Parliament is in a period of intense discovery right now. Recent events including the VikiLeaks and TellVicEverything campaigns, the threatening videos by hacker group Anonymous and the RoboCall scandal showcase how MPs and the institution of Parliament are not keeping up with the times. However, it’s important to understand this is a political behaviour problem, not a problem with technology.
Computers, tablets and smartphones are tools just as pencils, papers and phones are. Twitter and YouTube are channels (or platforms) just as newspapers and television ads are.
Parliament’s problems right now are driven by a culture of intense adversarialism. Parliamentary Privilege, the assertion MPs should be able to do their job and feel safe in the process, isn’t being breached by technology. It’s being breached by power-partisanship. And it’s likely we’ll see new rules (and restrictions) on the use of technology by MPs, their staffers and others with access to Government networks. Actually, the only way to overcome this challenge is to change the root cause of the problem; the behaviour.
On CTV’s Power Play earlier today I suggested a few thoughts on how Parliament can change to keep up with the times. Let me recap and offer additional insight.
MESS UP, FESS UP
Besides being the right thing to do, it’s a proven approach in reputation and issue management — acknowledge the problem, apologize clearly and confidently, and fix it fast. Tylenol did that. Maple Leaf Foods did that. Life went on. BP didn’t. The Liberals didn’t. The longer you flounder, the longer the problem lasts, the bigger it becomes and the more fun people have getting angry at you.
CHANGE THE WAY YOU ENGAGE
Technology has offered new ways for the people to interact with each other. The result is a digital culture where people inflect personal with professional and we’re likely to observe humour and humility as a balance to reality and how seriously we take ourselves. In fact, I’ve seen a similar evolution take place in face-to-face interactions, largely because the people who experience the benefits of this form of interaction online want it to permeate in all forms of engagement.
Notice this new culture is defined by a shift in social behaviour not technology. Our political system needs to engage in a cultural shift.
I constantly have conversations with political enthusiasts of all political stripes who tell me they’d be the first in line for a beer with Tony Clement if the opportunity ever presented itself. These people (including a friend who ran for the Ontario NDP this past fall) say they may disagree with Mr. Clement’s politics and some of his dealings, however they feel they have a lot in common with him. That’s because Mr. Clement doesn’t define himself by his politics. Politics is what he does. He’s also a gadget geek, music lover, dad and has a dry sense of humour.
I ran into Monte Solberg on the sidewalk of Queen Street (Toronto) minutes after my Power Play appearance. Monte and I were first introduced as colleagues at Fleishman-Hillard and we’ve remained friends since organizational changes took place just over a year ago. He once told me of the Parliamentary community the public doesn’t see. It turns out most (note most) MPs of all stripes get along fine. In fact, many are good friends. Much of the public side of politics is theatre. Then it’s often off to D’Arcy’s to talk about a hard day’s work. There are exceptions, though. According to Monte, MPs who are ‘too partisan’ are unwelcome and typically aren’t interested in being friendly anyway.
MODEL THE BEHAVIOUR
Parliament and its members can talk all they want about the changes necessary to make things better. If they want to change culture, they have to model the behaviour.