Failing to lead

Canadian parliamentarians of all stripes are failing to lead.

Over the past two months, Canadians have witnessed theatrics take the lead as corporate executives appeared in front of parliamentary committees. In early March, I wrote about “faux outrage” expressed by members of the Standing Committee on Industry and Technology (INDU). These parliamentarians have have numerous occasions to ask questions and actually listen to answers from telecom industry professionals. Of course, that would require that the MPs do real research when preparing their report on “Accessibility and Affordability of Wireless and Broadband Services in Canada”.

You can read the transcript from the March 18 meeting of INDU, or watch the replay. The parliamentary Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage (CHPC) was no better. It summoned Bell’s CEO to explain the recent round of staffing cuts. I encourage you to watch the 2-hour video replay. MPs should be embarrassed by their performances.

It quickly became clear that none of the questioners bothered to listen to a word in the opening statement. None of them adjusted the scripts that had been prepared for them. MPs recited incorrect facts and refused to allow the witness to correct them.

I don’t think I would have had the strength to resist using unparliamentary language had I faced such questioning. It was political theatrics, an unproductive waste of time.

These meetings were opportunities to engage in public discussions with the CEOs of some of Canada’s biggest employers. The time was squandered while MPs of all stripes sought to create transcript excerpts to include in their constituent newsletters. It was a shameful display.

At the April CHPC meeting, one of the MPs accused Bell of tax evasion – a criminal act. Another impugned the integrity of the CEO saying he feigned an inability to hear a part of the question.

I’m sure the MPs got a kick out of the experience. Beating up a highly paid CEO plays well to the masses. Great theatre.

Parliamentary committees provide an opportunity to explore issues in greater detail than we expect in the House of Commons. Unfortunately, multiple meetings of INDU and CHPC could have explored telecom policy in depth. The meetings hosted executives charged with building Canada’s critical digital infrastructure. Parliamentarians might have examined whether there are any policy levers that led to layoffs at Canada’s largest private broadcaster. What is standing in the way of further investment? What are industry trends here and abroad? As employers of hundreds of thousands of Canadians, do you have ideas for improving Canada’s productivity.

I am not saying that parliamentarians should have policy written by corporate executives. But, we watched MPs failing to lead when they squandered multiple meetings with the CEOs of some of Canada’s biggest and most widely held companies. These are the leaders of companies that employ of tens of thousands of Canadians, pay billions of dollars in taxes and fees to the government and invest billions of dollars annually in digital infrastructure.

Nobody asked big picture questions. No one, not even opposition members, thought to explore whether government policy can be to improved. I heard no one ask, “how can we help?” It was a missed opportunity to engage. It was time and an opportunity squandered in search of “gotcha” moments. Again.


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