Today, February 9, 2011, you learned some valuable lessons and received some important reminders. I’m writing you this letter so that as you carry on (if the voters continue to have you!) with your political life, you won’t ever forget what you saw and what you learned.
Today you attended two meetings with Provincial Cabinet Ministers and MLAs. The stated reason for these meetings was so that they could “listen” to you and “get input” from you. To that end, you were invited to ask questions.
Remember that most of the Ministers and MLAs, the great majority in fact, were respectful listeners who genuinely seemed to want to interact. They gave answers, if they knew them, and said so when they didn’t. They invited those who asked questions or expressed concerns to send them their thoughts in written form so that they could follow up. They thanked people repeatedly for taking the time to come and discuss issues in our province.
Remember how being treated with respect and dignity and genuine concern made you feel: heard, hopeful. Remember that their conduct serves as a model of how leaders should interact with those to whom they are accountable.
Me, I also want you to bear in mind the way most of these Cabinet Ministers and MLAs managed even those who didn’t treat them respectfully. There were people who spoke passionately and challenged them directly, and there were even those who were accusatory and derisive. Most of these Cabinet Ministers and MLAs responded in even tones, ignored the insults and simply addressed the issues. They were patient and good-humoured in the face of anger and malice – most commendable.
But sometimes, Me, the best lessons can be learned from the mistakes of others. Today you saw a couple of really strong examples of how a leader, particularly an elected representative, should NOT act. Remember how frustrating it was to be berated in a public meeting, to not have your question understood or answered, to be told, in essence, that you should be grateful for what you have and not be asking for more (even though you were only expressing concern and asking for information). Remember how defensive and aggressive these responses were. Remember how these certain elected officials jumped in with an argumentative posture even though your question was not directed to them. Remember how you wondered what happened to listening and gathering input. Remember how you wondered why the perspective was to represent the Government to the voter, rather than representing the voter to the Government. Remember how you felt as a voter: unheard, misunderstood, and filled with mistrust.
So, Me, it’s critical that you always consider your own conduct throughout your season as an elected representative, and bear these important examples in mind. Model your conduct after the good examples, and let the bad ones serve as dire warnings.
You cannot solve everyone’s problems, and you will make mistakes in some of your decisions. What must be held to with unwavering fervor is a commitment to viewing yourself as a public servant, a representative of the people to government. You are accountable to those people and you must sacrifice your own wishes, your own agenda, and your own ego to serve those people. It’s what you signed up for.