Government a public service, not a business

Government should be run like a business.

This well-worn adage is about to be put to the ultimate test.

As Donald Trump became the 45th president of the United States late last week, the businessman/entertainer displayed the attributes of the penultimate entrepreneur. His inaugural address drenched in populist rhetoric and overhyped goals sounded more like an employer talking to his employees than a president getting ready to take office.

The most blatant example was the contrast between the inaugural speech and the signing ceremony in the National Statuary Hall on Capitol Hill. As he stood before the public, he lambasted the political class:

“For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished — but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered — but the jobs left, and the factories closed,” he said.

“The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country.”

Only moments later, at the signing ceremony, he was joking around with the same politicians he decried.

We saw two very different sides, one external and the other internal. It was the public face and the one behind closed doors. It is confusing to know which one is real. More importantly, how do you trust someone like this?

But more telling, his speech, just like his campaign, hinges on the promise that Trump, himself, is the only solution to what ails America. So many businesses are driven by this kind of ego.

Working people will tell you quickly about the boss who treats everyone in the company like gum on the bottom of their shoe. The employer who is never wrong, they will not listen, or they act like the only viable option is theirs.

These are the corporate leaders who stand in front of employees spouting unity, sacrifice and perseverance in the face of hardship, while privately despising underlings, showing disdain for workers and giving themselves massive compensation packages even when they fail.

But that is business.

So, those at the top get to tell everyone else what to do. It is a dictatorship. And, if there is a disagreement: You’re fired, as Trump would say on his TV reality show The Apprentice.

Governing does not work that way. It takes leadership.

Politicians are elected, not hired. Ideally, they work for their constituents. When it works, they come together, even when they disagree, finding the compromise to serve the best interests of citizens.

Yet, we see the business approach at many levels of politics in Canada and locally. The arrival of businessman Kevin O’Leary into the federal Conservative leadership race is a great example. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was another.

We get a flavor of this in Port Hope.

First, it was the reorganization of its meeting and town staff. Then, there was the firing of the chief administrative officer, followed by the unceremonious dismissal of tourism and economic development staff. Next, came a spat with the Heritage Business Improvement Area.

Most recently, the restructuring of the Shelter of Hope Animal Services becoming the Municipal Animal Services without public notice or consultation.

But it is not only politicians who seek the business approach local government. Many of the local taxpayer groups join the chorus. Also, some of the rural townships act in an autocratic manner with little transparency and deaf to citizen input.

Certainly, no one will argue with a responsible fiscal approach, seeking efficiency and cost-effective use of taxpayer’s dollars. But we must never forget the government is about people. The function of any government should be to provide public services. Sometimes it is costly, but it is also what is needed.

Governing cannot be done alone, but only through the co-operation of those in charge and with the sanction of those whom they represent. This means building trust, empathy and a commitment to building consensus. It is not simply a grocery list of declarations or cold-hearted decisions enacted merely at the will of a few.

If there is one piece of advice for President Trump, it would be to stop trying to run the country and govern it instead. Some local politicians might want to think about it, too.

Originally published:  Jan. 25, 2017


Comments are closed.