We Better Get Used To Prime Minister Trudeau

In the political machinations business it’s commonly accepted wisdom that the ‘ballot box question’ is the single biggest factor in determining the outcome of the election. The ballot box question, to make sure we’re all on the same page, is the question the voter is asking himself/herself in deciding how to cast their ballot.

In this race the Conservatives would love for the question to be: which party will keep me the safest (either physically or economically)? The opposition parties are depending on the question being, ‘how do I best get rid of Stephen Harper?’ Note that this second ballot box question, by definition, is not one that the Conservatives can win the day on (of course they might win if the anti-vote splits evenly in the right ridings, but the question itself is an inherent loser for the Conservatives) – which brings me to my favourite theory of what elections are about in Canada today.

Did you see the movie Marathon Man in the 1970’s? If not, I think the limitations on spoiler alerts has run, so here is the synopsis. Dustin Hoffman plays the brother of a government agent. Hoffman’s brother is involved in some shady doings with Nazi war criminals and ends up getting murdered as a result. Laurence Olivier is a Nazi war criminal, who concludes, wrongly, that Hoffman knows whether it is safe for him to go to a bank in Switzerland and retrieve some diamonds that are stashed there.

Olivier then kidnaps Hoffman, straps him into a dental chair and asks him “Is it safe?” He asks the same question, over and over. “Is it safe?” Hoffman has no idea what Olivier is talking about and therefore can’t stop the interrogation. Olivier doesn’t elaborate, and Hoffman remains in the dark. Olivier then starts drilling into Hoffman’s teeth as a crude form of torture, to extract the information Hoffman doesn’t actually have. Gruesome stuff.

That is politics in Canada today. In recent elections in BC and Ontario, the electorate were more or less done with the governing party, but the ballot box question became: is it safe? Is it safe to vote for the alternative (NDP in BC and Conservative in Ontario)? By and large the electorate concluded that it wasn’t and they turned away at the last minute, giving the governing Liberals another mandate.

Similarly, in Alberta in 2012 the electorate was tired of the PC’s, but last minute gaffes by the Wildrose convinced enough voters that it wasn’t safe to put them in office. Alberta in 2015 had a different result. The ballot box question was: how do I get rid of the PC’s. Full stop. I wrote about that here: https://calgaryrob.wordpress.com/2015/05/12/if-you-build-it-they-will-come/. The NDP won a crushing victory.

The same dynamic has been operational for years federally. Just ask Dion and Ignatieff who were each judged by the electorate as being “not safe”. Today it is fairly obvious that a strong majority of the electorate would like to see the Conservatives replaced. In a plethora of recent polls 68-70% would vote for someone other than the Conservatives. But the ballot box question is not yet set. It is firming up, but there is still 2 ½ weeks to go. Anything can happen.

Which brings me to my prediction. About 6 weeks ago I began predicting a Liberal minority. At that time the Liberals were in third place, and dropping, so it seemed a bold pick. Less so today – but my prediction hasn’t changed.

I see the Liberals winning because while the ballot box question isn’t yet set, if something doesn’t happen it will be ‘How do I best get rid of the Conservatives?’ This is because no other ‘real’ issue has displaced what is essentially a popularity question. And outside his base, Harper is not popular. The economy isn’t great, but we’re not going off a cliff (except in Alberta). National unity issues are at a low ebb. Trade issues, international security, crime, citizenship, privacy – none of these issues has risen to the top to dominate, beyond short bursts.

If any basket of issues seem to have traction, they are the ethical and democracy issues. The scandals. There have been enough of them, and the Duffy trial has placed them onto the front page repeatedly. For many they are top of mind, and motivating. This is particularly true for those who want to replace Harper, no matter the cost. That doesn’t bode well for the Conservatives.

If that doesn’t change, the real question is whether the NDP or the Liberals come out on top, or whether vote splitting allows a Conservative victory despite the ballot box question. The Conservatives are exceptionally skilled at focusing on the right ridings, with the right message, so don’t count them and their considerable war chest out. But my sense is that the Liberals are going to bury the NDP. Here’s why.

As a starting point, provinces that have had an NDP government provincially have very limited upside for the NDP, because the economy of those provinces suffered as a result of ideological decisions (Manitoba is the exception). The electorate had that experience first-hand, and many anti-Harper votes simply aren’t available to the NDP. Essentially, the NDP won’t fare well if the question is ‘is it safe?’

Secondly, those who don’t want Harper for non-policy reasons (his perceived style, angry persona, ruthless, autocratic) won’t be any happier with Mulcair, whereas Trudeau offers something completely different in virtually every respect (which is both good and bad).

Thirdly, beyond the CPC’s hard-core base, the main reason to continue voting Conservative is fear over what an NDP or Liberal government might do to the economy. This is the “is it safe?” ballot question the Conservatives would like to put in our minds before voting day. In Trudeau’s case enough voters will be able to suspend that fear on the rationale that the Liberal establishment will support Trudeau and offer government that may not be ideal, but won’t be a disaster. This is bolstered by the fact that Trudeau may not have won the debates, but he out-performed expectations. My sense is that the mood to replace Harper is strong enough that many swing voters will accept the risk that comes with Trudeau.

Finally, and critically, as it becomes more clear that Trudeau is the choice if you want to replace Harper, the NDP soft vote will migrate to the Liberals, similarly to what occurred in Alberta when the electorate just wanted to get rid of the PC’s in 2015.

On that final point, there are scenarios where the Liberals do better than a minority. If the NDP vote suffers a partial collapse, it doesn’t take much for the Liberals to eke out a majority if the Conservatives remain at 30-32%.

Of course the Conservatives could still pull it out, but with each point the NDP drops in the polls I believe that becomes increasingly unlikely.

In the end, you get the final say. So vote – but just make sure that you practice safe voting.

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Is Having A Baby Really Supposed To Be Fun?

Labour, objectively speaking, is a messy business. But it is also funny – because everything in life is funny, if that’s how you approach each day.

My wife Susan and I have two wonderful boys: Andrew, just turned 16, and our son Michael, born 13 years ago. At Andrew’s birth our Doula took pictures and notes and presented my wife and me with a lovely, detailed, account of the birth experience. For Michael’s birth, our Doula was on vacation so Susan, with high expectations, urged me to take lots of notes and pictures.

Of course, that was before I wrote this story about the blessed event….

Mid-August and following, 2002

Susan threatens repeatedly to go into labour. Our due date is August 30, 2002. Susan mentions on numerous occasions that Andrew came two weeks early, and that she doubts that number two will be any different.

Susan tries to conserve her strength for the big day by stopping all housework. She does, however, have enough energy to participate in her full social schedule, my mother’s birthday dinner, my mother’s surprise party, Andrew’s birthday parties (yes, plural), shopping with my sister, shopping with Andrew, shopping by herself, etc.

August 30, 2002

Mid afternoon – My mother’s surprise party, organized by Susan and my sister; a full English tea for all my mother’s friends. What a pity I wasn’t invited.

11:28 PM – Susan starts experiencing episodes of “sharp pain”. After a short bout of denial, she concedes that she ‘might’ be in labour. “Hold on”, I reply, “I’m just about done the chapter”. Susan gets up to ‘walk it off’.

11:40 – Labour starts just as we had planned; the bags are not packed; we do not know where the unpacked items are; Andrew is awake; the Doula is out of the country; our stand-in Doula, Katie, a massage therapist and Susan’s best friend, lives 30 miles away; the Tonight Show is just about to start and Jay has good guests tonight.

August 31, 2002

12:15 AM – Susan finally admits she’s in labour and calls her mother Pat to come take care of Andrew. Pat, ever the trooper, says she’s on her way.

12:18 – Susan calls Katie. Katie would love to come to the hospital, but her husband isn’t home yet to take care of their four-year-old. She promises to come as soon as possible. Susan appears to have an uncontrollable urge to make phone calls at this point. This confuses me, as I can’t understand her need to call for help when the Tonight Show is just about over.

12:20 – Susan’s water breaks. It would appear that she’s not kidding. Later the hospital would confirm that her water didn’t really break, it just ‘leaked’. I have since learned that this is a common ploy by women in labour to get their husbands to turn off the TV. It works.

12:30 – Pat arrives. This is a big relief, as leaving our three-year-old home alone after midnight seemed somewhat irresponsible. Pat is, shall we say, ‘excitable’. Apparently Susan and I are not moving with the urgency that Pat has determined is required by the circumstances. Turns out, Pat has also not figured out that the ‘water breaking thing’ was just a ruse on Susan’s part to move matters along.

12:35 – Pat threatens to call an ambulance if I don’t pack the bags faster. We head out the door to Andrew’s excited exhortation to, “Get going Mom!” Susan and I jump in the car (actually, that doesn’t really describe how Susan got in, but I digress), and head off to the hospital. Susan is a model of tranquility and strength. I am relieved that I’ll have someone to lean on to get through this.

12:40 – We arrive at the hospital. I park illegally and walk Susan in. The nurses in the maternity intake Ward don’t seem to understand the urgency of the situation. “SUSAN IS HAVING A BABY”. No, I was not hysterical.

12:45 – As I leave to re-park the car I realize I have forgotten my book – great, now what am I going to do for the next few hours?

12:55 – Susan is 3 cm dilated, and her cervix is thin. The nurses seem very happy with this. Susan doesn’t hear as she focuses on breathing through a contraction. I try, unsuccessfully, to recall the birthing classes three years earlier before Andrew was born – I make a mental note to ask someone what a cervix is before the night is through.

1:05 – Susan is transferred to birthing room #8 – a room overlooking the roof heating and air-conditioning units. I mention to the nurse that last time we got a lovely room overlooking the reservoir and the mountains, and ask if they have any of those available? For some reason she thinks I’m kidding.

1:10 – Susan is holding up like the star that she is, but the birth is much faster this time and the pain seems more intense. We have a temporary nurse until ours gets back from break. She offers Susan something for the pain. Susan declines and continues to manage her pain by squeezing my hand. I ask the nurse for something – unsuccessfully.

1:40 – Contractions have been coming closer together and they are increasing in intensity. It’s rough sledding at this point. There is barely time to rest between the contractions and the pain is intense. We called Katie and discover she’s on the way!

1:43 – Our regular nurse, Alyson, arrives on the scene. She’s terrific and immediately sets about getting Susan and the room ready for the impending miracle. I offer to help. Alyson suggests maybe I could stand “over there”.

1:45 – We call my parents and leave a message that Susan is in labour. They’re sleeping. Apparently, despite their offers of support, we’re not “all in this together”.

1:46 – Contractions are coming every 3 minutes. They seem to last 3 1/2 minutes.

Most of the next hour is without record. I was distracted by an uncharitable discussion about how all of this is my fault – at least that’s how I recall it. I’ll try to reconstruct.

  • Susan was experiencing very intense contractions and was quickly getting exhausted. I pulled out the homeopathics and set about trying to figure out which one to administer. They all appeared to speed up labor or assist in the early stages. Whoops. Maybe next time.
  • Katie arrived after 2 AM, which boosted Susan’s morale a lot. Katie started periodic massage that, to the uneducated observer, appeared to be just what I was doing. Evidently not, as Susan instantly relaxes visibly.
  • As the contractions increase in intensity, Susan moans, “I just can’t do this”. I refrain from making a joke at this point and instead reassure Susan that not only can she do it, but that she’s doing an extraordinary job. We’re still married as a result.

2:38 – Another contraction. I lean in, “Breathe, breathe, you’re doing great, just terrific, you‘re doing so good sweetheart…!” Susan motions me closer.

“What can I get you?” I asked lovingly.
“Breath mint”, she replies.
“You want a breath mint?” I offer.
“No. You”.

For the record, my breath wasn’t that bad.

2:45 – Susan is dilated 10 cm. This seems to please everyone present. And the doctor….ah, the doctor – oh, yes, there is no doctor.

“Is this a problem?” I inquire.
“No”, replies the nurse, casually checking her watch. She’s either timing contractions or has another appointment somewhere.
“Should we wait?” I suggest.
Everyone ignores me.

As an aside, I asked the nurse why they use centimeters instead of inches. She informed me that 10 cm equals 4 inches and asked if I really thought that 4 inches sounded big enough to push a baby out. In response I turn to Susan and gush, “You’re dilated 10 centimeters!”

2:49 – Susan starts pushing. This is really the best part. It’s far better for Susan to be able to push. And apparently scream. Loudly. As Susan squeezes my hand again I scream with her.

2:50 – The baby’s head is visible for the first time. There really is a baby in there!

2:57 – Susan asks for a cold cloth, “now, Now, NOW, NOW!” Does it seem like I’m the only one doing anything around here?

3:03 – It’s a boy! Michael William Hawkes comes into the world! Susan is a glowing! Dad is exhausted.

3:14 – Michael pees on me for the first time.

And we are all living happily ever after…

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Open Letter To Our Teenage Sons — Part Two

I’m hopeful that after reading the Open Letter To My Teenage Sons, the two of you realize that you’re not rich. Hopeful, although perhaps not confident. But before we move on to more important things — like health and happiness — I thought it might be time to pass on some wisdom given to me by your grandfather when I was even younger than you are today. Pay attention.

Before I get to the point, I need to tell you that your grandfather is a great man. I feel the need to tell you that, because the man you know so well is a shadow of his former self. So understand that before he was visited frequently by the ravages of time — and before Alzheimers altered his being forever — your grandfather had a number of extraordinary chapters to his life.

You never really got to know the man who raised me. A man whose drive and passion allowed him to accomplish great things. So I have to tell you that for most of his life Jim Hawkes was a big deal.

I suppose it started with him helping to support his mom and three younger brothers at age 16 after his dad died suddenly in a work accident. From true poverty he went on to earn his doctorate — despite being the first person in our family to even attend university.

Dad was also an all Canadian university basketball star, started a couple of successful businesses, became a full tenured University Professor, ran a successful national Leadership Campaign, was the Program Coordinator for the Leader of the Opposition in Ottawa, got himself elected as a Member of Parliament, was Parliamentary Secretary to the Deputy Prime Minister and spent 5 years as Chief Government Whip. And while he was doing all that, he was universally respected and well-liked by just about everyone that knew him.

But to me, he was just Dad. He taught me to swim. Taught me right from wrong. Coached my basketball team (I was horrible, but he put in the time nonetheless). Led by example. Worked his tail off. Loved us all. He wasn’t perfect, but he was a great dad.

From a young age he talked to me. He was a social scientist and had an enduring passion for learning and helping others develop their full potential. As a father, that meant he spoke to me and my sister like we were adults. He taught us how to think, knowing that that was the true life skill. The skill that would allow us to handle whatever life dealt up. It was an extraordinary gift.

So when I tell you your grandfather passed on some wisdom, please give it the weight that you should. What he told me has changed my life. It’s a lesson that most people never seem to learn. And I remember it clearly, even today.

When I was 7 or 8, we were living in Fort Collins, Colorado. I wasn’t doing well in school and putting in less than my best effort. Dad had left the University early one day to retrieve me from school, following some transgression which I thankfully can’t recall. We had stopped for ice cream, which seemed odd at the time as I knew he was ticked. And as we sat there each with our own thoughts, he turned to me, looked me in the eye and asked, “Do you know what money is?” Taken aback by such an odd question, I think all I could manage was something like, “It’s what you need to buy stuff?” I knew that answer was correct, in a technical sense, but I also knew that wasn’t what he was looking for.

“Money is freedom”, he continued, “That’s exactly what it is. It’s no more, or less, than that. But freedom is everything, and that’s why money is so valuable”.

Of course at the time I really didn’t understand what he was talking about. I do recall that I asked some questions and he explained further, but I was too young to appreciate what he was telling me.

As time went on I understood more and more what he was trying to teach me. Today, so many years later, I believe it is one of life’s simple truths.

If you have “enough” money, you can do whatever you want. That’s freedom. By “enough”, I don’t mean lots. I mean enough. If you don’t have enough, for rent, food, whatever, then you have to work. There is no other practical choice. My father went to work to support the family at age 16 because he had to. He didn’t question it, but he lost a lot of his freedom in those years because he (and my grandmother) didn’t have enough money.

“Enough” is the key. Enough that you get to choose how to spend your time. It means having the money you need to do what you want to do in life. Do you want to travel through Europe after high school? Go to university? Get married? Have kids? Join the Peace Corps and build low income housing in Central America? Whatever you want to do, you need a sum of money that will allow you to do it. You need enough. That amount is different in each case, but once you figure it out you then know what you have to do to earn the ability to spend your time the way you want to. Money is freedom.

A couple of equally important truths readily present themselves.

The first is that trading money for “stuff” is often a very bad idea. Some stuff can be used to enhance our lives (a reliable car, great books, a computer, music — all jump to mind, they can enhance your life and increase your freedom and abilities), but more often money spent on stuff is wasted. The initial thrill of ownership is short lived and more often than not possessions can drain our time and attention. At the very least they drain our resources, limiting our freedom to spend our time as we prefer each day.

The second is that “enough” means just that. If you have enough money (or have developed the opportunities and abilities to earn enough on a go forward basis), it may well be a mistake to seek more. At that point, investing more of your time to amass more than “enough” money, robs you of freedom. It takes from you the very thing you are working for in the first place. Your time and energy.

So when you buy a video game, or junk food, or Apps that “solve” a problem you don’t actually have, you are not trading money for those possessions. You are trading the freedom that money represents. To travel, to read, to spend time not working, to save for university (or the opportunity to attend the university of your choice), the list is endless.

But be clear, I’m not telling you to refrain from buying that game, those chips or the inventive App. I’m telling you to understand what it means when you spend your money. Understand the difference between spending for experiences, investing in opportunities, saving for future experiences/opportunities or spending to acquire stuff. Understand the choice you are making. And act on it.

Knowledge lets you make an informed decision, which will ultimately lead to better choices and allow you to build the life you really want.

If you make those choices and your dreams come true, make sure to give your grandfather a call every so often to say “thanks”.

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Early Election Call May Define NDP Fortunes

A fair bit has been written over the last week, analyzing why the federal Conservatives called the election so early. The issue arises because by law we now have fixed election dates in Canada, but the law allows the government to call the election sooner than the required minimum period before election day (the writ must be dropped to allow for at least a 36 day campaign before voting day). In this case the Prime Minister asked the Governor General to dissolve the House of Commons 77 days before voting day — October 19, 2015.

The common narrative is that the Conservatives called the election so early because they have considerably more money than their opponents and they can therefore take advantage of the situation by outspending the opposition. The opportunity to do so arises because Canadian election spending limits are determined using a formula that allows a certain amount of additional spending for each day of the writ period. Put simply, the Conservatives have the money needed to spend the limits. The opposition aren’t even close.

This narrative is correct.  That is almost certainly one of the key reasons for the early election call. But it’s not the entire story.  There is another, equally compelling, reason for starting this election in early August.

I’ll start with what is a now well-known political axiom: if a politician fails to define his or herself, then they leave that opportunity to their opponent.  The best, and most recent, example of that was the Conservative’s early and consistent campaign (advertising, statements by the PM and his Ministers, conservative spinners and commentators, and so on) to define Justin Trudeau.  The messaging, in various forms, was that Trudeau isn’t up to the job. It started right after he was elected and was very aggressive for a number of months.  It dissipated in intensity, but has continued up to the present, becoming more pointed again leading up to the election.

The Liberals did little to counteract the campaign.  Their main thrust was to complain publicly about the Conservative’s negative campaigning, but they largely ceded the ground to the Conservative campaign. There are differing views on whether it has worked, but I believe that it has and that Trudeau has an uphill battle in trying to define his image more advantageously.

The target was Trudeau, as Trudeau was the leader who could replace Harper as Prime Minister. Of course the NDP had Mulcair, but few seriously entertained that the next Prime Minister wouldn’t be Liberal or Conservative, as every Prime Minister has been one or the other stretching back to the 1800’s.

But things changed recently, when the NDP defeated the PC’s in Alberta to form the provincial government. Shortly thereafter the polls shifted significantly federally as well and the NDP surged, moving from third place and 10 points back in early May, to a tie for first by the beginning of June. Since then the NDP have slipped into the lead by a small margin. The NDP winning in Alberta was quite the shock, given Alberta’s “conservative nature”, raising as a legitimate possibility that they might win government nationally.

As the Liberals have slipped into third place Mulcair, naturally, has leapfrogged Trudeau in importance, creating a very interesting situation.  Mulcair, has been around for a long time.  He served as a Member of the National Assembly in Quebec for 13 years, and was a cabinet minister for many of those years until he and Charest had a falling out.  He was then elected as a Member of Parliament in 2007 and followed Jack Layton as leader in the spring of 2012.

Yet despite 21 years of almost uninterrupted public service and despite having led the NDP federally for more than 3 years, I don’t believe that Mulcair is defined yet.  To be clear, I do believe his image is well-developed in Quebec, but the NDP have been so marginal federally for such a long time, that in the rest of Canada I just don’t believe that voters have paid enough attention to him, to have a sense of who he is.  Remarkably, that creates the opportunity to define Mulcair as the Conservatives would like to define him. Such are the realities of politics.

The second reality is that the power to decide when the election will be called offers a huge advantage.  Because the Conservatives, and the Conservatives alone, knew when they were going to drop the writ, they could time their arrangements accordingly: when to start the leases for the campaign plane and buses (and when the artwork and execution had to be done), campaign office leases across the country, sign and stationary purchases, staff contracts, and the list goes on and on. Further, the Conservatives could plan the first few weeks of the campaign, rallies, tour, etc., knowing that it would happen.  These advantages are significant and add up.

But as important as all of this is, the real advantage was the opportunity to define Mulcair. You see the most effective tool for getting your message out is TV advertising.There are a bunch of reasons for that, but trust me — TV is king.  What is less well-known is how TV is booked and purchased.  I would explain that, if I could, but I don’t really understand the process either. What I do know is that TV takes time. Not the time to produce the ads, (you’d have to expect that the Liberals and NDP had content ready to go in anticipation of the election, and TV ads can be produced overnight), but the lead time to book TV. You can’t book TV overnight. More to the point, it takes time to book TV ad slots on the right programs (again, an interesting topic for another day), being programs that your target audience is more likely to be watching.

Boiled down, I’m saying that the Conservatives, by knowing when the election would start, could book a week or perhaps two of prime placement TV advertising, without a single NDP (or Liberal) ad airing in response.  Being so effective, TV advertising allows the Conservatives to take their shot at defining Mulcair and reinforcing their earlier defining of Trudeau.

This week the Mulcair ads paint Mulcair as a career politician that we just “can’t afford”. Trudeau continues to be “not up to the job”. Whether these ads will be effective, remains to be seen. It is the middle of summer and TV  is watched less this time of year than at any other.  Public interest in the election is also at an all time low.  It still doesn’t seem real, and typically the public only dials in during the last couple of weeks.

But the ads will have some effect.  Even if it is only 2 or 3 points, those could be critical points. In a tight three-way race, everyone is looking for an advantage. I believe the Conservatives found one.

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What Do You Really Want To Do?

The key to happiness, they say, is spending each day doing what you love to do. Since most of us have to spend much of our time making a living, we’re urged to find a job we would do even if we weren’t getting paid. It’s even been boiled down to a variety of pithy sayings, such as “find a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life”. The devil, however, lies in the execution.

Even once you figure out what you love to do, and how you can make a living at it, the bloom can come off the rose over time. One of my uncles started selling insurance for Allstate out of a booth at Sears. He was 22. He worked hard, did very well, and was able to start his own brokerage just three years later. The brokerage prospered and he was making great money by the time he was 30. The problem was, he hated selling insurance. It took years, but he finally decided to give it up.

By that time he had figured out that he loved sailing and he was really good at it. He moved to the coast, secured a great sailboat and started running local charters.  He was taking groups of 4 vacationers on week long excursions and teaching them to sail in the Gulf Islands. For the clients, the real draw was a week of sailing, gourmet meals off the back of the boat and lots of nightcaps. And he was great at hosting too. Demand soon outstripped his ability to deliver, so he secured some more sailboats, hired some captains and the bookings flowed in.

Fast forward a couple of years and he had 8 boats, and was working night and day on bookings, turning the boats around, supervising the sailing instructors, buying the food and libations, and every other detail that goes into running a vacation sailing business in the Gulf Islands. And, you guessed it, he hated it. My uncle is a talented entrepreneur, but that’s not what he enjoyed doing. He did love sailing, but it turns out that’s not what the job entailed.

The challenge is to figure out what a job (or an opportunity, if you’re an entrepreneur) actually entails. Not the big picture, but day to day. It’s pretty hard to know whether you’d enjoy spending your day doing something, if you don’t know how you’d be spending your day.

Look, this obviously isn’t easy. If it were, there would be a lot fewer people who hate their job. But it’s worth the effort. If you live for Friday; can’t wait for quitting time; get depressed as your vacation is coming to an end; spend much of the work day surfing the internet; you really need to start planning a change.

If you’re ready for that challenge, don’t just look for what you’d “like” to do. Don’t settle. Figure out what you “have” to do. What you were born to do. Take some time and put in the effort to figure out who you really are.

Stephen King credits his staying power to finding his calling:

 “Yes, I’ve made a great deal of dough from my fiction, but I never set a single word down on paper with the thought of being paid for it … I have written because it fulfilled me … I did it for the buzz. I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for joy, you can do it forever.”

Is King right? Is it really that simple? I believe it is. But if King is right, why don’t we all just find jobs that we love to do? It’s because “simple” is not synonymous with “easy”. It’s not easy to figure out what you were born to do. It requires work.

We all know people who dream about being a writer. They fantasize about book signings, six figure advances and the New York Times best seller list. About being recognized in public. But if they don’t fantasize about sitting in a windowless room in front of a keyboard for multiple hours each day, or spending days in the library researching their topic, then they probably don’t want to be a writer. They really just want to be rich and famous.

I know many lawyers who don’t like their job. On one level that’s not surprising. Long hours, lots of stress, conflict on a regular basis and the work is often very tedious. Yet it is a job that many lawyers love. They have more control over their time and work environment than the vast majority of employees. Many make high incomes and a lot of lawyers love being able to help people — to have a job that means something.

Just like lawyers, pretty much every job is loved by some and hated by others. So the difference lies not in the job, but in the individual. If doing what you love to do each day is the key to happiness, you have to figure out what that means for you. No one else can do that for you.

What could you do each day that would fulfill you? Give you a buzz? Bring you pure joy? We may not all be as fortunate as Stephen King — to find our true calling in life — but the first step is in knowing that we should be looking.

Oh, and my uncle? He went on to find happiness in public service. Turns out he was good at that too, but more importantly, for him, it was a better reason to get up in the morning.

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Tom Brady Was Not Suspended For Deflating Footballs

Tom Brady is back in the news this week after appearing at the appeal of the suspension he received after the NFL’s investigation into Deflategate. Turn on NFL radio, watch the sports news on TV or pick up the sports pages of pretty well any paper and the spinning is in high gear.

This is about defective gauges, Roger Goodell being wild with power, the NFL’s anti-Patriots bias, a shoddy investigation. Except, it’s not. It’s really, really not.

Step back from the spin and it’s clear that Brady wasn’t suspended for deflating footballs. He was suspended for failing to cooperate with the NFL investigation. Let’s look at the facts, which can be very inconvenient when you’re spinning.

NFL VP of Football Operations, Troy Vincent, had earlier written to the Patriots noting Brady’s lack of cooperation with the investigation.

“Another important consideration identified in the Policy is ‘the extent to which the club and relevant individuals cooperated with the investigation.’ The Wells report identifies two significant failures in this respect. The first involves the refusal by the club’s attorneys to make Mr. McNally available for an additional interview, despite numerous requests by Mr. Wells and a cautionary note in writing of the club’s obligation to cooperate in the investigation. The second was the failure of Tom Brady to produce any electronic evidence (emails, texts, etc.), despite being offered extraordinary safeguards by the investigators to protect unrelated personal information….

“Finally, it is significant that key witnesses – Mr. Brady, Mr. Jastremski, and Mr. McNally – were not fully candid during the investigation.”

The facts:

– Brady and the Patriots had an obligation to cooperate with the investigation;

– Brady refused to turn over his texts, despite being offered “extraordinary safeguards”;

– Brady and others with the Patriots were  not fully candid during the investigation.

So everything you hear or see about how the NFL failed to prove conclusively that Brady is guilty, is literally irrelevant.  We don’t know what happened. It looks like Brady did it, but we don’t know for sure. And the reason we don’t know for sure is that Brady refused to turn over the key evidence and he wasn’t fully candid when interviewed. We don’t know, because Brady stopped cooperating after the investigation started to get traction.

Would the evidence have exonerated him? Who knows. We can guess not, or he would have turned it over, but we don’t know. That’s the point. Only Brady had the power to make sure that we did know. That is why players and owners are obligated to cooperate. And Brady refused to.

Brady was suspended for failing to cooperate. Not for deflating footballs.  A four game suspension for deflating footballs is probably excessive. But it’s entirely in line with hiding evidence and not being candid with the investigator.

This is not criminal law. The NFL is a closed shop. It is a privilege to be a player or an owner. Part of the cost of admission is that players and owners have to cooperate with League investigations. Brady and the Patriots said they would cooperate and then they didn’t.

And all the irrelevant arguments in the world won’t change those facts.

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Even Good Ideology Makes For Bad Government

I’ve been involved in politics for a long time, so I suppose it’s only natural that a number of my friends and colleagues are asking me what the new Alberta government is likely to do in so many areas. The short answer is, I don’t know. I have my hopes, I have my fears, but not having been involved in the 2015 election I really don’t know.

What I do know is this. Ideology makes for bad government, or more accurately making decisions based on ideology makes for bad government. Now before the comments section lights up like a Christmas tree (which would be three comments, based on my past experience), hear me out.

I get that every party, even those in the centre, come into government with their own firmly held beliefs, which is really what ideology boils down to. What I’m saying is that good government flows when those governing step outside their beliefs, consult widely, listen and then act on what they hear. Act to figure out what makes sense for the province. Government gets particularly good when they consult with experts in the area they’re about to legislate in and give genuine weight to what they find out.

The key here is to understand that this is true whether or not the government’s pre-existing beliefs are correct. I’m saying that even if their ideology is spot on, their government will be stronger and more successful if they proceed as if nothing is set in stone and all ideas are open for fulsome discussion with the public, within their caucus, within Cabinet and most importantly with the public service. Even good ideas can be better and plans can always be improved.

Of course, even greater benefit is delivered if you do that in circumstances where the pre-existing ideology is not correct. If the government’s ideology has them heading down the wrong road, how valuable is it to have off ramps, stop signs and, even better, U-turns? Pretty damn valuable.

The reason why this is so important becomes evident when you consider the difference between the goal and the path to achieving the goal. It is not ideological to want to end poverty. The left wants to do that, but so does the right and those of us that tend to hang around in the middle somewhere. The path to accomplish that goal is where we differ. We don’t agree on the “how”. And what you believe about how to achieve a goal, tends to be where you’ll find ideology.

As an aside, I always found it ironic that there was no greater slur we could hurl at an MP eager to share what he/she had learned about whatever issue they were studying in Parliament, than to accuse them of having been “Ottawashed”, or “we elected you to represent us in Ottawa, not Ottawa to us”. What they were really saying was, don’t try to challenge what we believe. Sadly, though never articulated, it was: we aren’t interested in facts that don’t support what we believe. It was a truly disheartening culture. The NDP may face that very phenomenon with their base, which is what makes governing with facts, rather than ideology, so challenging.

So how does ideology work in practice? Let’s start with ending poverty. How do you end poverty? Do you fund public daycare, provide free public transport so everyone can get to work and increase the minimum wage to wherever it has to go so that a single parent working 40 hours a week will be above the poverty line? Or, do you focus on measures to strengthen the economy generally, so that the private sector can create jobs that will lift their new employees out of poverty?

Different ideologies suggest different paths to address the same problem. The goals are often similar, but the beliefs on how to achieve the goals are usually different. Which approach above, if either, would work? I’m not suggesting we tackle that today. That’s the stuff of great debates and memorable university classes. When you’re 19 and full of ideas it’s all great fun.

But governing is an entirely different exercise. Decisions have to be made. Even not deciding is a decision. And decisions have consequences, which are sometimes disastrous. The National Energy Program was one such decision. It gutted the Alberta energy industry, destroyed businesses – and the resulting stress destroyed marriages and families. If you didn’t live through it, you may not understand how vivid the memories are of those who did.

The National Energy Program was very much driven by ideology. The details matter, but I’d make a hash of trying to set them out fairly. The takeaway is that the government of the day had a belief that higher Canadian ownership of our resources was not only desirable but necessary, that energy prices needed to be lowered for the benefit of Canadian industry and consumers and that government should receive more revenue, primarily through taxes.
The government didn’t consult widely before announcing the program and they didn’t listen to the negative feedback from experts, the industry, Alberta MP’s or even from their own Alberta candidates and organizers.

The Trudeau government appeared to believe that all of the naysayers were exaggerating what the negative effects would be and that the energy industry could easily weather any adverse impact because they were so profitable. Or perhaps those were just talking points. Either way, they pressed ahead.

What actually happened is well-documented. While the plan was to redistribute wealth between the regions, what actually happened was the wholesale destruction of wealth. Investors fled the jurisdiction before the ink was dry on the policy. A massive political fight followed, but the Liberals in Ottawa had a majority and ultimately prevailed. The industry was crushed and Albertans as a whole paid the price, both those who were well off and those living near the poverty line. Based on my personal experience, those well off lost more, but the losses to those who could least afford them were more devastating. It took more than a decade for Alberta’s economy to come most of the way back (in fairness, due in part to low global energy prices in that period – although that is unfortunately similar to what is going on in the markets today).

Returning to 2015, what can we hope for in Alberta? We can hope that whatever the new government of Alberta sets as its priorities, they consult on how to get there; that they consult widely and they listen with an open mind; that they approach change with a measured approach. Listen to the experts. Listen to the public servants who have lived with these issues and programs their entire career. If you want to improve the lives of Albertans, make doing so your only goal. Be aware of your bias, and factor that into account when you’re weighing the options.

Alberta may well be the best jurisdiction to experiment with increasing the minimum wage by 50%. It may provide the definitive results needed to show that such a policy works, or that it kills jobs and sometimes the entire company. Wouldn’t you like to know? I suppose I would, but not at the expense of those working in the businesses that would be affected.

This government was elected to govern, not to test ideology. The voters asked the PC’s to leave, and not politely. The desire was so strong, that the main question for many voters, if not most, was “who has the best chance of defeating the PC in my riding?”. That’s who they voted for – and why. It was not an endorsement of any ideology. It was a vote against, not for. It’s not yet clear whether the new government understands that.

So what will the new government do with this mandate? Will they seek the best “how” or will they govern ideologically? If they do, will it be the ideology that the party and its new key advisors have espoused over the last few years?

There are a lot of questions as there always are with regime change. In this case the answers may well determine whether the NDP govern 4 years or if this is the start of the next Alberta “dynasty”.

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