Consultation and Trust

Surely the key to politics is to establish and to keep Trust – if people can trust you – you will get re-elected.

Actions by bureaucrats are threatening the Trust that Islanders have in their elected government.

The loss of trust had begun last fall when there was an attempt to pass changes to the act with no public consultation at all.  The current consultation was offered to Islanders in recognition that there was a trust issue.

I went to the new consultation meeting last night hoping to see that the officials would be working hard to re-establish trust. The bottom line is that they did not acknowledge that they had lost it and worked diligently to erode it further.

Here is what I experienced.

About 80 people turned up and the Holiday Inn Express. This meeting took place because of the protest at the original planned process for consultation. Many had felt betrayed by a process that offered only a week’s notice and a time for Charlottetown parents in the afternoon during working hours and the end of school. The large numbers attending might give you a sense of the feeling in the room.

How right we were to feel mistrustful was made clear early in the meeting last night when were told that the Island-wide consultation had met with 30 people! Only about 30 people had also gone on line and answered the questionnaire.

Many of us came to the meeting last night hoping that we could deal with the most important trust issue –  a difference in the core assumptions between the department and many parents about how quality is achieved.

In addition many of us had fears that control would be given to a body that had a conflict of interest.

We needed to have these points well exposed and dealt with last night to gain any trust back.

The difference in core assumptions is this:

The department has publicly stated that daycare quality was threatened because there were too many vacancies in the current system. Their stated public position was that they could ensure quality by limiting the number of new licenses.

Here is the key sheet used in the prior meetings:

This was the issue – is this a valid assumption? Many parents do not accept the logic of this. They believe that quality is found in choice.

Worse – We feared a conflict of interest. Here are the reasons for this fear.

When the act was attempted to be changed in the fall – the critical change was one word. Under the current act, if you as an operator meet the standards for being given a license you “Shall” be given a license.  The proposed change took out “Shall” and put in the word “May”.

What this means is that the people who have the authority to grant the license now have total discretion bounded by no limits. So you can meet the needs of the regulations and be refused. No reasons need to be given. The decision maker was being given a blank cheque.

The blank cheque was going to be given to whom?  To a Board. Why such a board and who is on it? No other province has such a body. In other provinces, the authority to grant or not grant a license is given by a person who is directly accountable to the minister. If you have a problem, you have recourse to the minister.

Key people on this board are owners of existing centres and leaders of the staffing association. If the act had passed in the fall – this body that is strongly influenced by a group of operators and staff –  would have had complete discretion.

These are the issues that I had hoped would be addressed full on last night. We expected a fully transparent debate about the difference in assumptions and about the conflict of interest.

Instead of full disclosure and a debate, we were treated like 6 years olds!

There was a very opaque context setting presentation full of platitudes about partnership and the need for quality and the fears for safety of children. There was a slide that showed that all but 3 provinces had discretion given to licensing. The object of the presentation was to give us the sense that there was some thing wrong with the act and that there were big but unstated risks if we did not change it.

What these risks were and what was proposed to be changed was not described.

Then we were asked to talk only about the questions that they wanted us to talk about. We were given a few forms to fill out and told to discuss these in small groups. The entire process was designed to control the meeting and to not empower the people in the room. I felt as if I was back in kindergarten. It was a shameful and degrading experience. 80 people had been muzzled.

Worse, they had taken the key issue off the table. The heading that you see above was replaced with an anodyne question about what do you think is important in granting a license. Any direct reference to the spaces and control issues had been removed. Debate was replaced by Cumbya.

What is going on? It all feels very bad. Every step of the way so far has degraded trust.

  • First of all legislation that has huge impact on families and on our society is sneaked into the legislature.
  • When smoked out a consultation is promised. This process is bogus and involves only 30 people mainly bureaucrats.
  • A better process is then offered and it too is bogus and is designed to limit debate and offers no disclosure.

It gets worse.

My discussions with MLA’s tells me that they too are in the dark. Here we have a public process of consultation about a topic that has the potential to give PEI the chance to have the best human potential possible or the opposite. The future of our society depends on how well we do in helping kids from 0-6.  There is a major public fear about the process and the MLA’s have not been briefed.

How can you have public consultations, as we are having now, and leave out the MLA’s who are not then equipped to consult with the people directly?  I think our MLA’s are not being served.

I end with where I began with the issue of Trust.

Trust is hard to win and it is easy to lose. In truth the real reason to have any consultation is to develop trust.

Trust is the real product: for not all ideas will make it into the end product. But we can all accept what happens, if we feel that those that we trust to run the day to day operations of government have the interests of our community truly in their heart.

In this case – this is not so. By their actions they are judged.

Only a legitimate and authentic process can regain the trust that has been lost.

  • The core assumptions have to be put on the table.
  • The reality of quality has to be addressed.
  • Any conflict of interest has to be exposed and removed

The Guardian in its editorial yesterday questioned the effectiveness of all the many consultations that are under way right now.  The reputation of the government is on the line.

What will be the result if Islanders feel that the officials are taking us all for granted?

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