“Never leave a dimension out.”
So, what happened?
And I write this not as someone who knows definitively.
I write this as a Canadian voter, one who has voted in every municipal, provincial, and federal election since I became eligible to do so.
A voter of a particular demographic in a particular context at a particular time.
A voter trying to puzzle through a complex situation with access to too much information from too many sources and too many people, none of which are authoritative and none of whom can know definitively.
Even the words direct participants offer have to be weighed because there’s always a personal dimension to what is said, what is done, and what is remembered no matter how meticulous the note-taking or how clear the recording.
There is also a particular challenge with this most recent Canadian political controversy because it encompasses economic, political, social, historical, constitutional, and legal dimensions, among others, and to understand some of these I’ve had to rely on the interpretation and explication of others.
I have also made a number of assumptions in my effort to understand what has happened, to determine how I feel about it all, and to reflect on what it means for my future voting intentions.
To start, I do not believe that any of the key players were operating with nefarious intent.
That is, I do not believe that Ms. Wilson-Raybould was trying to bring down the Liberal government and I do not believe that the Prime Minister, the PMO, the PCO, and others were acting in an unethical manner.
I also do not believe that the Canadian government is corrupt.
I recognize that relationships between our governments and Big Business are uncomfortably close. That applies to the current government, all past governments, and any future ones. This is symptomatic of governments around the world and is a reflection of the unbridled capitalist system that dominates global economies.
For those NDP supporters who will jump up and say, “Not-our-party,” look at the governments in Alberta and British Columbia to understand that even NDP governments have to contend with Big Business. The challenge is to draw social and economic benefits from Big Business and not to placate the corporate sector or to give into the bullying of particular corporations, especially those who claim their survival is at stake.
It’s a difficult balance to achieve and it doesn’t matter to, or isn’t a goal for, the true revolutionaries whose interests are in dismantling the current economic system.
It is also unfounded, in my estimation, to say this Prime Minister and this government do not believe in the rule of law.
The mechanism at the heart of the recent Canadian political explosion, a Deferred Prosecution Agreement or DPA, is a punitive measure and an admission of wrongdoing. It is also part of Canadian legislation; it is the law of this country.
To pursue a DPA is not about circumventing the law. It is about upholding the law using an alternative approach to resolution, in the same vein as mediations, arbitrations, and out-of-court settlements.
I am not saying whether or not SNC Lavalin qualifies for a DPA because it is not a question for me to answer nor is it one that I’m capable of answering. However, there are different views on this issue even from those with the expertise and professional qualifications to make such a determination. For example, The National Observer’s Sandy Garossino has written eloquently on why, in her view, SNC Lavalin does not qualify for a DPA and other legal mavens have said that perhaps they might.
However, if one’s interpretation of events includes the belief that DPAs were included in Canadian legislation only to serve the interests of SNC Lavalin, then that person is operating from the point of view that the government is corrupt — although no proof to that effect has been offered anywhere that I have seen and which I’ve already stated is not my position.
The final assumption that I’ve made, or I should more accurately say presumption, is that the working relationship between the Prime Minister, his former Chief of Staff, the PMO, the PCO, the Cabinet, the Liberal Caucus and the former Attorney General had begun to deteriorate long before a concerned anonymous source leaked a story that was not theirs to tell to Robert Fife of The Globe and Mail.
I obviously have no way to gauge the source of this tension. Was it due to disagreements around judicial appointments (now a confirmed part of the narrative because of another anonymous leak), the Indigenous Rights framework (now confirmed because of a recent interview with Jody Wilson-Raybould), or even other legislation such as the legalization of cannabis or medical assistance in dying? Or was it all of the above and more?
It’s reasonable to conclude, however, that this nagging and gnawing tension, which snapped under the pressure of the last three months, was partly due to personality conflicts.
So, after my long preamble, what happened?
Those were the words of Jody Wilson-Raybould to the Justice Committee and words that she has not contradicted since she first spoke them.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould also stated that she was not directed to take a particular course of action.
In the absence of illegality and a lack of direction, the question becomes one of ethics. More specifically, was the pressure that Ms. Wilson-Raybould felt and documented political interference?
This is where the personal dimension comes into play.
To see the calls and discussions on the SNC Lavalin file as political interference instead of an attempt to explore the viability of applying a lawful alternative makes sense if one does not trust those involved in the discussions.
And, to me, this was the PMO’s and PCO’s greatest failing. They did not understand or make an attempt to understand the level of mistrust and distrust that had, over time, imbued their relationship with the former Attorney General.
Political interference also makes sense if there is a narrow interpretation of the Attorney General’s discretion, another point I’ve seen debated by experts online.
The attribution of political interference does not make sense if additional factors are considered such as reports that were not shared with the PCO and PMO, the refusal to consider the merits of outside counsel on the potential use of new, precedent-setting legislation, and incomplete explanations. As any parent knows, “no, because” is not persuasive argumentation.
And, to me, this is one area where room opens up to question Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s approach to communicating with her colleagues.
There is also a sequence of events that makes it even more difficult to determine an answer to the question of whether or not the undue pressure Ms. Wilson-Raybould experienced did constitute political interference because there were other alternatives and options available to her that she chose not to take.
For example, according to the Shawcross Principle, an Attorney General must resign if they feel the actions of the government are unacceptable.
At this point, someone will fire back and question why I, someone who is not a lawyer and not a constitutional expert, is talking about a legal and constitutional manner. True, but neither are most Canadian voters. Neither are most opinion columnists with national platforms and yet their interpretations, whether well informed, uniformed, or misinformed, are read and presented as definitive when they should be read and understood as speculative.
Furthermore, as stated above, I am a Canadian voter who has to assess, to the best of my ability, the legal and constitutional threads that have woven this tumultuous tapestry.
I have to make my determinations based on the information available to me and which I am able to process even when lawyers and constitutional experts don’t agree. That is the burden of democratic citizenship, which is not easy and which is predicated on making an effort to contemplate, consider, contest, and conclude.
Another retort I’ve seen made, when the Shawcross Principle is invoked, is to question why Jody Wilson-Raybould, as Attorney General, should have been the one to resign.
The answer is straightforward.
Because she was Attorney General and that is what Attorney Generals are obligated to do according to the terms of the Shawcross Principle. There is also historical precedence of Attorney Generals who have done exactly that.
So, in the absence of Jody Wilson-Raybould resigning at this point in the saga, the only reasonable assumption observers can make is that whatever the government did, it was not bad enough to trigger the resignation of the Attorney General as required.
That is, the government didn’t cross the line. Its conduct was ethical or, if you prefer, bad, but not bad enough.
Another angle some have taken, such as Jane Philpott in her interview with Macleans, is that Ms. Wilson-Raybould didn’t resign because if she were to do so, the full force of corruption and malfeasance would be unleashed on Canadians and the Canadian justice system. While this is a noble thought, the argument is fallacious.
Had Ms. Wilson-Raybould resigned as Attorney General, it would have been the clearest indication that the government had acted in an indisputably unethical manner. A resignation under those circumstances would have given rise to many of the same consequences — outrage, questions, investigations, and so forth — without the damage of leak and counter-leak, let alone hyperbolic media reaction and unpalatable opposition partisanship, to the general public’s trust and faith in our political processes and our systems of governance.
Furthermore, the one-person-against-all argument shows a disregard for the strength of our existing systems and institutions. It’s a stance that portrays our systems and institutions as already weak, corrupt, and malleable despite the paucity of evidence to that effect. However, evidence isn’t required if one is predisposed to see them in this light because of one’s own unhappiness, displeasure, or dissatisfaction with the Canadian government and its workings.
And that is not the same as saying Canada is perfect.
Nothing is, no one is.
The next juncture that raises questions about the events that unfolded and the perception of political interference has to do with Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s move to Veterans Affairs.
Despite her disenchantment with the Prime Minister, the PMO, and the PCO and her belief that their actions constituted political interference, she did not say no to another position at the same cabinet table with the same cabinet colleagues in the same government.
Her resignation came after a barrage of insulting media coverage that depicted the move as a demotion. More specifically, Ms. Wilson-Raybould resigned from Cabinet after the Prime Minister blithely asserted that all was well when he and his team should have known better.
However, I understand the logic of the situation. The Prime Minister and his team believed that matters had been resolved. They assumed the willingness of the Minister to continue to sit at the Cabinet table was evidence that equilibrium had been reestablished. This may have been naive given Jane Philpott’s intervention and the contentious pre-shuffle discussions with Ms. Wilson-Raybould, but on what basis should they have thought otherwise?
A family member, during a recent politically tinged discussion around the dinner table, argued that Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s hand was forced with each declaration the government made. That is, she may have stayed as Minister of Veterans Affairs if only the Prime Minister hadn’t averred her contentment with such obliviousness. So, each step she took was in reaction to a narrative which she felt was objectionable and untrue.
That’s fair and it is a different interpretation that I will continue to evaluate.
However, if Ms. Wilson-Raybould had lost confidence in the Prime Minister (a question she did not answer during her appearance before the Justice Committee and hasn’t answered, to the best of my knowledge in subsequent interviews and disclosures) and if she objected to the actions of the various team members, and given all the other objections she had raised in the pre-shuffle negotiations, if these were all reasons for not accepting the position as Minister of Veterans Affairs, what were the Prime Minister, the PMO, and the PCO to think when she did accept the post? How were they to know what may have appeared to be an acceptable outcome was nothing of the sort?
And if my presumption about a pre-existing fractious working relationship is true, perhaps the Prime Minister and his team had been wanting to shuffle cabinet posts even before the SNC Lavalin situation turned into molten lava.
Although cabinet shuffles are the prerogative of the Prime Minister, the PMO was likely aware that the optics of shuffling the Attorney General would have been appalling no matter when such a move was made. In that sense, Scott Brison’s departure must have felt like a heaven sent opportunity. Here was a new vacancy that permitted a larger cabinet shuffle. And because that did seem to be an answer to an ongoing issue, they jumped at the opportunity of what must have seemed like a tailor made solution despite the warnings and cautions they had received.
With regard to the secret recording Ms. Wilson-Raybould made of her telephone conversation with Michael Wernick, I have struggled to understand what it was that made her feel so threatened that she resorted to the one incontestably unethical action in this whole story.
What made her feel so desperate?
As with most aspects of this ongoing saga, interpretations of the recording have varied widely and the only purpose it seems to have served is to confirm, as the CBC’s Aaron Wherry and others tweeted, pre-existing positions.
That is, if you believe Ms. Wilson-Raybould was the only one bravely standing up to political interference, then in the call you heard her being unduly pressured. If you believe that the government was trying to understand Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s positioning on the SNC Lavalin file, then in the call you heard someone trying to make sense of a contentious issue in a context where much was not understood and even less was shared.
I recognize that Ms. Wilson-Raybould felt isolated and alone within Caucus although she had at least two stalwart supporters and the guidance of the trusted advisor to whom she has alluded.
But, what did she think recording Mr. Wernick would accomplish? Why was she unwilling to stand firm now when she had stood firm so far and had been successful in doing so?
I also don’t understand why Ms. Wilson-Raybould refused to seek outside legal advice with regard to the merits of a DPA for SNC Lavalin. I realize that it meant that her colleagues were not satisfied with her refusal to consider the viability of the new legal alternative, but she knew that already.
I have no doubt the constant second-guessing and “what ifs” frustrated her. I’ve been the only woman on a senior management team in a corporate setting. Many men don’t listen to women. It is a constant struggle to be heard. It’s a struggle that is disheartening, discouraging, and demoralizing.
It’s also not right nor fair.
However, it is a reality that women in male-dominated careers and professions contend with and sometimes managing the situation entails taking steps that in a healthier, more collaborative environment would not be required.
Getting an external review that agreed with the position Ms. Wilson-Raybould was taking would have ended the calls and inquiries more certainly than a secret recording that compromised her ethics. If an external review raised doubts about the conclusion that a DPA was not merited, then she could still have refused to change her position or she may have opted to reconsider based on sound, legal advice, not on political grounds. The fact that she did not pursue this avenue, continues to mystify me.
In the end, it seems to me that the bumbling response of the Prime Minister and the PMO, especially in the initial phases of the storm, was because all the players involved were gobsmacked by the unravelling of a relationship they assumed had healed. The saga is in fact reminiscent of every bad break up any of us have had, where the person that’s left has left us blubbering, over tubs of ice cream, mounds of chocolate, and scads of tissues, “I just don’t get it! How could it all go so wrong? How could they do this to me?”
To me, the PMO reacted as they did because they were dumped by leak and had absolutely no clue why. That failure to grasp the intricacies of the deteriorating relationship, and their own responsibility for it, reflects naïveté rather than ill-intent. As with every schism, anger and grief set in, too, and decision-making, on the part of all parties involved, became suspect.
So, what happened?
To be honest, I’m still unsure and I don’t think that we will ever fully know, even if an inquiry were to be called.
There are too many moving parts of the puzzle. There too many dimensions to consider including the most elusive of all, the personal one.
I do know, however, that Canadian politics has paid a steep price and the result, so far, has only been to reap the dividends of distrust, division, and discord.
There is this song.
I have listened to it obsessively. Usually at night before I turn off the lights. As a remedy, as a tonic, as an anthem for the work I’m doing and the work I hope to do.
I’ve written about music and memory before (see here), but this is different. This is about now and the way this music spurs me on in the current social and political climate.
This song is a spark. A spark that is a component of the antidote we need in these dark times of hate, intolerance, and evil.
It’s from a movie I’ve never watched and perhaps there’s a risk in viewing only one four-minute segment from a feature-length film. This video is also now almost a year old. I only discovered it because of YouTube’s algorithmic operation. The same algorithms that have contributed to so much of the strife and misinformation that contaminate our news and information diets.
The song is from the movie The Greatest Showman. “This Is Me” is sung by Keala Settle who plays Lettie Lutz in the movie (Annie Jones in real life), the Bearded Lady and one of P. T. Barnum’s original nineteenth century cast members. Leaving aside the nature of Barnum’s commercial project and even the commercial project from which this song is drawn, absorb the lyrics as you watch the video.
As much as the words move me, there is magic in the choreography. It’s that magic that pulls me in — every time. That resonates in my heart. The earthiness of the stamping feet, the power of the arms punched into the air, the rhythmic staccato of the bodies swaying. It’s solid, it’s demanding, it’s asserting the right of these bodies to exist as they are in all spaces. In the light, not the dark, in amongst you and me. In amongst us all.
There’s that moment when the performers are suspended in air. They’ve transcended the chains of exclusion and the labels of derision to float above their cares and their worries, but the truth is in the thud of their landing. That landing on two feet. That is when they reclaim their place. The true power of their existence is in the human groundedness of their experience.
And as much as I appreciate the beauty of the production values in this video, the version of the song that I treasure is this one.
Here, Keala Settle is not singing the song from the character’s perspective. As authentically as she might inhabit the character in the film, she is not Lettie Lutz. That is the masquerade.
In the workshop version, Settle embodies the song. She embodies the essence of the words, the heart of the matter. Here, she is singing her life story. She is reliving every struggle, every hurt, every joy, every triumph, and every hope. It’s that uncloaked look into who she is, who she is without adornment or disguise, that opens up the whole performance, hers and that of every other person in the room. You can see it in the ecstatic communion of their spirits and voices.
And the universality in the message of this song, the truth of it, is that we are all different. Our differences do not make us less than any other. They only do so when others associate difference with inferiority, with lack, with less-than.
Unfortunately, it is also a truth that those with power and privilege have gained their rank through a long historical process of magnifying and demonizing difference. Manipulating fear to validate sacrificing others for profit and prestige. For control.
So, there’s a radical — if not revolutionary — message in this song despite the fact that it’s embedded in a cultural artefact that itself is a product of our systems and structures of consumerism and privilege.
And it is this.
I know that there’s a place for us
For we are glorious
Each and every one of us.
And don’t let them, those who benefit from the exploitation of difference, ever tell you differently.
If they do, fight back.
Do not give them a platform to amplify and broadcast hateful messages.
Vote them out.
Hieronymus Bosch. A late-Medieval Dutch painter and an artist whose work intrigues my son.
This month the Vancouver International Film Festival Society (VIFF) is screening a movie about curators preparing an upcoming exhibition of Bosch’s work. How interesting! How cultural! How … wait a minute: what do you mean I can’t take my son to see the film?
It turns out that if a film is unclassified, the regulations prohibit the sale of a ticket to anyone under 19. How absurd! Furthermore, when a film is classified and those under 19 are able to attend, the VIFF theatre concession can no longer serve its adult patrons alcohol. How ridiculous!
So, I’ve written a letter to Minister Oakes urging her to cut this red tape and I will mail it this evening.
If you share my point of view on this, please write the Minister, too.
The more she hears from BC voters, the more likely the government will address these anachronistic provisions, which make a mockery of consumer protection.
September 2, 2016
Honourable Coralee Oakes
Minister of Small Business, Red Tape Reduction
& Responsible for the Liquor Distribution Branch
P.O.Box 9054, STN Prov Govt
Victoria, BC V8W9E2
Dear Minister Oakes,
I had wanted to buy tickets for my family to one of the Vancouver International Film Festival Society (VIFF) screenings of a movie about Hieronymus Bosch, the visionary late-Medieval Dutch painter.
Unfortunately, I’m unable to do so since the movie is unclassified and I cannot buy a ticket for my fifteen year-old son.
My son is an artist and has long been intrigued by Bosch’s work. As his parent, I’m very comfortable in accompanying him to this movie. Its content is cultural, informative, historical, and fascinating. It is in no way a threat to his well-being or his psyche. I think anyone would be hard-pressed to argue that he doesn’t have the maturity necessary to watch this particular film.
In inquiring as to why I was unable to take my son to the movie, I have learned that it is provincial law, not VIFF policy, which demands the classification of films before they can be shown to teenagers. Apparently this law covers only theatrical screenings and DVD releases, but not television nor the internet.
This regulatory policy is based on a logical fallacy that an unclassified film is the same as an unsuitable one. It is a level of red tape that not only hinders operations at VIFF, one of Vancouver’s outstanding cultural institutions, but it also assumes that parents are incapable of determining which movies their teenage children may watch.
The same anachronistic regulations prohibit VIFF from allowing liquor in the theatre on Seymour Street when youth under 19 are present. This seems like an unnecessary duplication of restrictions given that concession staff would be prohibited from serving minors. It also diminishes the experience for older patrons who are denied their full privileges simply because the broader classification of a particular movie expands the audience for that particular screening.
I am writing to ask that you review these particular regulations and amend them at the earliest opportunity. Allow teenagers to attend unclassified movies with their parents’ approval and allow liquor service when a movie audience includes those under 19. That would be an effective red tape reduction and a positive support for small business in the cultural sector.
Thank you Minister Oakes for your consideration of the above. I hope that you will take the measures necessary to introduce a more enlightened approach for screenings of unclassified films in Vancouver, whether at the VIFF theatre or at other locations. Such an approach would facilitate the attendance of teens at film events. It is an approach that will draw in younger audiences, not shut them out and without diminishing the experience of older patrons.
Honourable Suzanne Anton, Attorney General & Minister of Justice
Jacqueline Dupuis, Executive Director, VIFF Society
Rob Gialloreto, President & CEO, Consumer Protection BC
During last year’s federal election campaign in Canada, I received a direct mail piece that I thought flouted the principles of transparency.
After filing a complaint and an extended correspondence with a representative from the Office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections, I knew that the leaflet met the letter of the regulations. I was adamant that it did not meet the spirit of them.
This is a copy of the letter I mailed today to The Honourable Maryam Monsef asking that she initiate a process to amend the regulations pertaining to the tagline on campaign materials.
August 24, 2016
The Honourable Maryam Monsef
Minister of Democratic Institutions
Centre Block, Suite 546S
House of Commons
Dear Ms. Monsef,
Please accept my belated congratulations on your successful election as a Canadian Member of Parliament and on your subsequent appointment to Cabinet as the Minister of Democratic Institutions.
Last year’s election campaign was a long one and, on occasion, bitterly fought. In Canada, the integrity of the general voting system is upheld by its overall structure as well as the regulations and operational details of which it is comprised.
While your main focus now is on electoral reform, I would like to draw your attention to a flaw in the regulations of the Canada Elections Act (Act) that pertain to the tagline in campaign marketing materials.
During last year’s federal election campaign, I received many direct mail pieces. There was one in particular that I found objectionable. While the mailer met the requirements of the regulations, it clearly contravened the intent and the spirit of the rules. I have enclosed the original mailer for your reference.
I received a piece of campaign literature today which is national in scope. It does not clearly identify the sender, the political party, or the official agent. Furthermore, it does not even identify the name of the local candidate in my riding. This appears to me to violate the guidelines, at the very least in spirit, for advertising material. Depending on who paid the costs of production & distribution, it may also violate financing guidelines. (9 October 2015)
The response I received was that the mailer met the requirements of the regulations. Specifically, the email dismissed my concerns as follows:
Thank you for your message of October 9, 2015 with respect to the election advertising leaflet that was distributed in your riding.
The Canada Elections Act (Act) requires that a candidate or registered party who runs an election ad mentions in or on the message that its transmission was authorized by the candidate’s official agent or by the party’s registered agent. The Act is silent as to the size, colour or placement of that mention, which is referred to as the “tagline”. I would draw your attention to the bottom right of the page showing Thomas Mulcair, under the word “Canada” where the following statement appears: “Authorized by the registered agent of the Conservative Party of Canada”. The tagline does appear and provides the information required by the act. (11 October 2015)
I was not satisfied with the response and had further correspondence with an agent from the Office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections. After sending him a scanned copy of the direct mail piece, I received this response:
Good morning Ms. Faris:
I am familiar with the literature you forwarded me. We had previously reviewed it and as you noted the tag line is included on the ‘Mulcair’ side of this literature. It does state that the political advertising is authorized by the registered agent for the Conservative Party of Canada. Generally speaking, the Act does not control the content of election advertising (or the font size for the authorization line), but regulates the reporting of associated expenses and requires that an authorization statement appear on the advertising.
The literature you received is an initiative from the Conservative Party of Canada and an expense of this political party. It is not associated with the local Conservative Party of Canada candidate in your electoral district.
Hoping this clarifies this matter … (14 October 2015)
I did not find the response satisfactory and wrote again:
It clarifies matters, but does not resolve my complaint.
Here’s the thing: a tagline is meant to identify the sender. If it is virtually impossible to read, then it defeats the purpose. Just having it there is not enough. It respects the letter of the regulation, but does not satisfy the intent.
Similarly, if benefits accrue to the local candidate, then a portion of the costs must be assigned to them even if those expenses are recorded as an in-kind donation.
I’d like to know what steps I should pursue now to continue the examination of this issue. (14 October 2015)
The agent tried to address my concerns and the last note I received was as follows:
Section 320 of the Canada Elections Act (Act) is clear:
Message must be authorized
320. A candidate or registered party, or a person acting on their behalf, who causes election advertising to be conducted shall mention in or on the message that its transmission was authorized by the official agent of the candidate or by the registered agent of the party, as the case may be.
This matter has been reviewed previously. It is clear that this election advertising (literature) is distributed and paid for by the Conservative Party of Canada – thus the tag line of authorized by the Registered Agent for the Conservative Party of Canada. The tag line may be difficult to read, however the Act does not regulate the content of the advertising other that what is noted in Section 91 of the Act:
Publishing false statements to affect election results
91. No person shall, with the intention of affecting the results of an election, knowingly make or publish any false statement of fact in relation to the personal character or conduct of a candidate or prospective candidate.
It may be noted that national advertising by a Party (any political party) may benefit a local candidate. It may also be argued that advertising by a candidate may benefit a Party. Almost every advertising generated by a candidate will include their party’s logo.
In reviewing this matter, the Office of the Commissioner of Canada Elections is satisfied that the required information is contained on the advertising being discussed and its expense will be reported by the Party. With regards to your complaint, we have reviewed the information you have provided and concluded that the circumstances as described do not appear to contravene any provisions of the Act, and as such, cannot be pursued by this Office. (14 October 2015)
Despite the best efforts of the representative from the Commissioner’s Office, I still believe that this direct mail piece stretched the limits of the regulations to the point of absurdity. It is not enough to simply include a tagline; it must be legible and clearly identifiable. I also believe that the local candidate’s name should appear on any directly distributed material since Canadians vote for Members of Parliament, not for party leaders.
Minister Monsef, I urge you to initiate a process to review and amend the regulations of the Act that deal with the tagline and the identity of the sender. Such details are critical; they underpin the integrity of Canada’s voting system, whether as currently constituted or as altered for future elections.
Thank you for your consideration of this matter and I look forward to amended regulations which uphold the principles of transparency and integrity for election campaign materials.
Marc Mayrand, Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, Elections Canada
Commissioner of Canada Elections
Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs
As parents and educators, we know there’s a balance when working with those who may depend upon us. We want to be their friends, but that’s not our only role. There is a boundary — the hardest one to find — between being a friend and being an effective role model and guide.
The same is true with Boards and governance. It’s not necessarily about being liked, it’s about being effective.
While my most recent experience is as a Trustee with the West Vancouver Board of Education, my comments are applicable to Boards in general. I also don’t claim to have answers nor have I conducted exhaustive research; these are personal reflections.
It may be important for Boards and the senior teams they work with to have their goals and objectives align, but this doesn’t always mean their interests are the same. So while mutual support and consideration are essential ingredients for long-term success, there has to be an acknowledgement that consensus is not the same as agreement. Opposition and conflict are not always signs of dysfunction and elements of both can lead to better decision-making because conformity and complacency, in my opinion, are greater dangers.
A quick Google search turned up this provocative article from the Harvard Business Review which points to weaknesses in our notions about teams and stresses the importance of asking questions. I always find it perplexing that we stress the importance of critical thinking skills in twenty-first century learning and yet have trouble with the actual application of such skills in the workplace. To me, a successful Board is one which makes its safe for questions to be asked (easy questions, tough questions, ridiculous questions, any kind of question) because that is a Board which values knowing over guessing, inquiry over a lack of curiousity, and due diligence over acceptance.
Perhaps the most challenging part of being on any Board today is the way in which information circulates. Correspondence is rarely two ways — it’s multi-directional — and the speed at which we communicate has accelerated. It’s so important to get a good grasp on how communications and correspondence will be managed, but it’s also critical, in my opinion, to recognize that managing the process of being responsive is not about shutting down voices. It then becomes an issue of how to set up an effective system which is timely, efficient, and allows for diversity in who speaks on what and when. The tendency, as we can see in federal and provincial politics, is to centralize the message and if you’re like me, you can see that it works, but at a cost to democratic representation.
Boards also need to know more than what they are told they need to know. As is true in education, it’s not about spoon feeding content, but about engagement and broadening horizons. It’s also important to remember who makes up a Board’s constituency. In a complex field such as education for example, it’s not just about the Trustees around the table nor the team in the School Board office nor the administration group in a school, it’s about all of these and it’s also about parents, students, employees, teachers, the community, and more.
It’s not easy being on a Board just as it’s not easy being a parent or an educator. And it’s never about finding the easy way of doing things.
It’s about recognizing boundaries and making sure they never turn into un-traversable moats.