Imagine how much better our society would be if our elected political leaders had training for their job.
By Peter Hill
Published April 23, 2013
The following ideas and suggestions result from a contemplation of the desperate need for a more informed municipal political leadership, more informed in the sense of actually how to be a politician and how to cope with the intellectual demands such a life makes.
The backgrounds of many elected officials have not provided them with the necessary skills and understandings to provide the leadership demanded of them.
In assessing this matter for its value, I have called on an observant personal background as a student, an educator and an administrator of training programs over my career - and as a political candidate as well.
As has almost everyone else who is interested in our political system, I have become extremely concerned about the manner in which decisions are made by our political leadership and the knowledge they each bring to the decision-making process, particularly at the municipal level.
Our society dotes on creating educational and training programs for all manner of professions and trades. It has become a multi-billion dollar industry employing many thousands of people.
Generally, the more "important" something is to society - becoming a physician, a dentist, a lawyer, etc. - the longer the training program. Shorter programs of training exist for plumbers, electricians, security personnel, barbers, real estate agents, and so on.
Every occupation has a training program of some type - except one!
This one occupation, which provides not only remuneration but also health benefits, a pension and other "perks", is arguably the most important to our nation as a whole - that of the politician at all levels of government. We have developed no training programs for those we place in our highest positions.
How much better would our society be if our leaders had training for their job? And it is a job: it is not "public service", which is a term often used to describe the work of a politician.
It used to be that senior business leaders ran for election in order to "serve" the communities that made them wealthy. Today, that is not the case. People often enter politics early as part of an ambitious career path.
This proposal was first presented to McMaster University, from which I have had no response yet, and is for the development of a course of studies intended to make our elected representatives better.
I mean better in the sense that they will have some background in how governments work, how to read financial statements, relationships between and among governments, and so on.
However, I believe that it needs exposure to the wider Hamilton community in order to get some momentum going. I also believe that Mohawk College could have a role to play in its implementation and at least one of Hamilton's charitable foundations and a philanthropist to endow the program.
It needs more work. At this point it is an idea (I believe an idea whose time has come!), a concept for giving candidates skill sets they will need immediately if elected. And we need to start at the Municipal level - and in Hamilton!
It is acknowledged that the following is an incomplete listing of the knowledge needed by politicians the day after they are elected but it is a starting point for discussion and action.
It needs refinement and the application of a pedagogically correct order done by appropriate academics but this proposal is intended as the starting point for debate on the potential it possesses for doing two things:
Improving the quality of our municipal political leadership.
Effectively involving McMaster in the life of the community in a positive and highly visible way.
Because the program must be available to all in our society, the program needs to be free to the user. If not, it will be billed as discriminating against the poor.
Similarly, it should not have examinations or test of any nature since these would be perceived by those not in favour as discriminating against those having weaker intellects. Auditing a course is already a standard behaviour anyway.
However, attendance would be taken and a certificate given only to those who have attended a satisfactory number of the classes.
We live in a democracy that allows anyone to run for office, and the placement of a charge might be perceived as an unconstitutional barrier if it were to become a requirement - which I believe it should. This point should be debated, however.
Further, I envisaged the course running one night per week from September through April.
Topics (not exhaustive) would include the following, in no particular order:
Though initially it may not be a requirement for running for office, the holding of a Certificate of Completion by candidates might inform the public about the sincerity and dedication of the candidate and give him/her an advantage.
It would allow voters to distinguish between those sincerely interested in, and dedicated to, serving their communities and those who only wish to test the odds of being elected without the need for preparation of any kind.
As stated earlier, thought might also be given to offering this program with Mohawk College and the obtaining of funding from organizations such as the Hamilton Community Foundation and other such benefactors or philanthropists interested in improvements in public life.
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