughts run in an endless feedback loop.  There are endless assertions but few enlightened arguments.  Such individuals, wandering in their limited possibilities, always require some kind of prophet – a leader who can fill in the gap between their own emptiness and a hoped for ideal.

We have all experienced this in one form or another.  Our very narrowness and lack of public spirit make those better angels of our respective natures all the more futile because they can only function in conformity.  We achieve a kind of sure trust and yet its field of vision is so narrow.  If we aren’t careful, such tendencies can create a kind of sterility of which we are not conscious – a kind of inner lack that robs us of the kind of comprehensive compassion required to efficiently manage the public space.  And it perverts our conduct in a fashion that can sadly lose the public trust – a reality all of our political parties face at present.

These three blog posts are designed for the average person who is interested in politics but who can feel the temptations that limit public possibilities when private passions are followed. There are always those with rabid opinions who seek to divide citizens and those who desire to stay so neutral that they have little to offer in the way of actionable items in the public space.  These blog posts aren’t for such voices.

Good people function in every political party and seek the best for their communities and the country.  We aren’t guns for hire, nor do we have the wish to defile the public space.  And yet powerful forces are at work in both politics and human nature that can draw us into swirling side eddies by offering us quicker paths to power and influence.  It is in our own best interest, and those of our communities, to take the more complex route of deliberative dialogue and the willingness to compromise.

The reason for all this is simple: the white-hot nature of partisan politics makes it impossible to function on our public streets – the very thoroughfares of community that we all care about.  The public rejects such displays outright.

Modern democracy doesn’t seek to carpet bomb nor demean someone of a different viewpoint. It requires a dedication to the method of inquiry, a certain intelligent detachment, and free exchange of views in respect.   Such an attitude, without our intention or even awareness, is capable of creating a series of mini-revolutions that bring about a catalyst in our politics – a refinement that brings about change through process instead of brinksmanship through major revolution.  Should the political order fail to provide for such possibilities, then it is only a matter of time until more violent solutions are pursued and the moment of opportunity for nuanced progress is lost.

Such possibilities must ever be in the mind of the well-meaning partisan.  If we were honest, we would admit that it is almost impossible to maintain a blind loyalty to a political party if we always seek new research, ideas and renaissance.  It is our enlightened minds that should claim our ultimate loyalty, not a group or an individual with a guidebook of simple equations and answers.  The very fires that rage in our minds and seek change for the betterment of people must never be permitted to burn their own path through the public space, destroying decades of investment in their wake.  Reasonable partisans are better than that and permit their hard-won convictions to be moderated by the well-meaning views of others.

As Chogyam Trungpa put it: “Personal enlightenment is the ego’s ultimate disappointment.”  Our communities demand our better selves – the part of us that delights in shared accomplishments over private prejudices.  Partisans have a key place in such a world, but only when they understand their respectful place in the broader community.

“Smashing Time” – Community Engagement Podcast (23)

Political policies in the modern era have turned pitting the different generations – Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y – against one another.  At the community level this can have devastating effects, as many cities watch their younger creative classes exiting for opportunities better acquired elsewhere.  It’s time to obliterate the generational barriers that limit our abilities, split our families, and ultimately keep our communities under-performing.  I work in sectors where the generations cooperate together to make significant differences.

Just click on the audio button below to listen to the five-minute podcast.

Smashing Time

An American research project, called the Casey Carlson & Deloitte & Touche Study, spent some time analyzing the attitudes of three generations – Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y – especially as they related to the work place. They determined that the “clash of generations” that many worry about is more about cultural differences than anything else. Left unaddressed, especially in difficult economic times, they could lead to significant divisions. The study found the three generations had more in common than they had differences, but that their diverse points of view must be addressed in productive settings if they are to be worked out.

The study gives some examples of answers from people from the three generations to a certain set of questions. Perusing them, the distinctions emerge. Can you discern which generation said what?

  • “This generational stuff is just socially acceptable stereotyping…politically correct rationale offered for immature behaviour” 
“When is someone going to ask me what I need?” 
“Doesn’t everyone want the same thing anyway?”
  • “Even if this generational stuff were true, this is still planet earth and we know how our business needs to be run for it to be a success” 
“Can we go back to work now? These kids will either get with the program or they’ll leave just like they always have.”
  • “I don’t get it! My managers are barely ‘technologically literate’ yet they’re never open to suggestions on how to improve a process with technology. What’s up with this attitude?” “Don’t they want to go home at night? They act as if I should want to work 60-70 hours a week, year in and year out. I’m not afraid of hard work, but that’s not the only thing I want to do with my life.”
  • “I’m older, have more experience, and stop asking so many questions.” 
“You don’t answer my questions either because you don’t know to answer why or you wish you’d asked the same question when you were my age but didn’t have the nerve.”

This is the final blog post in the series about intergenerational differences and what political parties must do to bring out good policies that will address and provide the basic infrastructure required for the next generation to build a better world. Clearly, we’re not doing that at present, and the changes being widely introduced by the current federal government will hardly induce the kind of future for Gen X’ers and Gen Y’ers that the Boomer generation enjoyed.

Governments today, at all levels in Canada, have to address the conclusion drawn by the Harvard Business School last year: “Managing multigenerational workforces is an art in itself. Young workers want to make a quick impact. The middle generation need to believe in the mission. And the older employees don’t like ambivalence. Your move!” Our move indeed.

Economic conditions are forcing these three generations to come up with some creative solutions to adapt to modern pressures. They are coming together to share the demands of everyday living in neighbourhoods across this country. It’s proving necessary for survival. Yet along the way they’re learning more about one another and that it can be good for both their quality of life and their desire for community.

Examples of this abound everywhere. More senior workers in businesses pass along well-earned experience to younger ones, at the same as they develop appreciation for the new technologies that improve opportunities. Children stand side by side with veterans on Remembrance Day after hearing stories of famous battles and develop a better understanding of just how much it cost to enjoy that moment. High school students are visiting senior’s homes in ways that inspire young and old alike.

There have always been differences between and among generations, but they have usually worked themselves out over the years. This time seems a little different, however, as both the financial and political elite continue to pursue policies that enforce divisions between generations that need not be exacerbated. And no place is this more true than in our local communities, where the need to pull the generations together will be one of the key exercises in keeping cities from falling into decline.

Ultimately the solution to these generational gaps will not just occur with small efforts. We require something big, larger than all of us, that puts the problem right on the table and seeks a united effort to formulate those policies that will be required for our communities to prosper.

It is time for us to come together of our own accord and stop just pursuing our own favourite agendas. This is the big one – the ultimate effort that will bring the talents of the generations together without always having to introduce the differences. It is time to take on these biological urges to lash out at one other, claiming we are being misunderstood. It’s this moment, right now, when we have to challenge the status quo, for it is these presumptions and sentiments that ultimately hurt us, and the generations that will follow.

I have seven children and three grandchildren. My oldest child is in her thirties and my youngest is twelve. I work with all ages in this community and my wife is ever young at heart. All ages volunteer at the food bank and we’ve taken people from twelve years of age to seniors to Sudan. I live a life swimming among generations and the exploits they complete together are amazing. This is the true capacity of our generations. Let’s smash the stereotypes to pieces and begin working on the real differences. But above all, let’s combine for that one arena in which we will all live out our lives – our community.

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