Over the years, anyone involved in any order of government has seen, and likely experienced, inappropriate behaviour directed at elected officials, administrators, or even the public. Focusing on local government for now, we are noticing that abuse is getting both more acute, more common, and more noticeable.
In an earlier blog post, I wrote about the concept of bullying, which is certainly one form of abuse, but the range of infractions is much broader than just that one type. Over the years, my colleagues and I at Strategic Steps have had the opportunity to work with hundreds of elected officials in most provinces and territories of Canada, as well as in the US and Australia. Mistreatment seems sadly universal, and we wondered whether the causes are universal as well as whether it’s just the symptoms that are so common.
Rather than guessing, we have chosen to lean on one of our own corporate values – wisdom. For us, this means sharing what we have learned across time and across our country.
In late April, we are hosting a symposium that we have titled ‘Bucking the Trend’. Through that event, we would like to bring together elected and appointed officials who primarily work in the realm of local government. We will be exploring this topic of abuse, beginning to consider its root causes and what might be done about it.
Rather than merely providing a series of speakers, this event is being called a symposium because we would like it to be as interactive as possible. There will be keynotes, panels that will tackle specific topics, and small group time to consider the issues of the day. We would like to generate knowledge from what we find out, and perhaps continue on with the journey of discovery after the event.
Together with our colleagues and our sponsors, we want to tackle abuse in the political realm, to think about how best to reduce and then stop it.
Recently, I listened to someone talk about how the desire for the sound bite, the meme, the ‘gotcha’ has taken the place of nuanced political debate. These short, intense interactions seem to be most effective when they are most pointed, even if the rhetoric isn’t exactly 100% true. The win, it seems, is more important than governing well. This needs to stop.
I have taken to calling this type of discourse that is often found in the guise of populism ‘short-term gain for long-term pain’, and while it is no doubt fascinating to the casual observer, it does real damage to the honourable exercise of real public service.
Our Bucking the Trend symposium is being designed to look at how we can identify the root causes of the problem and collectively tackle it. We will have representatives from all orders of government, industry, and from various associations. Each has their own perspective, and together we hope that some innovation will emerge.
We are aware that no single symposium will solve the problem, but perhaps it will provide some food for thought and some tools to take us another step down the path towards respectful political discourse.
Those who work in the realm, whether appointed or elected, all have a part to play in not standing for abuse and in creating a respectful culture change.
Please join me, my colleagues, and a group of interesting speakers, panellists, and subject matter experts as we begin to tackle abuse in the political realm.
The symposium website is www.buckingthetrend.ca
We hope to see you at the Renaissance Edmonton Airport Hotel on April 27, 2023.
Do you have ideas for who we might invite to this first symposium? Please pass along the web link to anyone who might benefit from attending or who might have something valuable to add to the subject.
As always, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.