A drink here. Lunch there. What’s $300 bucks in the grand scheme of a $4.5-billion City of Calgary budget? What does that really cost?
Unfortunately, the recent mini-scandal about the expense claims of a certain city councillor isn’t just a dollars-and-cents issue. The cost to Calgarians is the further erosion of trust in our municipal government. It is very difficult, if not impossible, for a government to move forward when they’ve lost the trust of those they govern – and even harder when our elected leaders don’t trust each other. We have a trust issue, and therefore a progress issue.
I remember learning this lesson the hard way as a kid. My father used to say, “Trust takes a lifetime to establish, and one moment of stupidity to break down.” I must have been a slow learner, because I heard the phrase more than once, and I had to work my way back up the trust tree on several occasions. But I took the lesson with me into business, and it has served me well.
An erosion of trust in business can take you down in a moment. An erosion of trust in politics is more of a slow burn.
Calgary city council has stated a desire to modernize municipal government and restore public trust. Anyone who has to deal with the city on a regular basis, as my employees do, knows that modernization and trust-building are badly needed. Yet Calgary’s current municipal dysfunction starts at the top.
We can all understand that there will be work that needs to be done in camera, which means behind closed doors and without public eyes, for reasons of commercial confidentiality or personal privacy. But Calgarians have to be able to trust our elected leaders to work together professionally and respectfully, in the public chamber, most of the time. Right now, they don’t. Ideology and dogmatic positioning divide our elected representatives, who spend too much time posturing and not enough time seeking consensus or even really listening to one another. Extended processes and reversals of direction on everything from the Olympics to the Green Line suggest an inability to make sound basic decisions, let alone restore trust with voters.
Nuanced, rational discourse is not happening. Yet many of our city councillors are highly-educated, intelligent people with claims of expertise in urban planning. What has gone wrong?
I believe we have a “smartest person in the room” problem. From the mayor’s chair all the way around the table, we have councillors who like to talk more than they like to listen. There was a time when elected officials were unafraid to apologize for mistakes and rectify them, not make excuses. Maybe that was before Twitter.
Building trust through leadership isn’t rocket science. Hire good people, give clear direction, trust them to do their jobs and be authentic in every interaction. Successful business owners learn how to do this in order to be successful business owners in 2020 and beyond.
Calgarians aren’t going to be bothered by lunch here or a drink there if they’re confident that trustworthy people are working hard on their behalf. We need such people in the chairs, because there is so much work to be done to get our great city back on track.