Creative Disruption has worked for Google and Facebook. Could it work for the Liberal Party?

“The business environment is being disrupted by fast-moving innovators.

In the last few years we have seen some dramatic changes in the business world. Very young companies, such as Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook are achieving startling growth and are disrupting entire industries.

To competitors, it may seem that these companies are growing at impossible rates. These recent startups seem to defy the laws of nature. How can they grow so fast?”

So when I mention the words, Creative Disruption, one might think that I am advocating the same strategies used by students in Quebec. That would be a mistake. For the term, Creative Disruption has been used by technology watchers for years. It refers to the change that comes to society when a new technology or idea is deployed. This type of disruption has been seen in a variety of places. Think of Apple’s introduction of the iPod, iPad and iPhone. Each of those products changed the way that we interact with data.

The iPhone was one of the first mass marketed smart phones. It replaced many of its competitors and wiped out different product lines. The iPhone killed PDA devices and it took a swipe at RIM, Nokia and Motorola. The computer industry changed with its introduction. So much so that people like me carry pictures of our children on their phone now and not in their wallets like our parents did.

Additionally, the computer market took a radical turn with the introduction of the iPad. Unlike the Microsoft version released almost a decade previous, the Apple iPad created a new class of products. Magazines, Newspapers and Books found that they had new life. Sales people and writers found their new must have tool. iPads also have a burgeoning peripheral industry. One can buy a number of attachments including physical keyboards to personalize the device. All of this was intentional. For, Steve Jobs felt that he had to leap over other product lines and change society to be a leader in any field.

The same thing happens in the Political World. When Kennedy President Campaign started in 1960, they created a lot of disruptive activity. For example, the Kennedy Campaign was the first campaign that did not contest every state. Or put differently, up until 1960, every candidate competed in every single state. Win or loss, every state was important.

Kennedy’s first campaign changed that. For that campaign, looked for and put a real effort in only a few states: the state they could win. By using telephones and the latest technology of the day – polls -, the Campaign was able to figure out where to put resources like advertising.

That same disruption took place in Massachusetts, more than forty years later. For in a Gubernatorial Campaign, Candidate Romney was one of the first American candidates to deploy micro-targetting and predictive behavioural modeling in an American Campaign. That was back in 2003.

Now in 2012, those concepts are pretty much standard operating principles in the US. And they are working their way across the border. Following the model developed under Mike Harris-led Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, the Conservative Party of Canada has used some of those principles to work their way to a majority.

Or one could look at the NDP. They have increasingly developed their micro-targetting and on-line strategy to push our Party, the Liberal Party, out of their way. While, the development of Liberalist and other tools means that we can play catch-up, I have one question on my mind: how creative can we be in developing new models to overshoot other Canadian Political Parties?

With Liberalist, we are beginning to develop a 21st Century “Get-Out-the-Vote” (GOTV) campaign machine. However, more needs to be done. For example, I have argued, and will argued, that we have to have a policy vision that looks forward and not backward. Or put differently, the concept of political left and political right are in many ways arcane concepts.

For example, let us look at recent discussion over bilingualism in Canada. With the appointment of a unilingual Auditor General, the Conservatives indicated their present opinion. It is clear that on the Right, there is a feeling that Governments’ should do only the very minimum. Therefore, in their mind, bilingualism is something to strive for; it is an ideal. If someone falls below the accepted standard, they must be given a chance to become bilingual. While, the NDP has made it clear – through legislative pushes – that senior persons who exercise power in the bureaucracy (including officers of Parliament) and/or the judiciary must be bilingual. Or put differently, on the Left, Bilingualism is an absolute.

This leaves us in a quandary because while we did lead the charge for bilingualism, the Liberal Party’s intellectual position has not evolved. Or put differently, we are still with Trudeau in accepting that bilingualism is important and should be official policy. We, unfortunately, have not thought about how it should be implemented since the Charter.

This has left us with the ability to spout ideas but with an inability to describe them or functionalize them. This is why Canadians are falling away from our party. We say the right things but cannot describe how we would implement them. We speak pleasing words but can do no more than that. To the left and right, absolute positions are desired – regardless of practicality or need – while we sit on the sidelines, unable to articulate a different vision.

In my mind, the answer on bilingualism is simple: we must respect all stakeholders and both official languages. Consequently, the exercising of power by the Canadian State must be bilingual in nature and application. So, if we take the Parliament or the Supreme Court of Canada, those bodies exercise power communally. No one Member of Parliament or Justice of the Supreme Court can act alone. When before the Court, each person – lawyer or justice, defendant or accused – can speak to other plainly, through translators or not, and be understood. The same is true in Parliament. Furthermore, the composition of the institution – the Court or Parliament – reflects the complexity of Canada. Finally, and most importantly, given that both bodies argue over language (including syntax, grammar, spelling and form), both bodies need experts in the language. From what I have seen, no person is perfectly bilingual. Whether it be French or English, one usually has a stronger language – either written or spoken. Therefore, Canadians are served by having institutions – a Parliament and a Supreme Court of Canada – which are bilingual but where the people who serve may not be functionally bilingual.

However, this cannot be true for Officers of Parliament, Bureaucrats, Military Officials, Peace Officers and other members of the Civil Service. Most of them have to exercise power as an individual. When a Police Officer arrests an individual or the Auditor-General fills a report, they have to do it individually. Therefore, power is exercised by that individual alone. In those cases, one would expect some form of bilingualism within the act. Or put differently, if a Francophone needs to deal with their federal government, they should be able to interact with them in their language of choice no matter where they are. This is my point of view of language policy: the exercising of power leads to the nature or the need for bilingualism.

In its complexity, my position is not ideological. My position meets the needs of various individual stakeholders. It deals with the needs of Franco-phone communities in Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba and the needs of Anglophone communities in Quebec and New Brunswick. It is a view that we can talk about to Canadians in all regions and a view that we could possibly sell to all Canadians.

This idea of policy framing also leads us to bigger issues. For example, if one looks at the Conservatives and the New Democrats, one can see that their targeting and micro-targetting works because those GOTV strategies emphasize a clear point of view. In our case, our present positions provide a washed out vision without any workable solutions. If the “Devil is in the details”, today we are like Angels. Or put differently, being able to talk about our past glories like the Charter or returning the country to fiscal surplus is not good enough. By developing a broad policy framework or vision, we can target both groups and individuals in the coming years. This type of broader discussion in our party would force the larger public to take a second look at us. Thereby, bring some disruption to our society.

A second way of bringing Creative Disruption could be the elimination of our Provincial and Territorial Associations and limiting the Amount of Commission in the Party. I have seen OYL and LPC(O). I have heard about the fights in OLP, ALP and LPC(A). Through all of that I have come to a couple of conclusions. One, most parties need a minimal amount of bureaucracy for institutional memory and the coordination of assets. However, after that, bureaucracy can be just as stifling as it is helpful. This leads me to my second point: the middle layers of the Liberal Party of Canada often do not know when they are stifling because they rarely have performance measures. By radically reshaping the party, the Liberal Party could redistribute our talent. This might mean the addition of resources to the central party or addition of resources in Electoral District Associations. Either way, the extra energy could help us to leap frog our way ahead of other parties. Therefore, Creative Disruption would be felt within the party and we could once again be a force in Canadian Politics.

My last idea on this front is a bit more dangerous and it comes from my observations of the Harris Tories. In the early years, the Harris Tories did one scary thing: they stopped collecting data in policy areas that they wanted to change. From my observations of the Harper Government, they are doing the same thing.

By not collecting data, Governments can hide areas where policy change was ineffectual. Or put differently, if one is trying to prevent gun crime, a government might stop collecting data and make a bunch of changes. Without data, it is impossible for your critics to say whether or not your policy worked. However, you can dance around saying that your policies worked. Mike Harris did this when changing welfare policy. I would argue that Stephen Harper did this in relation to gun and other criminal policies.

Private and public economists, from the left and the right, have been very angry with the Harper Government for their lack of enthusiasm for Statistics Canada. It is the only thing that Statisticians in Government, Industry, Universities and Think-tanks have ever agreed on. So in my mind, our Party could be instrumental in the creation of a non-partisan National statistical source.

This would change the “Political World” in which we live. For, if a bunch of right and left wing think tanks got together to pay for statistical data, we all would agree on the facts again. If Universities and Financial Firms sought the same data, we know that the data would be accurate and balanced. It would be quoted in news reports and political parties would use them in campaigns. In fact, even the Bank of Canada would buy such information. For, these were just a few of the organizations which were upset with the discontinuation with the Long Form Census.

The creation of a Non-Governmental National Statistical Bank would be a revelation. It might work with/or against Statistics Canada, however, one thing would be clear: objective policy discussions would be had with objective facts. This would mean an end to the Conservative form of wedge politics. Furthermore, such a Statistical Bank might reveal the problem with the ideological bent of the NDP on the left. Either way, what it would mean is a leap forward into a different political world; a world in which Creative Disruption might give us a leg up on the competition.

So in answering my question, yes it is possible to bring Creative Disruption to our Party and to our Country. The only question is will any Liberal Leader be brave enough to take this type of project on.

One thought on “Creative Disruption has worked for Google and Facebook. Could it work for the Liberal Party?

  1. I don’t follow your logic in which officials “act alone”, and which act as “institutions”. Certainly, SCC Justices write opinions in their own name, and have the broadest of unaccountable discretion as conscientious individual professionals, whereas CF Officers face the most constrained decision-making within a tightly designed system of doctrine and standard procedure. There are lots of technical and strategic problems to work out on the battlefield, but we want commanders to decide as few moral dilemmas as possible, and stick to implementation. Likewise, police are quintessential collective actors, literally the textbook “Procedural” organization if you take James Q. Wilson as the reference.

    CF Officers also don’t “serve” Canadians directly, as the objects on the receiving end of their services are, in fact, the enemy… with the exception of Search & Rescue, admittedly. If the SCC Justices needn’t be bilingual, why should anybody be? Most public servants never interact with the public – and certainly never with Francophones. The public servants we most prize bilingualism from – senior executives – are the least likely to man a counter or answer a phone.

    Historically the criteria was career opportunity for Francophones *within* the public service. The military has the best-funded bilingualism agenda because it’s the country’s largest single employer, and thus the most important opportunity for rural unilingual Quebecers, whose challenge to learn English in adulthood ought to be shared by Anglos or they’d be less competitive with Anglos for promotion. If francophones must learn fluent English to have any realistic chance of an SCC appointment, why shouldn’t Anglos face the same hurdle? The best defence I can see is that SCC seats are reserved for Quebec, so some will always make it on the court despite the hurdle. But Quebec does not = francophones.

    But by your service-to-the-public criteria (which I find much more important nowadays! …francophones are hardly underrepresented in federal work force anymore) the judiciary is clearly the most obvious, prestigious, and truly national of service providers in the whole of government – and arguably most social crucial. I wouldn’t vote for an MP who wasn’t bilingual either, all else being equal. It’s a basic qualification for national office – much more important than university education, for example, which can be an undemocratic drawback as a mark of class status. A parliament of bilingual bartenders is my kind of parliament.

    So what kind of a line could we could possibly draw that would leave the SCC on the non-bilingual side?


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