This summer I’ve been engaged in personal and academic inquiry. I’m examining leadership, values, and systems. As an elected official, this is important work. We benefit from critically analyzing ourselves, the groups and teams we are affiliating with, and in service of our constituents, the systems that we create, maintain, and transform.
Nowhere on the Elections BC or political party application forms for becoming an MLA does it ask about previous experience in systems thinking. It’s not a prerequisite, and yet it is the basis of our work.
However, unless there is an enlightened and clandestine conversation happening in some dark corner of the B.C. legislature that I am unaware of, there is no useful dialogue about how our political system affects the myriad of critical systems we are responsible for: housing, health, education, transportation, social services, public safety services, and so on.
Consider the fact there are two applications, one to represent a political party, and another to Elections BC to be a candidate in an election. There are conflicting and competing values. The purpose of political parties and the purpose of being an MLA are misaligned. Parties pursue power for themselves while the legislative assembly needs to govern for all.
The result of the misalignment is politicians prioritize decisions that benefit the short-term well-being of their political party at the expense of the health of the systems that our constituents rely on.
In order to score the political points that are needed to win elections, parties are rewarded for isolating themselves from their colleagues and spending an incredible amount of energy on communicating how ‘our’ group is different from ‘their’ group, making the problem of systems change more difficult. A clear example of this dynamic is the Surrey policing debacle.
In April 2022, an all-party committee submitted a consensus report to Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth. I was on the committee and it represents some of the most collaborative work I have been a part of in my time as an MLA.
We listened to experts, investigated, deliberated, and debated. The committee recognized the challenge of the political system impeding progress on systems change in policing. We knew that reform would likely occur over numerous parliaments, even multiple governments. We recommended the minister maintain the momentum of our consensus effort by creating an oversight committee to work with the minister (of the day) and the ministry.
Minister Farnworth ignored that recommendation. In the process, he chose to sacrifice the success of the committee and good governance, to score political points for his party.
Unfortunately, for the minister, the BC NDP, the City of Surrey and the people of British Columbia, that has turned out to be a costly decision. Rather than having all political parties working together to reform policing in the province, Minister Farnworth made the issue political and everybody is losing.
Leadership is the ability to align values and create a common purpose, even with the detractors. As politicians perpetuate a political system that mainly delivers personal and party benefits, it is the systems that serve the public that suffer. It is disappointing to once again see the status quo chosen over real and transformative change.
Adam Olsen is the MLA for Saanich North and the Islands.