17 December 2013

Our elected leaders need to talk less and listen more.

As we all watched the bizarre proceedings in the city of Toronto, and the consequences of the mayor’s behaviour, I think these events are symptomatic of a larger problem in Canadian politics. The mayor of Toronto will not step aside, no matter what the cost to his city, because he feels an entitlement to his position. I believe there is a culture of entitlement within our political realm that bodes ill for the future of local, regional and national governance.

There is an incredible arrogance in politics today; an elitist sense of entitlement and an attitude that we know better than you so just shut up and let us get on with it. This is evident in Vancouver too. From Mayor Robertson calling people who disagree with him ‘f-ing hacks’, to Cllr Meggs calling Grandview-Woodlands ‘dead in the water’ because some of the residents disagree with Visions development plans.  What has happened to respectful dialogue?

Vision Parks Commissioner Aaron Jasper is becoming famous for his re-inventions of the truth when anyone disagrees with him. When I called for a plebiscite on whales in captivity he claimed that my motion 'knowingly put the Park Board at risk of a lawsuit'. This was after the City legal department had vetted the motion and Jasper himself, as Chair of the Board, had put it on the agenda. More recently a Park Board motion, to form an advisory group to review and make recommendations on the Kitsilano /Hadden park portion of the Seaside Greenway Route, was defeated by Vision because, as Jasper said, it proposed the committee would have an ‘overriding power’ to direct the Park Board. The motion said no such thing.

When our elected politicians make up the truth to suit their ends, when they belittle and insult the public because some disagree, when they hold contempt for the very citizens they are supposed to represent, then we know we have a crisis in democracy.

This contempt is not only restricted to the civic level. From Gordon Campbell saying one thing about the GST before the election and another afterward, to the federal crisis in robocalls, Senate expenses and payoffs, and the contempt shown on both sides of the aisle in our legislatures and parliament, I believe our democracy is dire in trouble.

To me leadership isn’t running out in front and expecting everyone else to follow, nor is it telling citizens that we know better than you so shut up and put up. To me leadership is finding out where people want to go and then finding the way to get them there. It’s telling people the hard truths and realities, and helping them adjust to a changing landscape. It is working to better the lives of everyone, not just the ones that think like they do.

 Our elected leaders need to talk less and listen more. They need more humility and less a sense of entitlement. They need to be open-minded and resourceful. 

Honesty and respect may sound old fashioned, but they are the cornerstones of a civil society. Our leaders need to lead by modelling the behaviours we need to face the challenges that lie ahead.