Canadian Gov’t Centralization Taken to Extremes
Quick Links: Ideologies or Good Government? Political Parties on the Decline, Prime Minister or President? Power Consolidated by PM, Leaderless Organizations, Governments Get “De-Elected”, Top Eight Reasons for Decentralization, Rolling Elections vs. General Elections
Ideologies or Good Government?
At this point in the investigation, I’m now tending to agree with George Washington’s warning regarding political parties. Just keep them out of government. They’re bad news. Political parties can be free to associate or not with each other and to come up with cool attack ads all they want. After all, Canada is supposed to be a democracy, right? But there’s no place for a political party within a system of government. It’s like inviting the Hells’ Angels to your next church meeting. It may be an interesting mix of people but I don’t think you’d get much done.
As we have seen over the last 150 years or so Canada, as a country, staggers from one ideology to the next – sometimes we’re “Liberal”, sometimes we’re “Conservative” sometimes we may be something else. Essentially, we are fighting an “ideological” war on a national level. Which hide-bound ideology is the best? The Conservatives think that unions suck so we’ll hamstring the unions. The NDP thinks they’re ok, so maybe we’ll make them more powerful. The Liberals think something else so we go with their ideology. Who is better? Who has the “right” ideology for Canada?
As you may have noticed: no one. As we have seen from the bitter, divisive political landscape that Canada has become, there is no consensus on ideology. And there never will be under our present party-based system of government as proven from the inception of Parliament in the 1600’s in England. The ideological debates are endless and are incredibly useless and counterproductive to the average Canadian who is simply looking for good governance.
Look at “attack ads” – where our politicians, who purport to represent you will eagerly and gleefully assassinate the reputation of anyone who gets in their way. They will go to great lengths to dig up any dirt they can find on their political opponents. By extension, do you think someone who will put out an attack ad will then somehow turn around and take you into consideration? In fact, if you got in their way you would be the subject of the next attack ad
Wade through back issues of newspapers to the days of John A. It’s pretty much the same old shite that we’re getting now that they were serving up back then. Each party, each politician, each would-be king espouses their “brand” of ideology as the answer. And, after a couple of elections, we usually kick them out. On to the next guy.
Political Parties on the Decline
There’s an interesting report from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada at http://www.priv.gc.ca/information/research-recherche/2012/pp_201203_e.asp which I’ll quote from here:
“…….a recent comparative analysis of Canadian political parties concludes “it is no exaggeration to say that parties, as organizations, are facing perhaps their biggest challenges in their 150 years or so of existence.” (The challenge he’s talking about is recruitment – more on that later).
“Partisan de-alignment is also reflected in declining membership levels. William Cross and Lisa Young’s survey of the members of the five major federal parties in 2004 demonstrated that “few Canadians belong to political parties, and those who do belong are not representative of voters generally. The findings also suggest that members are primarily engaged in low-intensity activity and generally contribute little time to party affairs.”
The study concludes “the parties’ inability to engage a significant number of voters as members, particularly younger Canadians, presents an ongoing challenge to their vitality as democratic institutions.” Party members were also found to be older, wealthier, better educated and more representative of the elite. The same authors estimated in 2006 “that between 1 and 2 percent of Canadians belong to a political party on a year-to-year basis. This places Canada at the bottom of the list of Western democracies.”
So, if the Government of Canada Privacy Commissioner is to be believed, between 1 and 2 percent of Canadians belong to a political party and yet the political parties tell my MP how to vote. I’m not quite sure what they mean by “partisan de-alignment” but I’m assuming that it’s something about people not wanting to align themselves with political party ideologies that are applied as a matter or dogmatism and do not reflect values. However, I’m just guessing about that.
So if 1 to 2% of Canadians belong to political parties, the parties are more representative of the elite and the governing party centralizes power in the Prime Minister’s office – what is the picture emerging about Canada’s ‘modern’ democratic system? Rule by the elite or sovereignty at the lowest levels? And it’s not just me asking – the issue seems to be going “mainstream” as well. Stephen Maher, in an article appearing in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix documents the concentration of power in the hands of the Prime Minister and compares us to the Russians, no less. The former godless Commies of all people.
Once again, the fact that its’ Stephen Harper he’s writing about doesn’t really matter to me. Pick another PM if you like, there’s lots of examples right from John A. McDonald forward. It’s just that Harper is so willing to take it to the max – you gotta like that in a guy. Push the limits Stevie – go buddy go. Just keep in mind that what we’re looking for in the article is how Steve is able to operate within our present system of government. Very enlightening. Emphasis throughout is mine:
Prime Minister or President?
BY STEPHEN MAHER, THE STARPHOENIX DECEMBER 6, 2011
On Wednesday, Canadian President Stephen Harper will fly to Washington for a meeting with American President Barack Obama, where the two are expected to unveil a new border agreement.
Whoops. That should read Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Sorry.
These days it’s easy to get confused about the role of Harper, who is nominally the prime minister of a Westminster cabinet government in which the central functions of government are carried out by Parliament.
Over time, under successive prime ministers, power has shifted away from Parliament, but under Harper it has become thoroughly subordinated to the backroom operatives in his office, who wield the real power.
It is not, as Rick Mercer suggested last week, time to shut down the House, since Parliament can still serve as a helpmate to the anonymous men and women who really run the country, but we ought to acknowledge that we are in a new era in which Parliament is a shadow play.
In the days of John A. Mac-Donald, Parliament was the place where the nation’s key debates took place. There were plenty of “loose fish” back then, MPs who would vote for or against bills depending on their judgment, so the debates were crucial.
MacDonald lamented the difficulty of herding those loose fish. “Anyone can support me when they think I’m right,” he said. “What I want is someone that will support me when I am wrong.”
Harper couldn’t make a similar complaint, because every single member of the Conservative caucus supports him, every time, right or wrong.
These days, the important debates take place not in the House but on TV screens – much in the form of paid advertising – and each party is therefore run by marketing specialists.
All but a handful of very strong MPs are elected by those marketing teams, so they can’t claim an independent mandate. The recent orange wave, where dozens of unknowns were swept into office on Jack Layton’s coattails, shows that our system is becoming more leader-centred.
In a traditional parliamentary system, leaders win their mandate from MPs in the House. Thus, John Diefenbaker was effectively taken down by his own caucus. By 1988, when a majority of Liberal MPs tried to oust John Turner, he was able to beat them back, claiming a direct mandate from party supporters.
Over time, prime ministers have used that direct authority – a result of electronic media – to strengthen their hand, starting with Pierre Trudeau, who weakened ministers by strengthening the central agencies.
Harper has continued that centralization and subordinated the public service, so that significant plans are drawn up in his office, not the offices of his ministers or bureaucrats, and the legislative process in the House is an empty ordeal that must be endured.
So the cabinet is a focus group, and most ministers are best understood as spokesministers, reading lines written by the PMO.
(For that reason, I find it hard to work up much enthusiasm for calls for the resignations of ministers like Bev Oda or Peter MacKay, even when they have misled the House.)
In this session, Harper’s people have used time allocation as never before, cutting off debate to force through their bills.
It is possible that after Christmas, once he has got the urgent stuff through, Harper will make greater use of parliamentary committees, allowing them to actually work on bills, but for the moment, we have legislation by fiat.
A nasty recent push poll in Montreal – in which the Conservatives told voters that Liberal MP Irwin Cotler would soon be leaving his seat – suggests that the Tories intend to conduct a permanent campaign, as in the United States.
This presidentialization of the Canadian system is worrying, not because of some fetishistic attachment to the trappings of Parliament, but because it allows for greater centralization than is found in other democracies.
In the United States, Obama can’t act without Congress. In Britain, prime ministers can never impose iron discipline on their huge, leaky caucuses.
A better comparison to the current Canadian situation might be Russia, where Vladimir Putin is able to act without concern for the formal role of institutions, although in Canada there are a series of extra-governmental actors – the premiers, the courts and the media – that would prevent any government from going too far.
And we have watchdogs – the auditor general, the parliamentary budget officer and the like – but according to a count by Queen’s University Professor Ned Franks, Harper has fired or forced out 10 watchdogs, which tends to cow the others.
In the last election, in the face of a Liberal campaign that attacked him as an enemy of Parliament, Harper communicated a powerful message of strength and stability and convinced Canadians he was best equipped to manage the economy.
Voters will judge him on those terms in four years. Until then, he has extraordinary latitude to act as he sees fit.
Backroom operatives? Supports him every time? Most ministers are spokesministers (is that a word, is it in our Constitution?)? Cutting off debate to force through bills? ‘Helpmates’ – is that in the Constitution? Legislation by fiat? Better comparison might be Russia? Fired 10 watchdogs? To act as he sees fit? Prevent any government from going too far? Which begs the question – how far is too far? Anonymous men and women running the country? In a democracy? I get to judge him in four years – after he’s spent my money? Does this sound like anything that sounds even remotely like a democracy?
Power Consolidated by PM
So I next turned to Wikipedia to see what those guys had to say about Stephen Harper. Stevie is a busy man, as it turns out. Not only is he the PM, but he is also the Head of the Conservative Party of Canada. And an author – he wrote a book on hockey. While he was in office. He said he did by writing 15 minutes here and there when he had a break. Which means this website would have taken me 28 years to write.
Which left me wondering – who does this guy work for? Canadians or the Conservative Party? Is he an authority on hockey or is he the PM? There may be a little conflict of interest there. Anyway, I’m quoting from Wikipedia. Please note, this article is labeled as being under dispute. I wonder why?:
“The current party leader is Stephen Harper, who has been the Prime Minister of Canada since 2006. He is the only leader the Conservative Party of Canada has ever had, thus it is accordingly almost indistinguishable from his personality, policies and tactics. Several early leadership contenders including Belinda Stronach and Garth Turner departed the Conservative Party prior to its taking power, and since then deviation from Harper policies has tended to lead to rapid exclusion from his caucus. No strong leadership contender has ever publicly challenged Harper for leadership of the Party from inside its ranks though Peter MacKay, John Baird and several other current federal cabinet ministers remain influential in the Party.
Harper’s close control of his caucus and cabinet, tendency to oust government agency heads who disagree even slightly, and close watch on his “back bench” have been noted often in international press, which often notes the unusually powerful executive power of a Canadian Prime Minister with a majority government. At least one book has been written specifically on this topic. Of particular note is his close control of media contacts.
From time to time, “backbench” MPs break ranks on specific issues, leading to speculation that Harper has lost central control. This is notably evident on abortion. However, some cabinet ministers have managed to express different views publicly without evident sanction, notably James Moore on the Northern Gateway pipeline, in which Moore took the position that the BC provincial government could refuse it regardless of what the federal government were to say or do.”
Like I said, I don’t really care so much that it’s Stevie boy. Obviously, this situation exists in Canadian politics, like it or not. If you’re interested in going down this Rabbit Hole, the book Wikipedia is alluding to is called, Harperland, The Politics of Control, by Lawrence Martin, a Globe and Mail columnist. I haven’t read it and don’t particularly want to. And really, whether it’s Steve or someone else, the questions we’re trying to answer pertain to systems and not personalities. Like I said, the problems are readily apparent – what are the solutions?
The Solution to Centralization – Leaderless Organizations
So the question I was wondering about was the system. What is the key point in all of this as it pertains to our little exploration and where my next bit of research should take me? And then it leapt off the page like a Bouncing Betty mine – the phrase “Greater centralization than other democracies” Wow. There’s some food for thought. Has our government become a bit too centralized, I wondered? And if it is unduly centralized, what, exactly, would be the solution to a centralized model of government? Perhaps a model of decentralization, perhaps?
After all, it’s one thing to point out the shortcomings of an institution and quite another to find an alternative. So here’s what I went looking for – a proven system that could be incorporated into our institutions and hopefully a system that has been proven for decades in all kinds of environments. Because there’s nothing worse than living with a bad system or a bad decision. There’s no point in leaping out of the frying pan and into the fire.
Let me give you an example of some incredibly bad planning, which may have been circumvented by a better system. When the City of Regina, where I live, was initially planting trees some 80 years or so ago they made an investment in Maple Trees and planted them all over the city. All well and good. But, it turns out that whoever ordered the Maples neglected to tell the suppliers they wanted male trees and not the seed-producing female trees.
Fast forward 80 years or so and every bloody spring all those Maple trees planted in the city start showering seeds down. Looking out the window you would swear to god it was snowing. So now what are you going to do? Uproot all the Maple Trees in the city? Or live with the bloody cleanup every spring?
Author Phil Edmonston (who used to be an MP by the way) is great at pointing out bad design – in cars at least. According to his Lemon-Aid books, the thing you want to avoid is the first year of a brand new model, which is usually fraught with unforeseen mechanical or design problems. What have some of these problems been? Well, if you remember back to the Ford Pinto, for example, when it was rear-ended the doors would jam shut and the car would start on fire. Which was obviously not foreseen by the designers. So design is critical. If we are looking for a new system to help out our centralized government, it shouldn’t be the first model year.
So the big thing you want when you’re proposing any changes to a system as critical as the governing of Canada is an “off-the-shelf” robust system that has been tested over time. So out I went looking for some type of a system that could be used to decentralize the highly-centralized top-down autocratic form of governance that Maher and Martin seem to be alluding to. I was looking for a system that could be applied to everything from “nuts and bolts” government structures to information delivery systems and everything in between.
Something that would engage our citizens (especially the young voters), empower the workers, allow managers and the public to monitor progress and that could be adapted to every service, program, expenditure or offering of our democracy. I wondered if it was possible. Did this system exist? Was it in use anywhere? Was I asking for too much?
So, once again, I was forced to the books. Looking for an example of an organization the size of the Canadian government that benefited from a decentralization system. And, after a little digging, I find there’s not only single examples of decentralization but an entire movement of decentralization that is transforming human enterprise around the world. And has been for quite some time. Decades actually. And a nice little summation of this can be found in a book called “The Starfish and the Spider – the Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations” by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom.
Who take us back to the 1940s and a fellow by the name of Peter Drucker. Peter Drucker became a management legend by studying one of the largest, most powerful, organizations in the world at that time – General Motors. He spent 18 months studying the company, with the complete co-operation of GM and then he came out with a book that stunned GM brass – that they should further improve their company by including customer feedback into their corporate decision-making. One little change would make an excellent company much more robust, Drucker argued.
And while Drucker’s book basically praised the company and how it operated, he had stepped over the line somehow with the GM top dogs, who took offence at the notion that customers may be able to add some value to their company. Decades later, companies and organizations as diverse as the Royal Mail, Hewlett Packard, 3M, IBM, Harley Davidson, Sun Hydraulics, USAA, Gore and Associates, Intuit and every major car manufacturer in the world would turn this concept into a fine art but at that time Drucker had worn out his welcome at GM and the company disassociated with him. Showed him the door.
Much to their detriment. Because Drucker then took his system to Japan and a struggling little company called Toyota picked it up.”I taught them that top management is a function and a responsibility rather than a rank and a privilege,” he said. And Japan wholeheartedly embraced decentralized organizational structures. And while Japan was innovating and evolving decentralization, GM stuck to their guns and went with what had worked for them, customers be damned.
Fast forward several decades and let’s compare the assembly lines of the 1980s at GM and Toyota. At GM workers performed a single function and if a worker stopped the line because of a problem, an alarm sounded and workers would rush to see what the problem was and to get the line back up and running as soon as possible. GM produced very mediocre cars in the 1980s.
The Japanese assembly line was radically different. Workers were part of a team and each member was considered as important as everyone else. If a problem was detected, a pleasant “ding-dong” would chime and the teams would carefully study what was going on and how to solve the problem. Line workers were constantly encouraged to make suggestions and these suggestions were take very seriously. Eventually suggestions became a formalized system that was adhered to almost like a religion.
How seriously did Toyota take suggestions? Each and every suggestion was implemented – that’s right – 100% of the suggestions were implemented. And it didn’t matter where the suggestion came from – the janitor, the office worker, the workers, management somebody’s Aunt Betty. If the suggestion worked, Toyota would keep it. If it didn’t, further suggestions would fix it or they would abandon it. But fully 100% of the suggestions were acted upon. The difference between the management styles at GM and Toyota? Toyota considered their workers as key assets, while GM with their centralized management style did not.
Which got me to wondering – could the average Canadian be considered a key asset of his country? Are we participants or consumers of government programs? Could things be improved by bringing the customers, for lack of a better term, into the loop?
So how did the systems compare? Was there really that big a difference? Didn’t both GM and Toyota produce cars and remain successful? Since large companies are well studied and a system like that was hard to keep secret, in the 1980’s GM decided to challenge Toyota. They invited Toyota to try their system at the Fremont, CA. auto plant, one of the worst production lines GM had. It was so bad that GM was planning to shut it down. The only condition? Toyota had to employ the same union workers that were already there. No firings. Toyota accepted the challenge, came into the plant and applied their decentralized approach to building cars. The results were staggering. Within three years, the plant had become one of GM’s most efficient. Along with productivity, quality dramatically improved.
How did they do it? The production lines essentially functioned without management. Management stopped by about a half hour per week to see how things were going. Other than that, the work teams made all the decisions. Toyota essentially trusted people to do the right thing. To do the job they were hired to do. How robust is this system? Jamie Hresko, a production manager from a different GM plant decided that he would go undercover, get hired at the factory and sabotage the Japanese system. He managed to get hired and immediately became one of the worst workers there.
He slacked off, broke the rules, created hazardous conditions, came in late and in each case his fellow workers reprimanded him. And remember – this was in a Union Shop. Where the workers rule. That’s right, his union brothers and sisters wanted to make sure the plant kept running smoothly. They valued their jobs, wanted to work productively and produce better cars. They took pride in their accomplishments and their abilities. Wow.
And what these systems really do is use the intelligence of everyone involved in the enterprise. Writing in “Freedom Inc.” by Brian Carney and Isaac Getz, (another excellent resource on decentralization) quoting Japanese industrialist Konosuke Matsushita:
“Business…. is now so complex and difficult, the survival of firms so hazardous and fraught with danger, that continued existence depends upon the day-to-day mobilization of every ounce of intelligence.” So could we somehow apply every ounce of intelligence of Canadians to a system like this? Because we’re talking about two different thing, right? One is a car – the other is a government. Car-building is simple. Governments are complex, right?
Let’s have a look at that premise – in order to build one car, Toyota and other manufacturers have to co-ordinate the production of about 30,000 parts into a single vehicle. These parts come from some 200 primary suppliers, often called Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) who also rely on companies to supply them with raw materials or parts components (Tier 1 suppliers).
Tier 1 suppliers will rely on Tier 2 suppliers who may provide individual parts or assembled components. These parts number about two billion units per year at Toyota and monthly purchases number a staggering 150 thousand different kinds of parts costing about one third of a billion dollars per month. Suppliers are scattered all over the world and include domestic Japanese companies and international companies found in the U.S., China, Canada, France, the U.K., Sweden and others. Quite an undertaking, huh?
In order to keep their quality high, just like the British did in dealing with their far-flung colonies, Toyota had to simplify things. One of the ways they do this is to estimate what it would cost them to produce a part and see if the supplier is charging enough. If they’re not, Toyota assumes that they are cutting costs or quality and will not buy from them as they assume that the supplier company is not operating on a sound economic basis.
They also attach great importance to long-term business relationships based on mutual trust and do not easily establish new transactions with vendors that present temporary attractive offers. In fact, they look for mutually beneficial relationships with any vendors whose technology and management are excellent, regardless of nationality.
Using these few basic principles, Toyota has become the largest car manufacturer in the world. And, in fact, there is not a single carmaker in the world that has not modeled its manufacturing and supply-chain management on Toyota’s ‘lean production’ system. So has Toyota always run smoothly or avoided problems? Obviously not, with recall problems mounting since the early 2000’s. So how did a robust system like this get into trouble? Maybe this system isn’t so good after all.
James Womack, one of the authors of “The Machine that Changed the World”, a book about Toyota’s innovations in manufacturing, dates the origin of Toyota’s present woes to 2002, when it set itself the goal of raising its global market share from 11% to 15% (which would make it the largest in the world). The target was “totally irrelevant to any customer” and was “just driven by (management) ego”, he says. The rapid expansion, he believes, “meant working with a lot of unfamiliar suppliers who didn’t have a deep understanding of Toyota culture.” So, if Womack’s assessment is correct, Toyota got into trouble when arbitrary management goals were foisted onto an already well-running system that then forced the system to do something that operated against its fundamental principles.
So how could a system like this have saved me from having to clean up Maple seeds every spring? Well, if enough people had input into the tree order or if the supplier had a trusted relationship with the City of Regina, someone may have been willing to point out that maybe Regina should be ordering male trees instead of the females to avoid the seed shower every spring. And I wouldn’t have to clean up those bloody seeds.
Governments Get “De-Elected”
So let’s compare Toyota’s approach to our current Parliamentary system in Canada. Usually governments are “de-elected” by voters. In other words, voters get disgusted by the antics/corruption of the current management and every 8 to 12 years (historically), we kick them out and get a new management team in. In other words, we’re not voting ‘for’ something but ‘against’ something. Canadians have gone to the polls some 41 times since we started our little democratic experiment in 1867.
There’s been an election approximately every 3.5 years with new management teams (‘Conservatives’ or ‘Liberals’) swapping power some 15 or 16 times depending on how you’re keeping score. As you can imagine, this is incredibly disruptive to the actual running of Canada in terms of program delivery to the public. You can’t keep swapping management out without creating large-scale disruptions.
And I can relate my own personal experience with this very problem when I was hired by the Saskatchewan civil service which was then being run by the New Democratic Party. Coming from a weekly newspaper, I was used to discussing matters of the day and was quite surprised at the reaction when I went for coffee with my colleagues and I started slagging the NDP for one shortcoming or another.
Fellow employees would take their coffee cup, get up from the table and walk away. How odd, I thought, as I thought I was in Canada, not Russia, although Maher may disagree. Anyway, coming from a small town newspaper, I knew that in the next election the NDP would be soundly defeated. In fact, I won the office pool for the election results having called it within two seats. It was a slaughter. A rout.
No sooner was the election over when the ‘parachutes’ as we called them, started dropping into our office building. New employees would simply show up, stake out a desk and start working. These were the lower level political functionaries of the new party and were the ‘eyes and ears’ of the new government in the civil service.
Some would call them spies or political hacks, others call them necessary for the ‘correct’ functioning of the new management and to institute its policies. Depends which side of the fence you’re on. Incoming or outgoing. Long-time Deputy Ministers (department heads) would be fired and replaced, sometimes regardless if they were doing a good job or not.
For government workers it was not only disruptive but very challenging to do your job in this environment. Nobody knew how their program areas were going to be affected. Nobody knew if they would even have a job or if their program would be cut or expanded. Morale plummeted and things ground to a halt. Imagine if the workers were in charge of their own programs however. They keep working along and solving their own problems until they get direction otherwise.
Instead of waiting for some higher-up to tell them how to do what they know how to do best. Of course this didn’t happen. Personally, I lasted until just after the next election until I got disgusted and left my government career behind. People told me I was nuts. That I had it made with the government pension plan and my union position. All I had to do was ride it out for the next 30 years or so. Maybe I should have listened to them, who knows?
Federally, we the Canadian people kick out the old managers and hire a new management team every 10 years or so. And each management team brings in its own new group of suppliers, supporters, Deputy Ministers, hacks and whacks and parachutes. It would be like Toyota firing all its upper management every 10 years and at the same time kicking out its long-term suppliers and expecting the company to keep on performing the way it does.
So, what are the management objectives under a system like this? A bunch of politicians trying to get re-elected every 4 years? Many government policies and programs are geared to this short-term thinking. I imagine that if Toyota were run on these principles, it would have gone out of business a long time ago.
And knowing something about business, I can tell you that there are entire industries geared towards using something called Other People’s Money (OPM). The entire venture capital industry is built on this premise. Get some OPM and let them take the risk. However at some point, in business at least, you have to pay it back or fold. One or the other. If you have a constant never-ending supply of OPM, do you operate under these constraints? And where, along the way, do you have to be responsible to anyone regarding the decisions you made in how you spend your OPM? Under the present system, the only option open to voters in Canada is to kick out the politicians after they spent the OPM.
So let’s look at a government that does not have these constraints. China, which has been run by the Communists for about the last 65 years or so, can plan a long-term, stable strategy as the people can’t kick out the Commies and vote in another party. Having been to China on a number of occasions, I can attest that China has certainly accomplished some incredible things. Modern cities, skyscrapers and a manufacturing industry that has surpassed all the capitalist countries in the world, the list goes on.
All of this fueled by manufacturing which has provided the foreign currency to modernize the country. In fact, China has become the go-to manufacturer of the world. They have suffered environmentally for doing so, but the point is that a Communist country is now out-producing every capitalist nation in the world. And have been doing so since about 2010 when they surpassed the U.S. in manufacturing capabilities and size. In order to achieve this incredible transformation, stable long-term government policies were required. Which they certainly have.
Incidentally, what are they doing with all that trade surplus money? It looks like they’re buying up the United States. They are now the single largest creditor to the U.S. China, which owns an estimated $1.22 trillion in U.S. Treasuries, is the number-one investor among foreign governments, according to the February 2013 figures released by the U.S. Treasury. This amounts to over 21% of the U.S. debt held overseas and more than 7% of the United States’ total debt load. Obviously, the long-term policies of the Chinese government have led to this ‘success’ story (at least on the economic side of things.) The point is that the ability for a government to plan on a long-term stable basis can reap very distinct rewards. More on this later when we get to elections.
So what types of human enterprises can benefit the most from decentralization? According to all the experts, top-down rigid organizational structures are the ones that can benefit the most. And right now Canada is one of the most centralized democracies in the world, according to Maher. So, by extension, it must stand to benefit the most by implementing a decentralization program. So, following the decentralization model, the civil service would be acting with minimal management interference.
That is not to say that they are autonomous. Far from it. Scrutiny, as we will see, would be intense and based on a set of written objectives (values) from their employers (you and me). More on this later as well. But they would be allowed to make decisions based on the ability to solve problems at a local level, just as Toyota’s union employees can solve their local problems on the shop floor. They would also be held responsible for those decisions.
Top Eight Reasons for Decentralization
Here’s the top 8 reasons for decentralization. However, you should also be aware that decentralization is not just a model for companies, but for other information-based organizations. Does this sound like it would do some good for government?:
- Reduces burden of top executives:
Decentralization of authority relieves top executives from operating details or routine work so that they can concentrate on more important functions of policy-making, coordination and control. As a company grows beyond the reach of the chief executive, Decentralization becomes necessary. By delegating authority for operating decisions, top management can extend its leadership over a giant enterprise.
- Quick and better decisions:
Decentralization permits prompt and more accurate decisions because decisions are made by those who are fully aware of the realities of the situation. Decisions can be made near the point of action without consulting higher levels and without waiting for approval of top executives.
- Growth and diversification:
Decentralization facilitates growth and diversification of products and markets. Under Decentralization, each product line is treated as a separate division so that it can respond quickly to the changing demands of its special market. The self-contained product divisions enjoy considerable independence and proper emphasis can be put on each product line under the overall coordination and control of top management.
- Better communication:
Decentralization improves organizational communication and efficiency because there are fewer levels of authority. The problems of red-tape and bureaucratic delays are reduced.
- Development of executives:
Decentralization provides an opportunity to subordinate managers to take initiative and acquire leadership qualities. Lower level executives learn to manage by exercising delegated authority. A reservoir of promotable managers becomes available which simplifies management successions and helps to ensure continuity of management. Decentralization promotes autonomy, initiative and creativity on the part of subordinates. As the success and survival of the organisation does not depend upon a few individuals at the top, Decentralization makes for stability and continuity of the enterprise.
- Improvement in motivation and morale:
Decentralization improves the job satisfaction, motivation and morale of subordinates. Opportunity to make decisions provides sense of belonging and satisfies the needs for power, prestige, status and independence. A climate of competition is generated. High motivation and morale help in improving productivity and working relationships. Better utilization of talents at lower levels can be made.
- Effective supervision and control:
Decentralization results in effective supervision because managers at the lower levels have complete authority to make changes in work assignment, to take disciplinary action, to recommend promotions and to change production schedule. Decentralization also promotes effective control through comparative evaluation of performance and clear-cut accountability for results.
- Democratic management:
Decentralization makes for democratic management and flexibility of operations. People at lower levels do not feel alienated from the top and there is little danger of administration becoming top heavy or monolithic. Necessary changes can be made without dislocating the entire structure.
“Freedom Inc.” had this to say about decentralization:
“Each of the unusual bosses and amazing leaders profiled in Freedom, Inc. have performed near-miracles in driving their companies to unheard-of levels of success, often from unlikely or disheartening beginnings. And each has something in common with the others—he believes that the key to business success is freeing up the initiative and genius of every, even the lowest-ranked employee in the firm, every day. How they set their employees free—and how their lessons can be applied to firms in every industry, of any size, anywhere in the world—is the story of this book.
After four years of research, thought and debate, we have identified three stages that each leader went through to build a radically free workplace—rejecting the command-and-control structure, enlisting employees in building a free workplace, and staying put in spite of setbacks; and in each successive stage this leader relied on one corresponding personal strength: values, creativity, and wisdom.”
So is it possible get a long-term stable democratic government without resorting to communism or wholesale kicking out one set of politicians and getting in a new batch every 10 years or so? In other words, how could we make Parliament a true democratic institution with long-term planning abilities, the ability to self-correct and engage its citizens?
What would that system have to look like I wondered? The first thing is your MP would have to represent the people of the riding, not a political party. In other words, your MP couldn’t belong to a political party that represents only 1 to 2% of the population and who’s membership is made up of rich people. They would have to belong to you. After all, they’re your representative. Could political parties exist under this plan? Absolutely. They just couldn’t field candidates. Or if they did, the ‘party politician’ would have to resign from the party prior to taking office. In other words, your MP couldn’t be somebody’s bitch or in a conflict of interest. And, come to think of it, no more writing books on hockey while you’re supposed to be working.
Rolling Elections vs General Elections
How could we avoid the wholesale firing of management every 10 years or so? And, just to let you know – this is the only truly original idea I’ve had in this book where I couldn’t find an existing system. So, just as a warning, this would be a new system, but it just seemed to make sense to me so I thought I’d include it. Feel free to endorse or reject it as you see fit.
And what I’m proposing is to get rid of “General Elections” and instead institute rolling elections where elections in ridings are scheduled every six years or so. Here’s the math – since there are currently 308 seats in the House of Commons, elections would take place once a week for 308 weeks and then start over.
Which means every six years or so you would get the chance to elect a new MP, but let’s call him a ‘manager’ for your local riding. There would be no ‘federal election’ in the classical sense of ‘forming a new government’. The ‘government’ would keep chugging along, changing one or two of the managers with each election but not disrupting basic operations.
In other words, we would preserve the democratic tradition of the voters being able to oust their elected representative, but we wouldn’t be disrupting the on-going operation of the federal government in the process.
Incidentally, in the decentralized model, there would be no need for a “Cabinet”, Prime Minister or other autocratic office that acts like a Russian president. After all, we’re changing it from a top-down autocratic organization to one where the workers run the show, with input from the customers (that’s you and me) and where management stops by every once and then.
And, since Cabinet has never been legally appointed via the Constitution and it is merely a ‘tradition’ of government, well there you have it. We no longer celebrate all kinds of traditions dating back some centuries now do we?
Aha, you say (or at least someone brought up this point when we started discussing it), if we got rid of Cabinet, who would be the leaders of the country when we go out in the world? And the answer to that would be: it depends. It would depend on what the mandate of the particular organization or department required. The system would be fully capable of picking someone to represent us on a world stage from the appropriate departments or to send a delegation if required. Because everyone in the organization would know what the objectives are and how they are being implemented. There would be no secrets.
The nature of being an MP would also change drastically. Instead of becoming ‘Ministers’ of departments, backbenchers or Parliamentary Secretaries they would become managers in the Drucker sense of ‘management” that is that management is a responsibility rather than a rank and a privilege. They would be aided by anyone in Canada who has an interest in that department or issue or even in governance.
The manager’s duty would be to ensure the civil service was delivering programs that fit with the values of Canadians. Let me expand on that point briefly, although we’ll go into more detail on the nuts and bolts of how this would work in the next chapter.
So, the question is: do Canadians simply want more of the same petty rhetorical debates or is there a system of government that will circumvent the divisive party politics and operate based on shared values? And what would those Canadian values be? As we’ve seen there’s an incredible tool that could be used to do this, it’s called the Internet (more on how to build this later).
First off, we would have to actually determine Canada’s values. As a country, we have never done this. Where are our values written down? How do our laws, programs and public spending flow from these values? Until we determine the unique Canadian set of values, we cannot expect our civil service to deliver value-based programs. And technically this would not be difficult to do.
We would then need to turn the set of values into a set of objectives. So if we understand what the values are, we understand our objectives as a nation. We can prioritize the objectives. Let’s pick a real big value for Canada and one that has far-reaching implications for everyone: medical care. So, if we as Canadians said one of our core values was universal medical care and this was a #1 priority, the objective of Canadians then becomes an objective of our government and we can frame and quantify the debate in this manner.
We can have reports from our civil service program as to how the Government of Canada has achieved this value. In other words, government policy and decisions flow from that set of values as opposed to a political party’s ideology. We deal with issues and not ideological abstractions.
The nature of the civil service would change. Department heads would be as recognizable as your local politicians. These would be the people directly responsible for delivering programs based on Canada’s stated values or objectives. They would be your employees in charge of delivering your programs. They would have to justify their programs to the people of Canada based on satisfying your written values. We’ll dig deeper into the mechanisms in the next chapter.
Your personal role in government would also change. People would have access to all of the information now only available to your MP or Cabinet from the various government departments. Books, accounts, documents, Ministerial briefings (except now they would just be briefings) – all would be published by the department under a standard set of rules. Financial reporting would include generally accepted accounting rules.
There would be no ‘freedom of information’ requests to be filed. All the department finances would now be an open book to your MP and to Canadians in general based on sound accounting principles. No ifs, ands, buts or exceptions. This is a democracy after all. The principle would be the same as a boss with their employees. The boss has the right to know how the employee is spending his time when he’s on the clock.
But here’s the goal: decentralization will be the operating principle of government. Which I find to be an infinitely more compelling theory than ‘elect me and I’ll take care of you’ and we’ll see you in four years. Or elect a Member of Parliament and he or she becomes somebody’s bitch.
So let’s look at how a dynamic decentralized organization like Wikipedia operates, for example, as compared to a 400 hundred year old centralized organization like a Parliamentary system. Wikipedia was founded in 2001 with the goal of becoming an online encyclopedia. It is a nonprofit corporation that is a true decentralized organization. Although Wikipedia was founded by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger who borrowed on earlier concepts, the organization has no real leader and even Jimmy Wales says he often doesn’t even know who maintains their servers, for example.
Here’s a statement from Wikipedia regarding Wales’ management style:
“Wales, a believer in “hands off” executive management, went on to establish self-governance and bottom-up self-direction by editors on Wikipedia. He made it clear that he would not be involved in the community’s day-to-day management, but would encourage it to learn to self-manage and find its own best approaches. As of 2007, Wales mostly restricts his own role to occasional input on serious matters, executive activity, advocacy of knowledge, and encouragement of similar reference projects.”
The people that use it voluntarily keep it running. This idea turned into a global force which became a self-organizing, self-correcting, self-policing, incredibly innovative form of spreading information. Wikipedia includes over 26 million freely usable articles written in 285 languages with over 39 million registered user and many more anonymous contributors. It is the world’s 6th most popular website visited monthly by over 10% of all Internet users. It is regularly quoted by mainstream news outlets. It accomplished this amazing feat within 12 years.
Let’s compare this to a ‘traditional’ for-profit encyclopedia such as Encyclopedia Britannica. The Britannica was first published in 1768 in Edinburgh, Scotland and is continuously updated by about 100 full-time editors and more than 4,000 contributors. The Britannica has about 85,000 articles and 55 million words in total. Wikipedia has 4,238,462 articles in the English version alone after 13 years in operation. The unparalleled growth of this organization shows the adaptability, resilience and abilities of a decentralized organization like Wikipedia as compared to the very centralized Britannica, which has been around for about 245 years. Growth at this scale would be unmanageable in a centralized organization.
So how does it work for someone who wants to contribute an article to the Wicki? Given that anyone can edit an article, what innovative ways did the organization come up with to prevent inaccuracies or people with biased viewpoints from editing articles? Well, there are dispute mechanisms in Wikipedia and as we saw with Hresko in a ‘nuts and bolt’ GM factory, people with a stake in the system also police it. So if an article is under dispute or the authenticity is in question it is labeled as such. Right up front. In the open. Just like the disputed entry on Harper. So you can judge for yourself.
So with Wikipedia, the people who contribute also watch what is being posted, although no one person has authority over the article. And because there are so many people reading and monitoring the articles, incorrect information is usually corrected very quickly. Thus, as a living, breathing organism, the overall accuracy of the articles are constantly being updated and corrected. Just like a private sector encyclopedia.
So let’s apply this to our new-found Government of Canada system – the ‘nuts and bolts’ government workers would have a couple of self-correcting systems in place. Their own internal system and the ‘external’ system of elected officials and the public at large. So if you were a retired civil engineer for example with an interest in bridges you could go online and see what changes were being made to the bridge being repaired down the street or across the country, monitor the costs based on competitive bids you had handled in the past and have the opportunity to post your information in the government wicki on that bridge.
People with an interest in that bridge would get to see your comments. Financial data would be readily available as would technical details and progress of the build. This could be compared to on the ground information observed by the public who could also post videos from their cell phones for example. Everyone with an interest could participate or follow the issue.
Decentralized organizations are inherently more efficient, adaptable and empowering than centralized systems. As a system of government it would allow any Canadian who wants to get involved in the democratic system full power within the system. That’s right. Everyone and anyone. No one person has any more power than anyone else. Elected or unelected. A politician or not. Paid or unpaid. Professional or layman.
And when everyone is empowered equally, the system will run itself. It will become self-organizing, self-regulating and will efficiently and effectively meet the needs of people in Canada. If someone tries to sabotage it as we saw at the GM factory, the system will correct itself. Will it be perfect? Unless people are perfect, the system won’t be. But, in my opinion, it certainly beats out a 400-year-old Medieval Parliamentary system designed to wrestle power from the King. Which, if Maher is to be believed, it hasn’t been able to accomplish yet.
But here’s Peter Drucker’s basic principle in action – all that we have to do to ensure our democracy remains fundamentally healthy is to bring the customers – you and me – into the circle. In other words, we ‘close the circle’ by facilitating communication between management (government) and the people. That’s all. Doesn’t sound too drastic does it? But how would we accomplish this? What would it take and what kind of systems would be required?