The backgrounds of many elected officials have not provided them with the skills and understandings to be demanded of them.
In coming to this conclusion, I have called on an observant personal background as an educator and an administrator of training programs – and as a former political candidate. And I have become concerned about how decisions are made by our politicians and the knowledge each brings to the decision-making process, particularly at the municipal level.
Our society dotes on creating training programs for all manner of professions and trades. Generally, the more important something is to society – becoming a physician, a dentist, a lawyer, etc. – the longer the training program. Shorter programs exist for plumbers, electricians, security personnel, barbers, real estate agents, etc.
Except one occupation which provides remuneration, health benefits, a pension and other “perks” and is, arguably, the most important to our nation as a whole – that of a politician. We have developed no PRIOR training program for those we place in our highest positions!!
How much better would our society be if we had training for their jobs – and it is a job; it is not “public service,” a term often used to describe the work of a politician. Long ago, senior business leaders ran for election in order to “serve” their communities which had made them wealthy. Not so today. People often enter politics early as part of an ambitious personal career path.
A course of studies intended to make our elected representatives better; better in the sense that they will have some knowledge of how governments work, how to read financial statements, relationships between and among governments and so on, is needed. It’s an idea whose time has come, a concept for giving candidates skill sets they will need immediately if elected. And we need to start at the Municipal level – and in Hamilton!
Because the program must be available to all in our society, the program needs to be free. If not, it will be billed as discriminating against the poor.
Similarly, it should not have examinations since these would be perceived by some as discriminating against those having weaker intellects. Auditing a course is already a standard behaviour anyway. Attendance is the key – to get your certificate would require a 95% (or so) attendance at lectures.
Such a program would involve one night per week from September through April. Topics would include the topics such as accounting basics, municipal financing in Ontario, ethics in public life, and so on. Though it may not be a requirement for running for office, the holding of a Certificate of Completion by candidates might inform the public about the sincerity and dedication of candidates and give them an advantage. It would allow voters to distinguish between those sincerely interested in serving their communities and those who only wish to test the odds of being elected without the need for preparation.
Thought might also be given to offering this program with the financial support of benefactors or philanthropists interested in improvements in public life.What do Hamiltonians think?
Peter Hill is a retired civil servant, teacher, communications executive, association manager, author and volunteer. He lives in Hamilton