Good Governance Project: ‘Reformcraft

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Annex A

Conversations Across the Country - Reformcraft

Introduction

The Reformcraft Project was to develop criteria for good (high quality) governance in countries like Canada for the next twenty years. Governance meaning ‘how society steers itself’. The work was carried out by Ruth Hubbard, Senior Advisor to the Privy Council Office in collaboration with the Governance Centre of the University of Ottawa and the Public Policy Forum (PPF) over the period July 1999 through June 2000. The result will be a report submitted to the Clerk of the Privy Council, Professor Gilles Paquet, and David Zussman of the PPF.

As part of the work, many conversations were held with people across the country to discuss the model. The conversations were wide-ranging and included people from all sectors and many walks of life - including graduate students in Native Studies and several people associated with them and young people between the ages of 18 and 25. In all, more than 160 people were involved in these conversations. The approach used is included in Annex 1 as well as the latest version of the summary document and diagram.

Results

Is Ruth On the Right Track?

Most people thought that Ruth was on the right track in terms of the problems and the need to start moving towards good governance. Ottawa was typical of this view. People there felt it was important that others see both the problem and the need to act. Others noted the high cost of not thinking differently (including not examining sacred cows like medicare). Some participants at all round tables (and a significant proportion at many meetings) felt that the status quo would not do, despite the fact that it was evolving. Comments were made such as ‘where we have been won’t work’. Nevertheless, some of these people warned against over-stating the problem (e.g., describing Canadians as facing a cliff when, in fact, many of the same issues have been issues up for discussion for twenty years). And some did not agree about the urgency. For example in St. John’s the point was made that the ‘(evolving) status quo is indeed a sensible option’. Some did not like the label ‘reformcraft’.

Overall

The challenges were generally thought to be enormous. In Calgary it was summed up by asking ‘how do you turn the Titanic around by hand?’

While many agreed with the need to strengthen values, consent and learning, some felt that the basic question had not been formulated clearly enough or in the right way. A few felt that the presentation was too abstract to permit engagement. And some felt that the role of governments needed to be addressed before ‘what Canada stands for’ could be addressed.

There was a disquieting sense expressed in various of the conversations that all was not as well with Canada. While some observed that Canada was well perceived internationally (e.g., the UN rating of the best country in the world), others noted that the evidence could be misleading. In Victoria, participants said that Canada was recognized as best in being inclusive but worst in terms of results.

On the overall subject of good governance, there were a number of observations that covered a range of opinions. Calgary pointed out that good governance ‘enables citizens to act on their own ... giving back the right to participate and be responsible. It is also being more responsive to people’. Elsewhere, good governance was described as being something that must ‘reconcile competing value sets and being cognizant of doing this, balancing different measures.’ A‘quintessential example’ of new thinking was described as being aboriginal video artists who are sharing knowledge and, eventually, understanding.

It was noted by someone that there is a significant difference between the words used to characterize aboriginal approaches (peace, honour, and respect) as opposed to Canada (peace, order, and good government). With the emphasis in aboriginal approaches on trying to ‘understand’ other perspectives (even if they are not shared) and to put the search for consensus ahead of taking decisions in a timely way. While a similar focus on showing respect for another view, even if it is never going to be shared, may not be as high a priority for non-aboriginal ways of doing things in Canada.

The group involved in Native Studies focussed a significant amount of attention on ‘inclusiveness’ which they stressed meant: not only providing access to all voices but also providing the access on their terms (not just the terms that seem sensible to the majority) and also real ‘hearing’ of those voices - letting Aboriginal people speak for themselves even if this means periods of silence. Inclusiveness, as one person said, without paternalism but with some base line of human dignity.

Some noted that there is a significant difference between the traditional forms of democratic authority (vertical) and the ties that bind people in communities. An extension of this difference they noted is the need for supra national governance to be more than just the linking together of nation-state governments, and to include people as well.

On the decline of the nation state, many groups talked about the power that has been leaking up and down. Very few, however, talked about the nation state as irrelevant. The typical view is exemplified by what was said in Edmonton, where they observed that ‘people were not prepared to abandon the nation state’ but where they stressed the ‘need to understand (better) the state’s relationship with the people’.

Despite the need for improvement, many participants across the country said that there were examples of things working well. In fact, many noted that democracy was working well at some levels (generally local and community-based ones) and not at others (e.g., nationally). In Halifax, engagement in work that mattered to the community (like road paving or access to water supplies) was cited as a good example of what worked. In Regina they raised the example of the Waskawan Cooperative for managing the local water supply. And they also summed it up this way: ‘governance needs to be improved but don’t chuck out what we’ve got (that works)’. And Winnipeg spoke for many when it noted that reform was important but should not be pursued in ways that ‘unravel democracy’.

The topic of loss of ‘traditional’ public spaces and the need to find alternatives came up explicitly from time to time. One group said ‘we have lots of toys and tools but the issue is the space to put them in. We need people to lower their shoulders so that there can be more space.’ The Native Studies group talked about the need for places where people can speak up and participate ‘even if the right answer is not missing’. In Toronto, they wondered if it would become the role of big civil society organizations to step in and create and sustain such spaces especially in large metropolitan areas, where preserving human civility needed assistance.

The suspicion of ‘inclusiveness’ for its own sake was noted (basically a worry about manipulation and vested interests) together with the importance of the need to ‘protect the public from itself’ (i.e., pure direct democracy is not a good thing). The trick it was felt, is to broaden inclusiveness while minimizing these kinds of hazards.

And education and information were discussed by several groups. One group put it this way: ‘new education and credible information instruments, not divorced from governments but not dependent upon them either, are important’. On a more-specific note, the ‘feedback’ loop was cited as an essential element of any good governance framework that needed to be explicit..

Nearly all participants felt that the investment of their time and energy to discuss good governance was very worthwhile and they said that they enjoyed the discussions enormously. Many were pleasantly surprised that someone senior at the PCO would have chosen to work on this topic and to consult people across the country. There was nevertheless a good deal of concern expressed about how to engage people more generally in the necessary conversations (for a variety of reasons). And the lack of grass roots pressure for change worried a number of people across the country. Several groups made the point that there was a need for pressure in order to act. Their suggestions ranged from pro-actively getting the ideas onto corporate (public sector) and Cabinet tables across the country, to demonstrating improvement by focussing on making realistic access to realistic decision-making and by increasing trust. There was also some scepticism expressed about whether Ottawa (politicians or bureaucrats) would pay attention to the ‘good governance’ question. In many places, people expressed the hope that there would be real follow up on to this work and that it would find its way to senior bureaucrats and politicians.

Institutions and Processes

Some felt that making existing institutions and processes work better was to be preferred to examining institutions and processes in order to make fundamental change (which, these people felt, simply brought on paralysis).

The farther the discussion was from Ottawa, the more prominent was the message of the importance of finding ways for regions to influence Ottawa. The sense that both the Atlantic Canada and the Western views were not being heard, was clearly deeply felt and found expression in perceptions that, for people living in those parts of the country, the way Ottawa works is seen as ‘anti-democratic’ producing both frustration and increasing ‘working around’ government. More specifically, there was a broad consensus that the adversarial-ness and secretiveness of parliamentary government as it operates in Canada were big problems. The same was said of the failure to find constructive ways for people to be more involved and at an earlier stage (e.g., through better use of parliamentary processes). In Vancouver, for example, people observed that ‘Preston Manning can only succeed if Jean Chrétien fails.’ And in Victoria someone asked ‘why should the Prime Minister feel it is appropriate to say that a former minister of health would not be punished for expressing her views about the health care system?’ (I.e., why would punishment be an issue at all?)

Some singled out executive federalism and an over emphasis on government-to-government mechanisms as needing attention. Others, for example in Edmonton, pointed to the lack of ways to ‘check in’ with people between elections. And still others pointed to the narrowness of legitimate party politics as expressed in the Elections Expenses Act ‘if you are not a member of the team you cannot play. The door is guarded, but it is a very small one. In fact politics - the informal variety - is very broadly engaged in the country’. The issue of clinging to existing power was also raised (the biggest opposition, it was said to Senate reform was not the provinces, but the House of Commons). In St John’s, they talked about the increased centralization of power in the executive and the judiciary versus the need to diffuse power more broadly in today’s climate. Notwithstanding this, it was noted that there is less partisanship, and a less-constrained and more-inclusive view of values when they are brought down to a basic level (e.g., Calgary Inc.).

There was a view expressed across the country that governments still saw themselves in a very paternalistic role. Others expressed a different kind of concern. In Edmonton, they said the issue was people asking ‘what am I getting for my tax dollar. Fifty percent of what I am making is disappearing into a black hole and some seems not worth it. Like ‘cat’ by laws.’ The point was made by one group that some people are now being represented more effectively some of the time (i.e., municipal government and aboriginal governance) and that these emerging realities needed to find institutional expression as well being monitored for their effectiveness. In Halifax some observed that ‘the problem was not structures but mind set. The structure can work but if people don’t want it to work, it will not.’ And the quality and the capacity to sustain a high quality public service remains a concern (attracting and retaining the brightest and the best) for more than one group.

What Canada Stands for and Values

Many groups engaged in discussion of what Canada stands for. At one end of the spectrum was Vancouver, where a participant said ‘what Canada stands for is a belief that the country should persist, not common values. That we will work together and live together whether or not we agree. This is the essence of politics.’ At the other end, were groups who felt that a vision for the country was needed to use inside the country (so people could see what it looked like from outside) and to explain Canada to people in other countries. In Fredericton they talked about Canada being about sharing between regions. In other groups the line for regional sharing was drawn at equalization payments.

Most participants and virtually all discussion groups talked about values. Some mentioned the importance of the process as well as the outcome. Most groups felt that at a broad enough level (e.g., the Charter of Rights) there were shared values, but that differences in interpretation of values existed in various parts of the country. And that some sense of common values was needed for decisions that were taken to be credible to most Canadians. At the dinner meeting, young people talked about the shift in values that is leading to increased road rage and anxiety (people afraid of their neighbours) and their concern about this trend. In another group, the point was made that trying to reach unanimity on and uniformity of values was dangerous. There was strong support for putting morality (including integrity) back at the center of government and politics (both because these activities are essential moral ones as well as crucial and because values can link societal will to decision makers effectively in today’s world). And for "walking the talk" being an essential and powerful way of demonstrating values (including honesty) and building trust. The use of the word ‘morality’ nevertheless, evoked a strong reaction from a few who wondered ‘whose (definition of) morality (would be used)?’.

Politicians

There was difference of opinion about the relative importance of focussing effort on politicians. Some felt that it was a waste of effort (‘their objective is getting re-elected not on the public good’). Others did not agree and felt that getting re-elected was indeed a legitimate objective of politicians (if they wanted to improve society as a result). Some said we get the politicians we deserve. Others pointed out that no individual (politician or senior bureaucrat) can lead and manage the multi-dimensional responsibilities that face them today - it is humanly impossible at any level of government. While politicians came in for a good deal of criticism, there was nevertheless, a recognition that this was not necessarily always their fault. Mention was made of the climate of blaming that surrounded everyone; of the fact that the ability to get the job and the ability to do it (i.e., govern) required completely different capabilities; as well as one view that they were captive of bureaucracies that wanted to preserve the status quo.

Notwithstanding this difference, most participants believed that more honesty from politicians (telling citizens the truth) would increase trust and strengthen credibility. In Moncton, they wondered if politicians would face the truth about themselves or if they ‘knew that they worked for the people and not the other way around’. One person put it this way: ‘Ottawa is 20 square miles surrounded by reality’.

In Victoria, it was observed that Mike Harcourt was able to innovate and experiment now that he was no longer premier, but that when he tried it as premier, he was beaten up. Nevertheless, it was observed that the quality of leadership (amongst politicians and bureaucrats) over the last 10 years had declined, with musings that ‘people do not want to work for fools’. In Winnipeg, as elsewhere, there was a call for ‘clear and courageous leadership’ as being of paramount importance. Examples cited were Frank McKenna in New Brunswick and Mike Harris in Ontario (who was thought to have been very clear notwithstanding that bureaucrats did not like his views).

More than one group expressed the view that the M.P. and M.P.P.’s role be more of a link between people and elected governments and a mirror of the shared values. In St. John’s they talked about the need for politicians to bridge the disconnect between big policy decisions and the practical difficulties (substantive and of timing) in implementation.

Strengthening Consent

At all discussions around the country, people talked about the need to strengthen consent. Many spoke about the need for people to see that they had an influence (in terms of decisions taken). In Fredericton they said ‘it is important that people feel heard (i.e., good consultations; good listening; and clarification of expectations up front).’ In Ottawa they observed that it was important for people to see a Canadian influence on the international scene too. Others noted that expectations have to be clearer and managed better (e.g., ‘government pencils have no erasers on them’).

Many groups talked about the importance of increasing accountability; transparency; and of focussing on outcomes that mattered to people. Perhaps, they said, citizens’ views need to be trusted because they (some of them) actually may know more than those who have been elected. But they also thought in Moncton that the further the people are from decision making the less engaged they are going to be (and perhaps less moral or focussed on ‘the common good’). And that this suggests that using communities may be the right approach. In Toronto they agreed saying ‘don’t focus top down but from the citizen looking up.’

The issue of accountability emerged as an important one. It was observed by one person that the ‘commitment network approach’ (Ron Capelle’s trademarked approach to improving organizational design) may offer a way of linking elected officials with groups and individuals who have a stake in steering society while keeping legitimacy, authority, and responsibility (i.e., power) clear to all, and should be explored further. Some wondered if people do not know how either to hold governments to account or to articulate their own values set(s) clearly.

Some described consent this way. ‘Canadians want to know that an activity is being dealt with by an entity that they trust, and want to believe that if they ever asked for information about an activity it would be there’. If the results are congruent with what people feel, timely public reporting was noted by some as something that enhanced credibility.

In Regina the point was made that Saskatchewan was a good ‘hot house’ for experimentation because of its history and its diversity. The suggestion was also made here about the importance to innovate different forms of government for intergovernmental and other governance systems.

In addition more than one group noted the importance of having all voices at the table. Halifax said, for example, that ‘the issues must be framed in ways that they understand. Corporate Nova Scotia and Corporate Canada must play a role in building the social consensus in Canada’. And the importance of including the views of youth and aboriginal people was stressed by several groups.

Youth and Aboriginal People

Two groups of people were singled out for more attention - the young and aboriginal people. With respect to the young, people said that their heads (skills) were disconnected from their hearts (feelings) and that they did see a role for governments but that governments needed to connect with their lives in very different ways. With respect to aboriginal people, some felt that there was a growing urgency to deal constructively with their expectations and aspirations. That it was important to find ways to embrace the differences rather than ignoring them and hoping that they would go way or fix themselves.

The Native Studies group observed that even the systems of government (i.e., Canada and First Nations) were different, and should be treated with respect and as separate.

Next Steps

Based on specific suggestions as well as the nature of the conversations across the country, the following emerged as next steps:

  • Focus on informed participation and strengthening consent, using examples:

    • show how people have influenced decisions taken;
    • start with seeds at the community level and amplify them (don’t break and re-build);
    • do things that reinforce trust and avoid things that diminish it;
    • focus on transparency and timely reporting.
  • Focus on learning and walking the talk:

    • put morality (including integrity) back at the center of government and politics as a priority (including politicians and bureaucrats);
    • model inclusiveness;
    • do things without being noticed (produce results; then announce).
  • Start where you are:

    • work through the role of the M.P. and M.P.P. in this new world (e.g., as mirrors of Canadian values and helping the understanding of both decision makers and of citizens);
    • start by increasing awareness of the problem and the vocabulary to have the conversation about good governance;
    • get these ideas onto the corporate and Cabinet tables (at all levels) across the country.

Annex 1

Conversations Across the Country

Approach Used

Fourteen sessions of two hours each were organized with similar agendas - a 25 minute presentation of the model and then over an hour in discussion with a 2 -3 page outline of the model sent in advance. They took place in St. John's; Halifax; Moncton; Fredericton; Charlottetown; Toronto; Winnipeg; Regina; Calgary; Edmonton; Vancouver; Victoria and Ottawa (one session in English and one in French).

After each of these discussions (which ranged in size from 5 to 15 people), participants were asked to complete a short evaluation form rating: the substance; the degree of engagement of the discussion; and the investment of time and energy on a scale from a low of ‘1' to a high of ‘5'. One hundred and twenty-six (126) evaluation forms were completed and the average scores were as follows:

  • substance - average 4.38 (forty eight marked ‘4', three marked ‘4.5' and sixty six marked ‘5')
  • discussion - average 4.40 (forty four marked ‘4' and sixty eight marked ‘5')
  • time and energy - average 4.36 (fifty one marked ‘4' and sixty two marked ‘5')
  • One participant marked all questions ‘1' and one participant did not evaluate question 3.

The same evaluation form was used after a dinner organized specifically to understand the perspectives and expectations of young people and with the Native Studies group at Trent University. The results were extremely good.

For all of these sessions, discussion summaries were prepared of what had been heard which were validated by the participants themselves.

In addition, a number of bilateral discussions took place over the same period with interested individuals including: federal deputy ministers; academics; leaders of think tanks; and the chairman of a crown corporation.

The conversations took place over a period of about three months after the unveiling of the model at the John Carson Lecture given in Ottawa in February 2000. During this period (March through May), the reformcraft model was shaped by these conversations (including significant simplification) and influenced importantly by two important governance initiatives. The first was the discussion and integrating session (for other discussions) organized by the Public Policy Forum about medium term social policy for HRDC, and the second was the ‘Renewing Governance Project' organized by Steve Rosell of the Meridian Institute in San Francisco. This last project involved a number of meetings over an 18 month period (including this one) culminating in a search conference which took place just after the second set of round table discussions referred to above.

Thus while most of the 25 minute presentation remained constant, some important context and framing changes occurred throughout. The current version of the summary document and diagram follows.

Some Comments

  • don't lose momentum
  • it needs to continue
  • carry the discussion forward
  • look forward to the next steps
  • lots of luck it is a worthy task
  • very promising that the federal government is engaging in this form of public enquiry about governance
  • sujet difficile à cerner...bonne occasion de réflexion
  • topic still a bit fuzzy. Would be nice to move discussion forward to what can be done....lack of models is not a problem, lack of political will is
  • helped to advance my thinking
  • thoughtful presentation
  • it est très approprié d'adresser ce sujet à ce moment
  • an important debate. It is important to involve people who are not traditional elites
  • .. I think it is important to recognize that the integrity of the Canadian constitution (in global eyes) depends to a great degree on the relationship with Aboriginal people
  • ...on devrait cesser de travailler dans les silos
  • keep flexibility and adaptability whatever new governance system
  • the most interesting question is what is the role of the federal government
  • more time - aboriginal issues and representation
  • il sera très important de donner des suites à cette série de tables rondes, notamment pour que ce travail se traduise en actions concrètes pour améliorer nos façons de se gouverner
  • I hope this process leads to some real change
  • use examples, move to concrete
  • be sure to have a concrete ‘doable' plan for next steps
  • keep it practical but forward looking
  • too abstract (somewhat frustrating)
  • (on balance) probably not (worth the time and energy to attend) based on the usual reaction of the federal government but one lives in hope
  • serious waste of public money

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