Love him or hate him, London mayor Boris Johnson always entertains

London mayor Boris Johnson is always good for a quote, and often a picture as well. (Click for source.)

London mayor Boris Johnson is always good for a quote, and often a picture as well. (Click for source.)

He has expanded his city’s public transport system to include a rented bicycle scheme, and has suggested building an elevated network of bike freeways to make it easier for cyclists to navigate the British capital.

He has even proposed relieving London’s severe lack of affordable housing by creating a “floating village” in the River Thames, and a £65 billion ($118 billion Cdn.) super-airport east of London, so as to close the venerable, overstretched Heathrow, which would be replaced with up to 100,000 new homes.

Criticize him, and you might be criticized back as a “great supine protoplasmic invertebrate jelly”, accused of having your “tits in the wringer” or of engaging in “boss-eyed, foam-flecked hysteria”.

Though he is a member of Britain’s Conservative party — a former Member of Parliament, in fact — there is little that is small-c conservative about the American-born and Belgian-educated London mayor, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson.

Or, as Londoners know him, Boris. (No need to include the surname.)

In a profession that produces a lot of smooth talkers and tedious hyper-partisan attack dogs, Johnson is a rarity: an orator who can keep an audience engaged for hours.

He did just that for 90 minutes earlier today, appearing on stage with broadcaster Nick Ferrari to discuss the state of the city and to take questions from the audience.

Being Londoners – i.e., often irreverent – the audience laughed, groaned, cat-called, kidded and even yelled at their mayor in ways that might seem rambunctious to Winnipeggers. It made for fun listening to anyone who happened to be tuned in to the live stream from London’s LBC 97.3 radio earlier today, and makes for great viewing now that the event has also been uploaded to YouTube. One could only wish that Winnipeg could have a mayoral forum quite like this:

What’s next for Boris Johnson? There are rumours that the 50-year-old has his hopes set on being Prime Minister — speculation that he has, typically, dismissed as “as good as the chances of finding Elvis on Mars, or my being reincarnated as an olive”.

The man himself has suggested that having been a short-lived management consultant (“I could not look at an overhead projection of a growth-profit matrix and stay conscious”), a newspaper reporter and editor once fired for fabricating a quote (“I mildly sandpapered something somebody said”), and now a politician, he might try his hand next at writing romantic fiction.

But if he does eventually replace prime minister David Cameron at Number 10 Downing Street, Johnson has already thought up the perfect reason why voters should support his Conservative Party:

“Voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts and increase your chances of owning a BMW M3.”



In the mood for more political entertainment? Check out the work of Rik Mayall, the British actor who died suddenly on June 9. Mayall is best remembered for playing the devilish Alan B’Stard, MP in The New Statesman, a clever political comedy (albeit R-rated by stricter North American standards) that aired on U.K. television from 1987 to 1992. After 25 years, the humour in the Season 2 episode Live from Westminster, like the many other episodes now circulating on YouTube, has lost none of its relevance.

Baby-Face Blues

Departing Ontario PC leader Tim Hudak: In addition to campaign gaffes, did having a "baby face" create doubts about competence, as some academic research suggests?

Departing Ontario PC leader Tim Hudak: In addition to campaign gaffes, did having a “baby face” create doubts about competence, as some academic research suggests?

Whether we the public like it or not, imagery can make or break a political career. The image of U.S. vice-president Richard Nixon sweating during the 1960 presidential debate helped seal his fate in one of the closest campaigns in that country’s history. Twenty-eight years later, the somewhat absurd image of another presidential candidate, Michael Dukakis, grinning while riding around in a tank similarly sank his presidential campaign.

Others were helped by their cultivated images: Canada’s Brian Mulroney and Australia’s Bob Hawke rapidly ascended to the prime ministership of their respective countries, despite neither having had any prior cabinet experience, in no small part because they both fit the image of a prime minister.

In addition to a lacklustre campaign that bounced from controversy to controversy, could Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak’s campaign to become Premier of Ontario — which ended in defeat Thursday as Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals were re-elected to a fourth term with an unexpectedly large majority — been hindered by Hudak’s image?

While Hudak made no visual gaffes akin to federal Tory leader Bob Stanfield fumbling a football during the 1974 campaign or Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day’s ill-advised decision to arrive at a news conference by jet-ski during the 2000 campaign, the 46-year-old Hudak (pictured above) was one of the most noticeably “baby-faced” Canadian politicians to lead a high-profile campaign in recent times.

As three Duke University academics noted in a 2010 U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, having a “baby face” — characterized by a high forehead, relatively large eyes and small nose and a round face and chin — is not always an asset for someone trying to reach the top:

“…[The perception of a person being competent] is negatively and significantly correlated with baby-facedness, with a correlation of 25.3%, which is significant at a 1% level. Essentially, the subjects are classifying CEOs with mature-faced attributes as competent . . . Our results are concerning particularly in the light of our findings that there is no relationship between competent looks of the CEO and firm performance.”

This finding came five years after an article by Leslie Zebrowitz of Brandeis University and Joann Montepare of Emerson College was published in Science magazine, with very similar conclusions:

“Babyfaced individuals within various demographic groups are perceived as less competent, whether by their own or another group. Its impact can be seen even for famous politicians: When images of former U.S. presidents Reagan and Kennedy were morphed to increase babyfacedness, their perceived dominance, strength and cunning decreased significantly.”

There is, alas, good news for the baby-faced people of the world: although often associated at first glance with the baby-like qualities of being “submissive, naive and weak”, as Zebrowitz and Montepare note, having a baby-face can be an asset when the ability to convey warmth and honesty is critical. They also draw attention to other research by Princeton University’s Alexander Todorov, showing that “more babyfaced men tend to be slightly more intelligent . . . more highly educated, contrary to impressions of their naïveté, and more assertive and more likely to earn military awards, contrary to impressions of their submissiveness and weakness.”

When things go from bad to worse, there are even indications that baby-faced defendants in court are better at defending themselves against charges of intentional wrongdoing – but more likely to suffer a judge’s wrath when accused of negligence.

None of this is a defence of or an excuse for a lousy campaign; but the tendency for a more mature face to be favoured when competence is a campaign issue is something to be kept in mind by all political observers and news junkies.

How to lessen that squished-in feeling when you fly

Different airlines, same story.

Different airlines, same story.

The last time you looked for a flight to book, chances are — if you’re anything like the majority of the airlines’ customers — that you looked at only two things: price and schedule.

This is the norm in modern-day air travel. Airlines have long since stopped competing with one another on anything else — the comfort of the seats or the quality of the food, for example — because they know full well that such things rarely make someone pick one airline over another.

Thus, in a bid to cut the average cost-per-passenger of operating a flight, the airlines have progressively packed the seats in tighter over the years. In the Seventies, scheduled airlines typically spaced each row of Economy seating 34 inches apart. Today, 31-inch spacing is the standard, with some airlines even having drifted down to 30 inches between rows.

Airlines have also started installing narrower seats on some flights to fit more seats across the cabin. Air Canada, for example, has generated controversy by introducing high-density Boeing 777s to its fleet that pack 10 people into each row instead of the standard nine by giving everyone an inch and a half less elbow room.

Not all airlines and aircraft are the same, however. Thus, if being comfortable on a flight is important, it pays to check out websites like SeatGuru dedicated to helping people make educated choices about where to sit. But to simplify things, here are the types of aircraft to try to travel on if you want just a little more space, or to avoid if you hate that squished-in feeling:

Aircraft to try to get a seat on:

  • Air Canada’s CRJ-705s: These smaller regional jets are surprisingly generous in terms of legroom if not in elbow room, with rows spaced 34 inches apart and seats that are 17 inches wide. These are normally listed on web sites using the “CRA” moniker.


  • Air Canada’s Embraer 175s: The rows on these smaller 73-seat jets are still spaced 32 inches apart, and the 18-inch wide seats offer a little more elbow room than the CRJ-705s do.


  • Delta’s Embraer 170s and 175s: The 31 inches between rows might be nothing special these days, but these aircraft are a bit more generous than average in elbow room, with 18.25-inch wide seats.


  • If you’re traveling long-haul, aim for Air Canada’s lower-density Boeing 777s (32″ between rows, seats 18.5″ wide) or Air France’s A330-200s (32″ between rows, seats 18″ wide). A bonus of flying the A330 is that the majority worldwide are in 2-4-2 configuration, meaning that you’re never more than one seat away from the aisle.


Aircraft to avoid:

  • WestJet Encore’s Q400s: These new turboprops mainly fly on short-haul routes like Winnipeg-Regina, where comfort is perhaps less important. But with rows spaced as little as 30 inches apart and all seats being just 17 inches wide, the Q400s have some of the smallest passenger spaces outside of the deep-discount charter market.


  • Delta’s Boeing 737s and 757s, and United’s Airbus A319s and CRJ-700s: These aircraft are not commonly seen in Winnipeg,  but if you fly through their respective Twin Cities and Chicago hubs, there’s a reasonable chance you’ll end up on these high-density airplanes with not much more personal space than you’ll find on the Encore Q400s. Most of these aircraft offer as little as 30 inches between rows, and seats only 17.2 inches wide.


  • Air Canada Rouge — the entire airline: This airline-within-an-airline targeting price-sensitive vacationers debuted last year to horrific reviews, with one reviewer noting that the seats were packed in so tight that “my 9 year old son also had his knees touching the seat in front of him and a seat in the face as the other uncomfortable passenger tilted their seat back in hopes of finding some extra space.” Rouge’s Airbus A319s offer very little leg room (29″ between rows, seats 18″ wide), while the Boeing 767s offer a tiny bit more legroom (30″) but less elbow room (17.5″).

Or, you could pay extra on a growing number of airlines to sit in the roomier “preferred”, “economy comfort” or “plus” seats for an additional charge ranging from $16 to $125 each way on Air Canada, $9 to $180 per segment on Delta or $15 to $53 per segment on WestJet.

Why the Turks and Caicos Islands won’t be the Canadian Hawai’i

Fun in the Sun awaits in the Turks and Caicos, suggests this screen shot from the Turks and Caicos Tourism web site -- but Canadians should expect to remain foreign, not domestic, tourists for a long time to come. (Click for source.)

Fun in the Sun awaits in the Turks and Caicos, suggests this screen shot from the Turks and Caicos Tourism web site — but Canadians should expect to remain foreign, not domestic, tourists for a long time to come. (Click for source.)

Forty years ago, an Ontario NDP MP named Max Saltsman tabled a Private Member’s Bill in Parliament to create “an economic and political association” between Canada and the Turks and Caicos Islands, a tiny British colonial outpost between the Bahamas and Haiti. Indeed, his move was welcomed by the islands’ government, which was prepared to petition the British government to allow the islands to be transfered to Canada.

Saltsman, who retired from politics in 1979 and died in 1985, never lived to see his dream come true, although a delegation from the islands tried to interest the Mulroney government in taking over in 1987.

Now talk of making the Turks and Caicos into a “Canadian Hawai’i” is being revived again, coinciding with the islands’ premier, Rufus Ewing, visiting Canada on a relationship-building visit.

Ewing denies any interest in inviting Canada to make a friendly takeover bid, but that didn’t stop Alberta Conservative MP Peter Goldring from picking up where the late Max Saltsman left off when his Private Member’s Bill went nowhere in 1974.

“Canada really needs a Hawai’i,” Goldring said in an interview with Postmedia News this past weekend. “The United States has a Hawai’i. Why can’t Canada have a Hawai’i?”

Border security might be one reason.

If the Turks and Caicos Islands were to become a Canadian territory — it is doubtful that it could obtain “province” status with just 32,000 residents — Canada would inherit a new southern neighbour: Haiti.

That’s where the problems start. The Turks and Caicos Islands are just 220 kilometres (137 miles) north of Cap-Haitien, the second-largest city in one of the poorest and most chaotic countries in the world.

That makes the Turks and Caicos Islands — despite being no economic success story itself — an appealing enough destination for many Haitians to try to make the dangerous ocean voyage every year.

A 2004 U.S. diplomatic cable noted that “border controls are essentially non-existent” between the Turks and Caicos and Haiti, and that there is a “revolving door  . . . in which repatriated Haitian migrants return to TCI within weeks of being deported.”

Despite efforts being made over the past decade to better police the 220 kilometres between Haiti and the Turks and Caicos, migration out of Haiti remains a serious security issue for the islands.

One 40-foot boat, with 114 Haitian migrants aboard, was intercepted on Mar. 31 about 10 miles offshore. Several days later, another boat carrying 84 people was found as it approached the islands.

The extension of Canadian domestic soil to within sailing distance of Haiti’s second-largest city would require Ottawa to prepare not just for the job of heavily policing the seas around the Turks and Caicos, but also for the probability of vastly higher numbers of Haitians attempting the dangerous sea crossing — and of creating the same political and humanitarian nightmares that plague the U.S. and Australia.

Lessons from the world’s most admired economies

It was supposed to be all smiles earlier this month when Manitoba premier Greg Selinger and Winnipeg mayor Sam Katz jointly announced a deal to create 175 new jobs at Price Industries, a commercial HVAC system manufacturer in Winnipeg, by chipping in loans, funding and tax breaks to cover training and facility expansion.

But Price Industries CEO Gerry Price cast a bit of a negative note on what the politicians hoped would be a good-news day by noting that Phoenix, Ariz. is a more desirable place to do business than Winnipeg due to the U.S. city offering lower labour, heating and material costs.

That in turn set the stage for a worthwhile debate on how to make the province and the city more economically competitive.

Contrary to popular misconception, becoming more economically competitive means much more than just being the cheapest option around.

In fact, many would be surprised to learn that the latest ranking of the world’s most competitive economies, by the Swiss-based International Institute for Management Development, includes countries that are anything but cheap in the top tier: Switzerland (#2), Sweden (#5), Germany (#6), Denmark (#9) and über-expensive Norway (#10). (Canada ranked a perfectly respectable seventh; the U.S. held first place.)

How did countries with ritzy reputations like Switzerland and Sweden get to the top of the economic competitiveness rankings and still have living standards and social safety nets that are comparable to or even a bit better than Canada’s?

The answers can be found in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report — a document that should be mandatory reading for economic policy makers. (Especially since it’s available online for free.)

In the report, the Forum identifies 12 “pillars” that make a country competitive. Let’s start with the basic conditions for economic success:

  • Reliable institutions: Take Switzerland, which is the world’s most competitive economy according to the Forum, as an example. While Switzerland offers few bargains on anything, you can count on the government to be fair in its dealings, and on the courts to uphold the rule of law. In countries where governments and courts are at the service of the highest bidder or of those with friends in high places, and cannot be relied upon to be neutral arbiters, the only investments worth making are those you can afford to lose to the dubious crowd running the place.
  • Reliable infrastructure: Imagine the frustrations of trying to run a factory in a country where you can’t properly equip the operation because rains have washed out all the highways, ships take days to be unloaded because of poor port facilities, and the airport is unusable half the time due to power failures. Or of trying to run an e-commerce site in a country that offers nothing better than dial-up because that’s all their ancient telephone system can handle. To be a competitive economy, you need an efficient and reliable transportation network and electrical, water, sewage and communication systems that can be counted on to work.
  • Macroeconomic Stability: It’s tough to do business in a country where inflation and interest rates are astonishingly high,  or deflation is suffocating cash flow by encouraging consumers to put off spending today in expectation of a better deal tomorrow. The best way for a government to help is to keep debts and deficits low as a percentage of revenues. Sometimes this might call for controversial cost-cutting; other times it might call for equally controversial tax increases or fee impositions.
  • Health and Primary Education: Healthy people generally have longer working lives and are less likely to need to drop out of the workforce prematurely and fall back on government services; so effective basic health services are a must for a strong economy. Primary education is also vital for creating the literacy skills that an economy needs to function well and for setting children on a course toward post-secondary education. That’s why many successful countries have well-established early childhood education systems and maternal health systems — these pay off handsomely.

Once all the basic elements above are secured, the next few factors determine an economy’s growth potential:

  • Access to higher/continuous education: The world’s most enviable economies are known for their excellent universities and for strongly encouraging the young to pursue whatever type of post-secondary education makes the best use of their talents. In addition to securing a better future for the young and creating a talent pool for businesses, a good education system also strengthens technical skills and research and development abilities.
  • An efficient market for goods and services: Politicians putting caps on prices and shielding local industry from foreign competition might make for good populist politics, but it doesn’t leave the impression of the jurisdiction being a place where you can do business without having to suffer gladly fools of all political stripes. Unless a very strong case can be made to the contrary, it is better for politicians to sit on their hands than to tinker with pricing or putting limits on competition.
  • Labour market efficiency: “The best social program is a job,” it was once said, and the best alternative to a bad job is to have a better one to go to, it might be added. Unfortunately, too many countries try to protect jobs instead of people, often leading to wasteful youth unemployment, few opportunities for the inexperienced, and to too many people finding it difficult to upgrade their skills. Other forms of labour market inefficiency include discrimination against minorities that limits their career potential, and social expectations that women should not work or be ambitious.
  • Financial market development: In successful countries, it is relatively easy to find financing and start-up capital for new businesses. In poorer countries, the banking and financial systems are poorly regulated and in disarray, personal savings are the only easy source of investment capital and there is little or no collateral for loans.
  • Technological readiness: The most successful economies get rid of political barriers, such as protectionist policies, that deter companies from adopting the newest technologies. Their educational systems also develop students’ technological skills. Less successful countries tend to do things “the old way” because there’s either no reward for adopting the latest technologies, or because the financing is too difficult to arrange. They are poorer for it.
  • Market size: Some countries, such as the United States, are competitive by virtue of having a large home market. Other high-fliers, such as Switzerland and Singapore, have very small home markets but succeed nevertheless by seeking out free trade arrangements with other countries and by (usually) maintaining a positive, cosmopolitan, open-door mindset toward doing business with the outside world rather than a negative, parochial, closed-door one.

And finally, the pillars that put the most competitive economies on top:

  • Business sophistication: The world’s best economies tend to have the world’s best business schools, creating an ample talent pool; they have clusters where companies can feed off of each other’s ideas and talent (think Silicon Valley); and they are reluctant to protect industries or sectors from competition, so that they have that much more incentive to stay at the top of their game.
  • Innovation: Just about any country, even a very badly run one, can manufacture goods for export; but it takes access to talent to produce technological breakthroughs. This requires virtually all of the factors listed above: excellent universities to provide research and development and a scientific talent pool, strong rule-of-law and honest-government assurances, access to a large home market and/or large foreign ones, a literate, healthy and well-skilled population, and so on.

In some of these areas, Manitoba has made progress in recent years, such as by trying to improve the province’s abysmal education attainment standings, by trying to improve maternal health, through the establishment of a prominent business school at the University of Manitoba, by encouraging more research and development, and by gradually coming around to the idea that infrastructure is important.

Those are all low-key but nevertheless very encouraging developments.

But there is still work to be done. Manitoba (and Winnipeg) is still dogged by the perception that politicians have a difficult time resisting the urge to meddle, and that it is the sort of place where friendships can at times override meritocracy. Politicians and the public, meanwhile, have a strained relationship that makes it difficult to arrive at a consensus on how to pay the bills that need to be paid if the economy is to grow, as the recent sales tax increase controversy showed.

As noted on this blog before, government must be seen to be fair-minded to be trusted.

Improving educational attainment rates must be a priority for all levels of government, even if they can only help in small ways. Since Winnipeg and Manitoba have small populations, we don’t have the luxury of the most talented one, five or ten percent of the population still numbering  in the millions, as the United States does. To be as successful as other smaller markets such as Switzerland, Singapore or Sweden, we need to have as much of an education ethic as they have. On that, much of the rest of our growth potential rests.

Is another airport poaching your passengers? Don’t get mad — get even!

“Prairie people love to escape the winter for a while, but despite having some of the finest airport facilities in the world, thousands of folks who live in Manitoba and Saskatchewan would rather drive 3 or 4 hours to Grand Forks or Minot to make their escape,” veteran Winnipeg broadcaster Roger Currie wrote on the current affairs site on May 4.

“Airport managers in Winnipeg and Regina call it leakage, but it seems it’s becoming more of a flood is it not? In the past 12 months, close to a quarter of a million Manitobans, and a similar number from Saskatchewan, have made that long drive rather than catching a flight at home,” Currie continued, lamenting the relatively high taxes and fees levied on passengers boarding in Canada (where the air transport system largely operates on a user-pay basis, and most major airports have been long since privatized) compared to those levied on U.S. airport users (where the system is still largely government-owned and funded, although some surcharges have been added in recent years).

It’s a concern shared by the Winnipeg Airports Authority, which is lobbying the federal government for relief on rents that airports must continue to pay and on security surcharges that are paid directly by travellers. Their goal is to encourage more of those quarter-million Canadians catching their flights at nearby U.S. airports to depart from this side of the border instead.

Nevertheless, to be able to fly Allegiant Air, a U.S. low-cost low-frequency holiday airline, from Grand Forks, N.D. to Orlando, Fla. for $265.50 (U.S.) per person round-trip, or from Fargo, N.D. to Los Angeles for $322, sounds far more attractive than paying roughly $500 Cdn. to make the same round-trip from Winnipeg.

For a family of four or more, the savings to be had from driving to North Dakota to catch one of Allegiant’s flights — and of tolerating Allegiant’s tight seating and limited choice of departure and return dates — can add up to the hundreds of dollars.

But here’s where Winnipeg’s James Richardson International Airport can avenge itself: by promoting itself to North Dakotans and Minnesotans as the place to consider for a lower fare  when traveling further afield or when needing a wider choice of departure and return dates.

As the table below shows, Fargo, N.D.’s Hector Field tends to be the region’s lower-fare leader for flights to various popular U.S. destinations, thanks to five-way competition between Allegiant, American, Delta, Frontier and United, based on the lowest published fares listed on Google Flights* as of Friday evening, May 9 — although once in a while you might be able to get a better deal yet from the often-overlooked Bemidji Airport, where prices otherwise reflect Delta’s monopoly.

But for North Dakotans and Minnesotans going further afield, significant savings can be had by flying to and from Winnipeg, where competition for long-haul passengers is more intense. For instance, the lowest round-trip fare to London was $229 Cdn. ($210 U.S.) per person cheaper departing from Winnipeg than departing from Fargo — and that pales in comparison to the $463 Cdn. ($425 U.S.) advantage that Winnipeg had over Fargo on flights to Honolulu,  and the $808 Cdn. ($741 U.S.) gap in Winnipeg’s favour on flights to Tokyo.

Lowest published fares, in Canadian dollars, for selected dates from Bemidji, Fargo, Grand Forks and Winnipeg airports, as listed on Google Flights on the evening of May 9, 2014. To convert to U.S. dollars, multiply by  0.917. (Click to enlarge.)

Lowest published fares, in Canadian dollars, for selected dates from Bemidji, Fargo, Grand Forks and Winnipeg airports, as listed on Google Flights on the evening of May 9, 2014. To convert to U.S. dollars, multiply by 0.917. (Click to enlarge.)

Still feeling over-charged for air travel? Consider this New York Times post published yesterday, noting that even despite a heavy increase in fees and a general rise in fares over the past few years, the cost of flying in the U.S. (in 2013 dollars) has fallen from an average of 31 cents per mile in 1979 to just 16 cents in 2013.


* – Tip: To search multiple airports simultaneously in Google Flights, enter the airport codes separated by commas. For example, if you’re searching for the lowest fare to Southern California in general from Winnipeg, Grand Forks or Fargo, enter YWG, GFK, FAR as your origin and LAX, SNA, ONT, LGB (and perhaps SAN, PSP, BUR or SBA) as your destination.

Perception of fairness will make or break next Mayor and Council

Winnipeggers would be well advised to cherish April 30, as it will be the last day until after October’s municipal elections that we won’t have the various mayoral and city council candidates in our faces. The official 2014 municipal election campaign season gets under way on Thursday, May 1.

By all rights, this should not be a great year for incumbents. After four years of hearing about cost overruns, councilor temper tantrums, land deals gone wrong, the mayor’s Arizona activities, and an absurd attempt to rush a water park deal through Council that ended badly, the best thing one can say about City Council’s term in office is that it’s almost over.

Needless to say, public trust in City Council’s management of the city’s affairs is running a bit low right now.

Public trust is vital if City Council is to do its job adequately. As noted in a paper presented at a conference on civic culture held at the London School of Economics last September:

Citizens who comprehensively mistrust their governments are unlikely to give their consent to essential policies . . . Such distrust is likely to have other effects as well, such as weakening tax compliance . . . and even undermining the norms which underpin the rule of law . . . So a reservoir of citizen trust is an important requirement for a healthy democracy. Heatherington sums this up as follows: “Low trust helps create a political environment in which it is more difficult for leaders to succeed”.

The paper, written jointly by four researchers from the University of Essex in Britain and the University of Texas at Dallas, examined a variety of factors that could conceivably influence public trust in government, ranging from age to newspaper readership to party attachment.

But the most important factor of all, aside from how people felt about individual leaders, was the matter of how much fairness and respect for the public was shown by their elected representatives. As they note in their concluding remarks:

If individuals feel that policy delivery is working well and that they are treated fairly, then they will trust the government of the day even if a decision goes against them. If policy delivery appears to fail and at the same time the process appears unfair then they are likely to view the government as both dishonest and untrustworthy.

[ . . . ]

In general the recipe for creating trust in government is relatively straightforward, and it involves treating people fairly while at the same time delivering on promises that the economy and public services will improve in the future. But it also involves members of the political class in Britain, beyond that of the immediate government, behaving in a way which is acceptable to the general public and not trying to take advantage of their privileged position.

This is where the 2010-2014 Winnipeg City Council disappointed us. The various tempests and scandals left citizens, rightly or wrongly, with the impression of a City Hall culture where ‘fairness’ was a cute idea occasionally brought up by naive people who didn’t really understand how politics works.

Yet had City Council adopted a tone of fairness from the very start, they might have found the past four years much more pleasant, and also found themselves facing much less of an anti-incumbent mood than they will be facing when the campaign season officially opens on Thursday.

The same need for fairness ought to be heeded by both the federal and provincial governments as they prepare for elections in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

Even if it’s not a top-of-mind issue with the public, the federal Conservative government’s proposal — parts of which it is now retreating on — to have party loyalists assume what should be impartial electoral oversight roles creates the impression of a sneering attitude toward the idea of a level playing field, with matters not being helped by the government having airily dismissed concerns raised by political scientists and a widely respected former auditor general.

So too have a recent series of cack-handed moves by the provincial NDP government pertaining to the Melnick Affair, the Manitoba Jockey Club and the Health Minister’s disastrous comments to a legislative committee.

Within the next two years, we will have held elections at all three levels of government. How compliant or how obstinate the public is about the incoming administrations’ plans will be determined in no small part by their attitudes toward being fair-minded. If they adopt the attitudes of present administrations, they might find themselves dealing with a lot of unnecessary stress.


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