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The Right Level of Democracy

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    How many elected representatives should there be?

    The newly elected premier of Ontario has deemed that the city of Toronto has too many elected councilors. He has cut the number of councilors for this 3m-people city from 47 to 25. Because municipalities in Canada really don't have any constitutional rights, the province can do this legal act without any consideration for what Toronto really wants.

    But this post is about the "right" number of elected councilors--or elected members of any elected body.

    There is a trade-off here. Each elected councilor brings a certain expense to the process of government. The salaries of the representative and his/her staff, the office space and expenses, the trips to meet with the constituents, etc are somewhat fixed. The more representatives, the higher the cost to the taxpayer. But with fewer representatives, average citizens have less access to government. Our elected representatives (and their staffers) are very busy people and have to set priorities to determine which of their constituents get their attention. The premier's own brother, a former Toronto councilor, used to boast that he could personally return all constituents' calls. That would be much harder to do if the constituency suddenly doubles in size.

    I have had recent dealing with government. I am advocating for a couple of injured workers with lifelong workplace injuries. Not understanding the system very well, they have let deadlines pass to appeal the decision of the provincial Workers' Compensation Board. I was hoping that the elected people could persuade the bureaucrats to open up the deadlines and let the workers' cases be given a fair trial.

    My local MLA (member of the provincial legislature) is kind of useless in this regard. He is a right-wing fanatic and has little use for such social causes as worker compensation boards. Not only that, he has been caught stealing crumbs out of the provincial cookie jar which has meant being unofficially kicked out of his own party. He would not be taken seriously by any bureaucrat.

    But one of my workers has moved to a different constituency. So I used his MLA for both cases. This MLA is not only from the governing party, but is also in cabinet, meaning a lot more influence. The MLA's staffer "tried" to help, but there has been no tangible influence that I could see. I need a different angle to pursue these two WCB cases.

    In my days of party politics, both provincial and federal representatives used to set up one or two Saturdays a month to allow constituents to air their grievances with government. So for about six hours, there would be a series of 15-minute one-to-one meetings. Doing the quick math, it seems an elected official could meet with about 1,000 people a year for a 40,000-people provincial constituency or a 100,000-people federal constituency. Fifteen minutes is not a lot of time to make a case of any kind. And only a small fraction of citizens could meet with the official in this way. In other words, there is great competition for the official's time for not a great chance of anything really being done about the constituent's concern.

    Going back to my WCB case, had I been an active member in the governing party, my concerns would have likely received far greater attention. This would have been regarded as a favor for all the electioneering I had done.

    So maybe we have set the right number of elected representatives after all: just enough to make sure the politically connected get to have their influence. It would be interesting to know how many of those 1,000 people are party members. The less connected? They don't matter as much, right?

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    I could have been "connected" back in 1977.

    I'm under a delivery truck adjusting a clutch. Three guys walk into the shop, I notice, roll out from under the truck and ask what they want-who are you? One big burly appearing man dressed in a suit says I'm from Local 701-the IAMAW- the international association of machinists and aerospace workers UNION. He asks me, who are you? I say I'm the chief mechanic's helper. He asks - are you a member of 701? I say no. He says, you can go home now, this is a union shop. I go to the desk, sit down and call my boss at home, he lives miles and miles away, and tells me to cooperate with Mr. Burly.

    Mr. Burly pulls out paperwork for me to fill out and sign. I did. I was a union member now - better pay, benefits, and working conditions. I ask one of the guys accompanying Mr. Burly how I can get hired working for the City of Chicago...He hands me a business card of some alderman and says here, call this guy and ask him how many suits you have to buy. He says and if you have to ask how much, you can't afford it.

    So, I never got "connected." If I had been able to get connected, I probably would have either been jailed on corruption charges, or would have been set for the rest of my life, because a person who works or has worked for any municipality either has to die or retire from their position, or be arrested and imprisoned for corruption. Blago was connected, he's in federal prison serving a sentence for trying to sell Obama's congressional seat.

    Retitle this thread to be "How to get connected."

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    This is an interesting story. It shows how lives can be changed by knowing the right people at the right time.

    In my six years in politics, I could say that I was somewhat well connected. While I wasn't golf buddies with elected politicians, I'm pretty sure a few wheels could have been turned if I put a little pressure on the party machine. I never really used this advantage DELIBERATELY.

    However, our provincial government created a "training" program for businesses hiring new employees. I was in business and needed new employees. I took a look at the paperwork--and decided the effort was not worth the chance of getting a government grant. Did I mention that to someone in my political circle? I can't remember, but I did get a cold call from a firm that specialized in filling out those forms. They wanted 15% of grant AND promised not to charge anything if the grant was not accepted. With nothing to lose, I hired this firm. Both my applications were approved! I always wonder whether this was a little payback for my service to the political party.

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    Growing up in Chicago, someone once told me it's not who you know, but who you blow. Since I'm a male, that wouldn't have helped me at all, but I'm sure that "blow" had other meanings too, like one hand washes the other.

    When serving in the USAF, people used to say being in the AF was like smoking a joint, the harder a person sucked, the higher they got. People sometimes said the darnedest things, a brown shoe meant that the person sucking up to a person of higher rank, I called them brown nosers.

    It's a shame that life situations like these are tolerated, there shouldn't be a place for this in politics, let alone in places of business.

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    I'm a little careful when using the word "brown noser." True it is that some people use various forms of flattery and strategy to advance. And true it is that sometimes management people fail to see these tricks. And true it is that some workplace cultures seem to breed this.

    But brown nosing is often given by mediocre employees who see the promotion going to a more worthy candidate to for the position. Doing one's job with a sense of excellence also brings about enemies in the workplace. If I do my work the way my boss wants me to, I could be considered a brown noser.

    About a decade ago, I found myself in retail as a means to earn a living (long story). I often take a workplace strategy of looking for things to do that other people do not like doing, especially when when things are slow. One of my co-workers tried to pull some rank on me and started ordering me around. As I believed my current task was more important than whatever she was bidding, I told her to report me to the store manager. She did. The manager told her to get back to work and leave Dave alone.

    I think integrity goes a long way in many workplaces. If it doesn't, it is time to find a new job.