Leadership Needed

“To lead the people you should walk behind them.”

That thought is attributed to Lao Tzu, from about 2,500 years ago.

It may or may not be what is influencing the government’s response to “We Choose Now”, the follow-up work on the Ivany report (“Now Or Never”).

The seven themes in “We Choose Now” were released in stages, concluding in early November.

The report was the work of diverse group of twelve business and community leaders, plus the premier and leaders of the opposition parties. Nova Scotians should be immensely grateful for the contribution of time and talent by the volunteers, who did most of the heavy lifting.

The report is emphatic that success cannot be achieved if the only responsibility for future actions lies with government.

On the other hand, it is clear that political leadership is needed. This requires a delicate balancing act.

Many community groups have already been actively discussing ideas that would advance the Ivany goals. If the government conveys a message that it will do everything itself, those groups will probably disengage. New groups would be unlikely to form.

The report groups its 58 recommendations for action around the seven themes. They highlight young people, schools, post-secondary institutions, immigration, oceans, exports, and technology start-ups. Collectively, the recommendations provide focus for future action while supporting each of the Ivany goals.

Two additional recommendations around implementation are critical.

(1) First, there is to be an independent agency established to keep score, monitoring both achievement of the recommended actions and progress toward the ten year targets established in the Ivany report. This has excellent potential to provide accountability.

(2) Second, a fund is to be established for community-based projects that contribute to achieving those targets. Groups would regularly make submissions that would compete for funding.

Officials in the Office of Planning and Priorities advise, on a not-for-attribution basis, that these two recommendations will be implemented. The premier’s office did not respond to a request to confirm that support.

As a practical matter, most of the other recommendations for action also belong in whole or in part to government.

So, how is government fulfilling its leadership responsibility?

Leading by example appears to be the strategy. There is much to be said in favour of that.

During the past year, the Ivany report has frequently been cited when advancing various initiatives—for example, the restructuring of economic development agencies, introducing the new aquaculture regime, initiatives to reduce red tape, and the new strategy for primary and secondary education.

The government has not been alone. Post-secondary institutions have loudly proclaimed that they “…accept the challenge in the plan for universities and NSCC to play an even greater role as regional innovation hubs by bringing renewed energy to our long-standing commitments to economic and social development, R&D and commercialization, and experiential learning opportunities.”

Likewise, organizations that contributed thinking to the report—such as the Creative Nova Scotia Leadership Council or the CB Partnership—have signalled their continued efforts in support of the plan.

All of this is deepening the engagement of groups who were already committed. There is less evidence that a growing number of Nova Scotians understand or are interested in “We Choose Now.”

In part, this is due to an unfortunate accident of timing. While the Coalition was rolling out its plan, the news was dominated by the fiasco around former minister Andrew Younger. The daily unfolding of the story made for interesting reading, but it will not make the slightest difference to how the province is doing six months from now, let alone in a decade’s time.

Leading by example is good, but it is not enough. The premier must more actively endorse and promote the “We Choose Now” recommendations, starting with the accountability framework and competitions for funded actions by community groups.

Non-governmental groups identified as players in the recommendations should be urged to act, and applauded for successes. Government should equally celebrate its own successes and frankly acknowledge where results are not meeting expectations.

The secret to leading from behind is to stay in constant contact with all those who are being led.


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