Tuesday, April 14, 2009

When you're holding a hammer...

I'm always wary of falling into the trap encapsulated by that old adage "when you're holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail."   Caveat notwithstanding, I've been hearing and reading a lot of stuff lately that speaks to what we're working on at Samara: namely, how we can spark projects that encourage a culture of public service in Canada by strengthening the interconnected areas of political leadership; citizen's connections to ideas and the media's contribution to public affairs.

Before I share a few of these with you, I thought I'd explain how we came to this ambitious and still amorphous goal (and of course welcome your reactions and ideas).  While naturally our own experiences and passions were important, in large part Samara grew from the 200+ interviews we conducted last year with Canadians across the country.  We pursued three lines of inquiry: how did they view the public policy landscape; what was working/where were the gaps; and how could a small charitable initiative could help to fill those gaps.

I'd expected a laundry list of the usual policy complaints (healthcare, immigration etc.) but instead, the identified gaps were broader than any one issue, and included things like: our political culture, the way our media frame and elucidate issues, the fact that many citizens are disillusioned or worse, don't care, the disfunction of our Parliament and our political parties.  It's almost as though the incentives everyone has to be expedient in the short term has led to a situation that doesn't serve any of our long-term interests. 

These are tricky things to tackle, but our hope is to get some small, practical projects off the ground this year and see how we go.  We'll surely learn a lot, and will do our best to share that with you as we go, and invite your participation.

In the meantime, the few things I've noticed recently are listed below.  These focus mostly on the intersections between parliaments and the media.  I'd like to see a bit more on the responsibility we as citizens have as well - to read, watch, listen and work understand, to ask questions when we don't (including of our journalists and politicians) and to do our part to improve things, even in a small way - but I've likely just missed it.  

In any event, here goes:
  • CTV's Craig Oliver's acceptance speech for the Hy Solomon journalism award, where he laments the inability of MPs to demonstrate independent thought and the corresponding failure of Parliament to be "a house of ideas" that better reflects the discussions we should have.  You can listen or watch it here. He takes his fair share of shots at his profession and the "punditocracy" too.  He was moving and also very funny (as, unexpectedly, was Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall in his opening remarks - well worth the 5 minutes if you have them.  I wonder if Ottawa is in his future...).  
  • Jim Coyle's column in The Star on the way politicians and journalists demean Parliament and in doing so, delegitimize both their professions and themselves.
  • Elizabeth May's interview with Jian Gomeshi on CBC Radio to promote her seventh book on the crisis of Canadian democracy.  My personal preference is to reserve words like crisis for countries like Thailand and Sri Lanka, but that aside, she said gutsy things that I don't hear a lot of politicians talk about.
  • The March 5th At Issue panel about what a joke Question Period is, particularly at a time when we're looking for real discussion about real issues, and how the media doesn't do much to make things better either.
And this doesn't include the myriad articles on the state of journalism (where the crisis word is used quite liberally, and perhaps with good reason).  Much more to come there, but in the meantime, NYU's Jay Rosen's seminar on the future of news is an absolute must.

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