Jason Kenny’s bozo eruption just dropped Harper’s Conservative government down another notch on the Edelman Trust Barometer*—not because he called Alberta’s deputy premier, Tom Lukaszuk, “a complete and utter asshole” but because he refused to build a relationship with a key representative of the people of Alberta. Lest we forget, these very same Albertans elected Mr Kenny and 27 of his fellow Albertans to represent them in Ottawa and just happen to control the natural resources that Mr Harper is working so hard to export to the US and Asia.
Mr Kenny’s response to the request by Mr Calkins, Chair of the Alberta federal caucus, for a “fill-in-host” was blunt and perfunctory. “I say a definite ‘no’ to Lukaszyk. I don’t think it makes sense to create a precedent to do a special caucus meeting for every visiting minister from the provincial government. Plus he is [insert expletive here].
Pause for a minute to consider what Mr Kenny said. Mr Calkins asked whether any member of the Alberta caucus could host a meal with a visiting politician. Mr Kenny twisted it into a discussion about the need for a “special caucus meeting” with “every visiting minister” from Alberta.
By doing so Mr Kenny created a new rule governing the interaction between the Feds and the Alberta government. This is what the “special caucus meeting—with food” rule looks like:
- Any request for an informal get-together, be it lunch, dinner (coffee?) between a provincial MLA and his federal counterparts is deemed to be a “special caucus meeting—with food”
- An MP may overrule the Chair of the Alberta federal caucus if the Chair (foolishly) requests a “special caucus meeting—with food”
- The MP’s authority to kibosh such a request is not even remotely dependent on any of the following factors:
- The rank of the “visiting minister” (um…do we punt the premier?)
- The provincial government’s ability to enhance the federal government’s agenda (the extraction of Alberta’s fossil fuels will add billions to Canada’s GDP; for which Mr Harper will surely take credit)
- The alignment of the political ideologies at the federal and provincial levels (admittedly weak in this case)
- The MP’s authority to deny a request for a “special caucus meeting—with food” is directly dependent on whether the MP has a “personality clash”** with the requesting MLA, in which case the MP may unceremoniously reject the request in any crude and vulgar way that suits his fancy
- In the event that the MP’s crude rejection of the meeting request hits the front page, the MP may refuse to take responsibility for his idiotic lapse in judgment and may protect his fragile ego by apologising well after the fact and behind closed doors.
And this is where the Edelman Trust Barometer comes into play. Edelman, an international PR firm, has conducted a global trust survey for 12 years and presents its findings at conferences such as the Davos World Economic Forum.
In 2012 Edelman recorded an unprecedented decline in trust in government. In 12 countries the government is less trusted than business, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the media (yes, the media).
Canadians are slightly more trustful than some countries…56% of us trust the government to “do what is right”. Not an outstanding result, but better than the US (43%) and the UK (38%).
But when asked whether we trust our government leaders our results are deeply troubling. Almost half (46%) of all Canadians do NOT trust their government leaders to tell them the truth. Given that only one-third of Canadians (36%) don’t trust business leaders to tell them the truth this means that Canadians see government leaders as less trustworthy than business leaders (cue the smooth talking CEOs).
What can government do to reverse this trend? Edelman makes four recommendations and while they are geared to business leaders, two are equally applicable to government leaders. First, exercise principles-based leadership, not rules-based performance and second, practice radical transparency.***
Mr Kenny gets zero points for radical transparency—tripping on his keyboard and sharing his vulgar comments and muddled thinking by hitting “reply all” was hardly a well reasoned intentional act.
Mr Kenny gets less than zero points for principles-based leadership.
The principle underlying an Alberta MP’s job is this: represent the people of Alberta to the best of your ability. This means go to dinner with Mr Lukaszuk. Increase your understanding of the issues concerning Albertans. Learn more about the Alberta politician who holds the second highest governmental post in Alberta and has the premier’s ear. All of this will make you a more effective advocate for Albertans.
Instead Mr Kenny chose to satisfying his own ego driven need to one-up the deputy premier…not a very mature response and not one that engenders confidence in our government leaders. Let’s face it, if Mr Kenny can’t overcome a personality clash and suffer through a simple dinner, how on earth can we trust him to represent us properly in Ottawa?
*In my humble opinion.
**Ms Redford quoted in CBCNews Online June 20, 2012
***2012 Edelman Trust Barometer, slide deck, p 31
If only the Honourable Mr Kenny (how ironic) were as humble as the esteemed writer. Well said.
Thanks Matt. Much appreciated. Readers are urged to check out Matt Palmer’s thoughtful blog on understanding energy at the link above.
I am starting to see a pattern emerge around the rules versus principles discussion you first started back in September 2011 when you talked about Zwoz and his lawyer. Recently, you sent me a link to a TED talk where the narrator described rules as a replacement for thinking (and hence wisdom). http://www.ted.com/talks/barry_schwartz_on_our_loss_of_wisdom.html?source=email#.T9qVONwmcR5.email
Now, the Trust Barometer refers to rules as part of the breakdown in trust and that agencies should not be “…going to the edge of what is legally permissible…”
We seem to be in an environment where there are increasing layers of rules on rules (think about the American financial industry or closer to home with our new land use bylaw). These rules do not seem to deliver what was originally promised (even with each iteration), but have created a style of operation where the person/company/agency has learned to squeeze through a new loophole in the rules and subvert the original reason while stating “I met the rules”. People must look at the rule makers and the rule benders with increased scepticism to all parties involved. I can see why trust is dwindling, looking at both at the individual agency level and just as importantly between agencies, such as the federal and provincial governments.
Rules are such tricky beasts. On the one hand they appear crystal clear–yes you can do A or B, but you can’t do C. But a smart lawyer will pounce on this rule and ask, does the rule mean you can do A and B or does it mean you can do A or B? Before you know it you have 10 more rules explaining what the original rule meant. What a mess. I think you put it best when, in a different conversation, you said, “you can get around rules, but you can’t get around principles”. And it’s usually pretty obvious when someone is violating a principle. Thanks for focusing our attention on this important distinction Roy.