EDITORIAL: A failure to communicate

When it comes to governments of all levels, communication with residents is key – no matter the issue.

It’s become a go-to phrase for all levels of government – local, provincial and federal.

When faced with fallout from an unpopular decision – or simply dissatisfaction with the way that a certain sequence of events shakes out – politicians and bureaucrats seem to all have the same default position: “In hindsight, we could have done a better job with communication.”

While this would beg questions about all the communications officers drawing publicly funded salaries across the land, the public’s patience grows wearier each time this particular communication is used.

The fact is, no matter how large or small the public-relations budget, a culture that keeps taxpayers in the loop on evolving decisions is something that comes from the top down. So is a culture that, through an absence of information or condescending announcements only once a decision has been made, leads taxpayers to suspect they are being governed in an unresponsive, dictatorial manner, and, more than likely, misled.

Suspicion of politicians and bureaucrats runs so rampant these days that it is far from wise policy for anyone in government to allow such a situation to continue – particularly when much criticism could be averted simply by taking a more inclusive approach. Too often, it seems, a craven fear of criticism only guarantees it will take place.

Imagine how such ‘leaders’ would feel if the people working for them kept them in the dark about decisions made on their behalf.

Naturally, in the process of governing or administrating, there is some information that is sensitive for reasons of confidentiality or legality, and which cannot be shared indiscriminately. The public, generally speaking, is not asking for this. Nor is the public asking for glossy brochures, dazzling photos or press releases giddy with spin.

Straightforward summary of progress on issues would be good, however. As well, we would welcome a sense that those in office believe public consultation is about more than scheduling the legally required meetings and checking the requisite number of boxes.

It may come as news to some, but in Canada we still don’t elect politicians or hire bureaucrats to act in a vacuum. It is called ‘public office’ and ‘public service’ for a reason.

Most employers would agree that employees acting unchecked could create a dangerous precedent that would either undermine operations or lead to discipline or dismissal of the workers concerned.

Do public servants deserve to be held to a different standard?

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