Preserving the Values and Beliefs of Democracy

Canada’s SNC-Lavalin crisis has put into question whether the “old boys’” mentality of governance continues under Justin Trudeau.  Canadians elected Trudeau on his promise to have government be more democratic, where people in government are more reflective of the overall population; and where everyone in government is and feels included in the decision-making process. With the rise of authorization leaders around the globe, many viewed Trudeau and the Canadian model as the one last hope for democracy.

To be sure, the bullying and other pressures applied to have the Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Jody Wilson-Raybould, abandon criminal prosecution, and what appears to be a retaliatory demotion, is reflective of how authoritarians operate; and it obviously runs counter to Trudeau’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Many, including myself, have perhaps been too quick to judge the Prime Minister as being an imposter and a phony because of this situation. This month’s cover story in Maclean’s magazine called “The Imposter” challenges – “He built a brand based on youthful transparency and change. He delivered stasis and scandal. What exactly is Justin Trudeau’s truth?”  This is a fair question, which must be answered beyond words. There must be tangible actions.

First, let’s look at intention and commitment to change.  We can provide a perspective and some insight on this – in particular the promise of having government be more inclusive in the decision making process.

Last year, at the behest of the former President of the Treasury Board, Scott Brison,  I and my associate Shariq Yosufzai (who  led the diversity and inclusion strategic initiative at Chevron) met with government officials to advise them on how to successfully launch a diversity and inclusion initiative to deliver on Trudeau’s promise. We were selected because of our experience in making diversity and inclusion a foundational pillar of organizational culture by going beyond being just another human resource initiative.

From our discussions, we were satisfied that the intentions were honourable; and they committed to make the necessary changes to be successful. Another strong motivation we noted their desire to not repeat was Canada’s $1bn payroll IT fiasco due to a bureaucratic culture of avoiding responsibility, which they inherited from the previous government.

The fact that Trudeau delivered on a pledge to have a diverse cabinet, more specifically to have an equal gender balance, is significant. Canada’s cabinet now has the most women and minority representation in its history. This was a bold promise and a tangible action, which certainly gave the broader commitment for diversity and inclusion credibility.

In analyzing what gave rise to the current crisis, it appears that while diversity in cabinet was achieved, there appears to be a misunderstanding of inclusion. Trudeau in his commitment on inclusion was pretty specific by referencing the decision- making process – i.e., giving people more involvement, autonomy and authority. In this situation, what is being challenged by Wilson-Raybould is inappropriate interference, which she has acknowledged did not cross a legal line. Therefore, if we look beyond the bullying and pressures applied, the fundamental question is – in an inclusive environment, does the boss have the right to question and/or influence an outcome? It is unlikely that Trudeau, in vesting Wilson-Raybould and her colleagues with more autonomy and greater authority than his predecessors gave their cabinet ministers, felt he was giving them absolute power.

It is also unlikely that Trudeau, in making this commitment, appreciated the discipline, thoughtfulness and thoroughness that is essential to make this aspiration a reality. It is not rocket science, however it does require a deep dive into what people do, how they do it, and the involvement, autonomy and authority they should enjoy. Levels of autonomy and authority should differ depending on the varying situations. In some cases, the involvement is limited to providing input, and in others full authority. As an example, ‘The Chevron Way’ – every employee, if they feel there is an immediate risk, has the responsibility and authority to shut a process down. In another example, ‘The Nordstrom Way’, employees are fully and completely authorized to do whatever is required to create a satisfied customer. It is interesting to note that we recommended the government consider labeling their diversity and inclusion ‘The Canada Way’. An essential step in this is clarifying protocols, parameters and ‘what if’ scenarios. The bottom line on this is we believe that the government was prepared to go through this pretty rigorous exercise to get it right, but it is not like a light switch; it takes time and perseverance and understanding the reality that people will fall off the wagon as this cultural change evolves.

Another reality we are sure Trudeau faced was resistance. Creating a diverse and inclusive culture is a threat to power and control. This could very well have been at play in the role people in the PMO played.

One thing is certain however. In October, all Canadians of voting age will have the opportunity to be included in deciding who can best create a democratic culture in government. Trudeau may not survive this, but what must survive is preserving the values and beliefs of democracy so that hope remains for the rest of the globe.

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