News from the Park – November 19

I recently enjoyed an opportunity to catch up with a long-time friend of mine when I happened to be in his community during constituency week. As we sat in his living room a three-way conversation developed with his adolescent son who was sharing some recent experiences involving his friends that he was concerned about. At one point my friend replied simply to his son’s commentary by saying, “I hear you.”

To this simple response, his son replied, “Ya Dad, but are you listening to me?”

I want to be clear, first of all, that there was no disrespect intended nor taken from the response. The comment was made simply to ensure that the parent was not only hearing the words but listening to understand the ramifications of what had been said. The conversation continued on for several more minutes before we branched off onto another topic.

I share this experience with you because as soon as the lad made the statement, it occurred to me that all of us, myself included, need to make sure that we not only hear the words being said but that we are listening to them as well so that we absorb the entire meaning and intent of a comment. Later that evening as I continued on down the road, the words of my friend’s son started to rattle around in my mind and I concluded that this is a good lesson for politicians of all stripes and levels.

An excellent case in point involves the recent decision by the Ford government to pass Bill 47, the Making Ontario Open for Business Act which effectively repeals most of the progressive updates passed by the former Liberal government in form of Bill 148, The Fair Workplaces Better Jobs Act. Last month Doug Ford stated, “I’ll tell you, Bill 148 is the worst bill for the front-line hard-working people this province has ever seen.”

Doug Ford has stated repeatedly that leading up to the election he spoke to thousands and thousands of business operators who said Bill 148 was ‘totally job-killer legislation.’ While hearing what people have to say at the doorstep prior to and during election campaigns is essential, it is hardly thorough, complete or based upon reliable research data. It simply gives a politician an idea of what they need to investigate further.

In the case of Ontario labour reforms, before Bill 148 was formulated, two years of extensive research and consultation was undertaken in consultation with a broad spectrum of stakeholders (not just business sector). Researchers listened to more than 200 presentations and read 300 written submissions. In addition to this, there were stakeholder meetings, input from an academic advisory committee, 10 commissioned academic studies, and almost 300 written submissions. This consultation led to a 419-page final report with 173 recommendations. There’s no question that Bill 148 was less than perfect, but in the end, it was a vast improvement on the previous outdated legislation and Bill 47.

In truth, according to October’s Labour Force Survey, Ontario gained 83,000 jobs on a year-over-year basis. As well, Statistics Canada reported that Ontario’s unemployment rate is only 5.7 percent, the lowest it’s been in a generation.

It’s one thing to hear the roar of a crowd. It tells you that something is going on and you need to see what it is. But it is something completely different to listen intently and understand what the crowd has to say in detail that is causing them to share their concerns.

You are sure to recall last July that Ford announced that the Ministry of Education had decided to implement an old and regressive Sex-Education Curriculum. To sooth the concerns of progressives, Ford committed the government to conduct “the largest consultation ever in Ontario’s history when it comes to education.” Then immediately following that he said, “We want to go and consult with the parents and get their input. Then we’ll move forward with changing the curriculum.” In other words, the decision was made to go back to a 15-year-old curriculum before listening to what anyone had to say on the matter.

There is no doubt that listening to someone who is full of bravado can be enticing and even invigorating at times. We now commonly see this behaviour with some of the world’s most powerful leaders. But trumpets and fanfare are not going to win people over. Listening to what people have to say before you begin making plans and taking thoughtful action – THAT’S what wins people’s trust and support.

Mr. Ford, I know you can hear the people of Ontario calling out to you, but are you listening?

Mike Mantha

Michael Mantha is a politician in Ontario, Canada. He is a New Democratic member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario who was elected in 2011. He's the NDP critic for Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation and critic for Northern Development and Mines. He represents the riding of Algoma—Manitoulin.
Mike Mantha