I am encountering more and more people who are frustrated with our current elected political leadership (either federal or provincial) and are considering 'downing tools' and abandoning any effort to make contact with those Governments including contacts with Cabinet Ministers.  One reason they cite is the elimination of funding to advocacy groups who speak out
against government.  The other is their perception of the political agenda of the parties in power.  Further, some are suggesting the priority for the non profit sector is to take a
public stand against this political agenda. 

I don't agree with these sentiments.  Ignoring our elected governments does not make sense if we are interested in developing solutions to our tough social and environmental challenges.  I consider it a form of abandonment. Here are four reasons:

  1. We abandon the interests of our constituencies and membership, potentially for years (depending on the remaining term of office)  when we stop petitioning, informing, representing our membership and holding our elected representatives to account.
  2. Social and environmental issues transcend partisan allegiances. We risk abandoning and alienating potential allies who may share our concerns on particular issues but support the government.  We also risk undermining the broad, non partisan consensus necessary to take action on the tough complex challenges we face.
  3. Elected Governments are composed of competing political interests, and factions.  Although it may not seem so from the outside, there are allies (yes, even at the Cabinet table) who are sympathetic to our concerns and solutions. We abandon them and don't provide them with any leverage to do their behind the scenes work, when we ignore elected governments and become openly partisan.
  4. The public service still operates during all political environments.   Perhaps at a slower speed, perhaps at a snail's pace.  This is not of their choosing. We shouldn't abandon them either.  This is a great opportunity to cultivate relations, foster trust, inform and educate, and pursue issues in preparation for the time when there is a political go ahead. In fact public servants may have more time on their hands when they don't have the green light to move issues within their systems.  You have a greater chance of getting their attention.

There are some other reasons we should not go down that road:

  • What we don't like in our political leaders is often a reflection of
    ourselves.  Why feed the negative in us or them?
  • Politicizing the non profit sector will have repercussions for
    decades.  Our job is to raise the issues, advocate for change, encourage
    consensus, inform, educate, provide remedies, innovate.  There are
    other vehicles to become active in a partisan, political way.
  • Ignoring our elected governments is anti – democratic suggesting to the
    electorate that if we don't like their decision, we will take matters
    into our own hands.
  • Using our non profit vehicles to defeat the government and replace them with the opposition is no guarantee the opposition will act much differently when they are in power.
  • Pure advocacy groups (I don't mean service provider organizations) are more effective when they don't rely on funding from government.  This gives them the independence to praise or criticize without fear of consequence.  Loss of government funding could be the opportunity to establish a stronger relationship with your constituency, earn their financial support and your financial self sufficiency.

This is not an argument against speaking up, expressing outrage, or holding government to account.  However, as solution oriented advocates we should not confuse our personal political passions with our responsibilities to obtain solutions.
 There is lots of work to do even during tough political times.  Solution based advocacy is unyielding, and must pursue solutions in all types of environments. But keep it non partisan, seek to heal rifts, reduce polarization and shine a different light on the issues.  
In politics, unlike life, if you can't be with the ones you love, love the one you're with.  Or at least stay connected to the ones we elect.

5 Comments

  1. Sean Moore

    Excellent advice, as usual.

  2. cohibacanuck@gmail.com

    well said Al! having worked for many years on both sides of the fence…both within the public sector and in the NGO sector for social justice and human rights I belive it is important for those interested in change to remain engaged…
    daryl

  3. Al Etmanski

    Thanks Daryl – it’s a shame to squander the existing and potential connections, relationships and supporters all over the system – the partisan ‘heat’can be seductive but ultimately fatal to successfully tacking our complex challenges.

  4. Lauri Thompson

    Excellent article, Al. Thanks for continuing to thoughtfully address the complexity of humans and of systems.

  5. Al Etmanski

    Thanks Lauri – we are all in the same leaky rowboat…

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