Category Archives: Change

Expanding my “Pitching Repertoire”

Sports are great for the metaphors.

How many times have you heard someone bring a point home (see what I did there…?) with a great metaphor from the world of sports?

As I gathered with hundreds of other people touched by the life and legacy of one awesome human being last week, one of his great friends (and eulogists) told a story that has caused me to reflect; a lot.

It has to do, fundamentally, with what’s in one’s “pitching repertoire” – what kinds of pitches do we (and, maybe more importantly, can we) throw?

Some of us can throw a mean fastball (pssst….type A people, that’s us). Maybe we get a little too used to that, and have lost the ability (if we ever had it) to toss a change-up, throw a slider, flip in a knuckleball or let a curve ball rip.

We tell ourselves it’s okay to be a one-pitch-johnny/jane in our increasingly specialized world…it’s what makes us effective and sets us apart from the crowd, that wicked fastball; right?

For me, the loss of a person who was intentional about how and when to throw what kind of a pitch – and who made so many lives better for it – is a good occasion to take stock of my own ‘pitching’ abilities.  I’ve found it helpful to think about it this way: what is in our pitching repertoire matters everywhere we are present. It matters in everyday interactions in a coffee shop; with family, friends and kids; sitting across the table from tough counterparties or important big-wigs; or just being one of the crowd in life.

And not because we want to be Machiavellian and manipulate people to our own ends by throwing just the right pitch at the right moment. But because when you practice something authentically and often it will come instinctively, and open up opportunities that would otherwise not have existed.

The result of this assiduous practice for my late friend enabled a kind of human connection, and personal and professional achievement, that illustrates what’s possible in a life truly, well and richly lived.

So as the Spring thaw sets in, whether you’re a baseball fan or not, maybe this is a good time for us all to pick up a ball, rub on some A535, warm up the arm and practice a few of our most underused pitches.


Shout-out of the week:

A good friend sent me a podcast recommendation this week – and I offer it up for your consideration. Of particular interest to me was the recent one focusing on the Northern Irish community of Corymeela, where my cousin has worked, and beside which I often jog when visiting my father’s family home in Ballycastle.

Note: I snapped the photo for this article inside an abandoned building at the edge of Rathlin Island, across the strait from where Corymeela is located, while on a visit home about this time of year in 2015.

Let Them Learn From Our Example(s): Time for a Christmas Cool-off

What is it that we wish most for our children in life? Health and happiness. Fulfillment and joy. Challenge and opportunity.

If the youngest among us learn by example, then what are they to take from the past number of days’ events involving the Government and the Nova Scotia Teacher’s Union (NSTU)? If you can answer that question without a look of deep and pained confusion on your face, I’ll buy you one of those fancy coffee drinks they only make at Christmas.

There have been barbed, pointed and angry comments about the Government’s moves that – their spokespeople say – were designed to ensure student safety during a planned work-to-rule by teachers; moves which, let’s be honest, have come off looking ham-fisted at best.

There has been hand-wringing, scratching of heads and accusations that the NSTU is continually raising the bar, seeking to maintain gold-plated benefits and get a wage settlement that the province cannot afford, and to which the vast majority of Nova Scotians could not lay claim.

On Monday, Nova Scotia became a national news story because, depending which narrative you believed, students were either unfairly “locked out” of their schools for the first time ever, or teachers were threatening to “leave them unsafe”.

The narrative extremes – and the actions they set in motion – serve to bring no one closer to a solution, and they shed no light for the many parents and Nova Scotians not privy to the discussions at or around the bargaining table. They just want this whole saga to go away.

And the cold, wintry reality is that we are an ultra-marathon further away from a negotiated solution than we were at this time last week.

The conditions precedent to a constructive dialogue, leading to a contract proposal which stands an odds-on chance of being ratified by NSTU members and adopted by the provincial Cabinet have gone south, just like the snowbirds.

So is it time to shrug our shoulders, and dig in for a long, hard winter of labour discontent, hardening resolve and an epidemic of stress throughout our school-aged children?

That’s hardly the example our children deserve.

Although a “charitable spirit” has not been much in evidence over the past week in this dispute, the parties would do well to offer all Nova Scotians this early Christmas present, in three hard but necessary steps:

  • Agree to a cooling-off period. To be effective, it needs to include a suspension of work-to-rule and a commitment to no government/legislative action against teachers. It should last long enough to allow the parties to do their homework, and begin to re-engage constructively in the New Year.
  • Get down to work on their homework:
    1. For the NSTU, the kaleidoscope-of-demands at the bargaining table, with no real evidence that the bargaining committee knows what the members want, has to stop. They don’t get to blame the government they need to own the fact that they have been tin-eared to their membership. Extensive consultation is required, which should include helping to close the gap between ambition and reality among their membership. There needs to be a (no-doubt difficult) reconciliation of what NSTU members want, and what it is they can fairly achieve through negotiation. If the emphasis is not on wages and benefits, but on working conditions – as every teacher I have spoken with claims – then all the time and money needs to be focused on that. If the emphasis is, in fact, more on wages and maintenance of certain benefits – then it’s time to drop the contrivance and say so.
    2. For the Government, they have internal consultation of their own to do. It’s fine for politicians not to want to “let down their side” publicly, and pledge fealty to their boss (no matter how far they have strayed off course). The clear reality on Monday pointed to strong currents of disagreement within the government caucus, which means they have work to do. The $10 million pot of money with a promise to address working conditions has been clearly rejected as a pig in a poke – concrete measures with a start date and implementation plan are required to overcome the deficit of trust made worse by this week’s events. The contrivance that some of these “working conditions” are not within the Collective Agreement, and should therefore be dealt with later is just that – a contrivance.
  • Develop an agreed schedule of talks that begin sometime into the New Year, with a commitment to stay at the table – and keep the cooling-off period in force – while students get educated, and the parties work-through matters with a renewed focus and internal mandates which better reflect where the parties want to end up.

The educational challenges in the classroom and in our schools are real. Teachers deserve our respect for the work that they do, and the care they provide, to our children and youth every day. My father-in-law retired from teaching 20 years ago, and continues to be approached by former students about the extent of the impact he had on their lives and development, often to his great surprise.

The financial challenges we have as a province are also very real. To dismiss them out of hand, and to ignore the debt-burden of the province and the high level of taxation we pay, is to do a disservice to these same youth and children; for they will inherit a rusting hulk of a province if we can’t keep an eye to the future when making financial decisions today.

As a parent I can definitively say that this dispute – and the current work-to-rule action – is impacting our children, and not for the better. 

It needs to stop, and fast. Children thrive in a predictable, consistent environment where expectations are clear and trust is built through following through: what they expect from their teachers, and what their teachers expect of them.

This situation did not develop overnight. Solving it overnight is neither realistic nor plausible. But ending the blame game, rolling up some sleeves and making an honest start – without suspending our students in the middle – is an example our kids will learn from.

Oiling the Machinery of Government: A Primer

Lots of friends in or concerned about Alberta have been inquiring of me in the last week how a transition of government works.

Having observed many, and living, sweating and coffee-Ing my way through a transition from a Progressive Conservative (PC) to a New Democratic Party (NDP) government in Nova Scotia in June 2009, here are some indicative crib notes for the uninitiated.


During the election itself (“Calm before the storm” phase):

  • Political parties with a realistic prospect of forming a government fashion the membership of a transition team, who will endeavor to develop (often quite detailed) plans of how the ‘skin graft’ of the new political leadership will be effected onto the body corporate of the public service (think of this as the M&A integration team);
  • Civil servants do not shut down government and decamp to Florida, as some may conjecture, suspect or fear. They work to analyze platforms of the major, competitive parties, in addition to continuing the work of administering programs and fashioning policy under the laws of the day;
  • The head of the civil service will generally contact a senior member of the leader’s staff (usually the Chief of Staff) of any party that realistically *may* form the incoming government (any party, that is, who is not the incumbent government). This is usually done officially the day before Election Day. This can be a perfunctory call, but usually includes assurances that preparations have been made, briefing binders readied and includes a discussion of how best to make contact following the election, should that party win the election; and,
  • The head of the civil service usually sketches-out recommended changes to the form and functions of government departments/ministries, and outlines retirement plans/timelines of Deputy Ministers, including plans for shuffles and senior leadership changes.


After Election Day (“The sizing each other up” & “Getting down to business”, phases):

  • Once the result is clear, and a concession speech from the incumbent has been given — the civil service move into overdrive. The day after the election, they will ensure transition office space is made available for the incoming government — should the newbies desire to make use of it — although some incoming governments will choose the expediency and comfort of remaining in their caucus offices to conduct the transition from there;
  • The incoming premier (“Premier-Designate”) will officially name a transition team (generally composed of people who will not become staff within the government, at least not initially), to advise her on the major decisions she faces before the end of the fortnight:
    1. structure of her office, and staff appointments therein;
    2. structure of her Executive Council (more commonly called the “Cabinet”, and distinct from all the other MLAs not in the Cabinet but who are government caucus members, aka. Backbenchers). This will include many considerations – the size of cabinet; the actual portfolios to be held and therefore the number, name and remit of the departments/ministries; the vetting and background checks on potential members of the cabinet, often without their knowledge;
    3. the structure of the offices of the members of Cabinet, key hirings in those offices (political staff, MLAs acting as “Associate Ministers” or like-functions, and civil service support);
    4. direct/daily liaison with the civil service on priority matters of the incoming government, and things that require decisions or the exercise of ministerial/executive authority, under the provincial laws/statutes;
    5. recommendations on staffing of senior civil service positions. The head of the public service will inevitably have done their homework, and be making recommendations to the Premier-Designate through the transition team (Deputy Heads/Deputy Ministers are actually appointed under the authority of the Premier, and report to the Premier, even though they serve a Minister). But there will also be a potential need to part with senior civil servants for symbolic and policy reasons (although as others have pointed out, wholesale change is a non-starter for a host of good reasons);
    6. the administration of the mythical “truth serum” to those same civil servants, who will almost invariably deliver a less rosy picture of the provincial finances and general state of housekeeping of many matters of state than had been previously communicated to the public. When this happens within the first 48-72 hours it can be a deeply sobering and positively vexing occurrence (think of this as a major, major post-closing headache that will shape the future direction of the enterprise);
    7. planning the swearing-in ceremony of the new government, including the tone, symbolism, and vision for the future inherent therein;
    8. drafting of the mandate letters for signature of the Premier-Designate (aka. Marching orders) that will guide the incoming Members of Cabinet in the discharge of their duties, and implementation of election commitments (note: these are generally not public documents, although NB Premier Brian Gallant made a show of publicly releasing same last Fall following his election).
  • Boxes full of briefing binders prepared by the civil service will be brought to the transition offices. They will include “briefing notes” (BN’s in government parlance), on issues from the very mundane (think “implementation of revised Public Sector Accounting Board standards”) to the very critical (think H1N1-like matters)
  • Well organized briefing binders will — from the perspective of the civil/public service, at least — outline the mission critical issues facing the incoming Minister/government within that portfolio. These can fall into a number of categories, such as:
    1. the proverbial bags of poo sitting on your doorstep that were just lit on fire;

    2. the policy “punts” that are about to come back into play, stat;

    3. the implications of things that the outgoing government promised or committed to but were not: (a) budgeted for, (b) consulted upon, (c) well thought out, and, (d) worth the paper the speech that delivered them was written on.

  • If not outlined within these binders, then separately analyzed and presented to the transition committee will be the election platform (and related commitments/promises/priorities) of the incoming government, within the historical/recent policy context of said department. This will be an iterative conversation, that will often start with “…so, you committed to do this/these things. We think they will cost xxxx and have this very-long-list of implications. So now, we’d like to ask you these gazillion clarifying questions about what you really, actually meant by this commitment.” (Think of this as legal and accounting ganging-up, supported by internal audit, risk management and the quality assurance departments, to clarify a directive of the board or executive team).

And this is really, only, just-the-beginning (before people even get sworn in to office).

All of this frenzy of activity can literally take place in less time than it takes Gangnam Style to go from a small-time hit to that really-annoying-song-that-is-on-the-radio-all-the-time-and-making-grown-people-with-no-rhythm-do-weird-things-with-their-hips-and-also-those-lasso-arm-swingy-things.

Or, put another way, in less time that it might take your stock price to go from a 52-week low-to-high or vice-versa.

In most of the rest of Canada, this can happen anywhere from every 3.5 years, to at least every 16 or so (the Manitoba NDP have been winning majority governments since 1999).

In Alberta, not so much.


The best piece of advice I received — from a former PC staffer — in 2009 was that I should be prepared “…for it to take 3.5-5 months for you to find your sea-legs”.


My self-assurance and ego notwithstanding — my buddy, as it turns out, was right.

One morning as I made my way to the Premier’s office, long about September 2009, I had a comforting realization that I “knew who to call”. That is to say, most of us had by that point come to an understanding of who we needed to call/email/ask about what, and when.

On-the-job training never stops — it never does in the evolving world of province/state-craft — but the equilibrium of becoming acclimated to the environment, the policy framework and the apparatus of which you are now abiding the folks with their hands on the levers, gets reached somewhere around that point in time.

Does that mean nothing can get done in the first few months of a new government (especially one displacing a 44 year-old regime)? Of course not. Smart people find effective ways to get things done every day.

Not “meeting disaster half-way” is the order of the day. Don’t force a question too early, only to find you get an answer you don’t want, and an outcome no one likes.

Annie, drop your gun(s)

Industry: They are wiping us out; thousands will leave.  And they don’t care.
Government: We’re going broke; their tastes are too rich.  And they’re exaggerating.

It’s tempting to caricature, and reduce to sound-bites, the rationale and impacts of the public policy decision contained in last week’s provincial budget on the Film Tax Credit (FTC).

This policy/tax measure defies over-simplification and was born and bred in a nuanced and shifting industry, financial and policy environment.

The long-standing position of the Department of Finance staff on the make-up of the FTC is well-known to both stakeholders and within the halls of government in Nova Scotia.  Naturally, they rely on their training and experience to assess the “effectiveness” of various tax measures in an imperfect world of statistics, numbers and outputs, in an effort to meet demands to keep provincial taxes down and services intact.

Similarly, the industry has heralded its growth over the past few decades, turned its thoughts to continued success and maintained a watchful eye on its competitiveness.   Naturally, they have sought the kinds of incentives, evolutions and updates that they believe helps Nova Scotia keep the proverbial credits rolling.

While you can measure taxes paid, revenues generated and associated impacts, you simply can’t reduce the contribution of artists, and the vibrancy of a culturally-rooted community to numbers alone.
This tension is at the root of the decision to significantly change the FTC in the 2015-16 budget.

Should the government – and by that, I mean the politicians who both make the decision and ultimately have to defend it – have approached this situation differently? 

Should the industry, recognizing the budget challenges and with the Ivany and Broten reports in mind, have proactively sought-out government to modernize the FTC?

“Should-ing yourself” is always messy.  And it is never a comfortable position from which to figure out a reasonable path forward; it inherently dwells on the past.

How realistic is a wholesale reversal of this change?  The odds are longer than a Nova Scotia winter.

For the government, then, what choice but to defend the turf you’ve staked out?  And for the industry, what choice but to fight for the status quo, and your livelihood?

Fighting is inevitably a temporary way to ride the cortisol train to the sinking realization that, when the fight finally ends, everybody ended up a loser.

If nothing changes, a hollow victory to both sides is all but assured.  The government achieves budget reductions, and the industry fights the good fight but loses the vast majority of everything they have worked to build.

The government will test the threats and forecasts of the companies, and thousands of now-disillusioned professionals.  The industry will test the resolve of the government to push through a measure that they maintain is a necessary element of a balanced economy, and budget.
But this weekend proves that from underneath even a harsh Nova Scotia Winter, Spring can emerge.

One thing I have learned, both in government and in life, is that it’s never too late to do the right thing.
And it’s never out of fashion to acknowledge and reinforce people when they do.

And I don’t think there’s one person in the province today who could be trusted to script just what that “right thing” is.  Certainly no one in government, or in the industry, can lay claim to that for understandable reasons.

Cue the cooling-off period.

The industry and the provincial government have much in common – though the Spring fog that has settled in around the Legislature makes it exceedingly hard to see that.  Giving them both the benefit of the doubt, it’s a safe bet that:

  • They both want a vibrant film industry in Nova Scotia;

  • They know Nova Scotia has poor demographics and a shrinking tax base;

  • They both want to attract and retain talented, creative people; and,

  • They both believe this is a great place to live and work.

That should be enough to get them in the same room and get the small talk rolling.

In order to take one of the many off-ramps, they need to put the calculators and pitchforks away, look each other in the eye and agree on a few more things:

  • The FTC of today can’t be the FTC of tomorrow, it needs to change – after 20 years, and a series of tweaks, it’s time to look to the future in a new way;

  • In order to maintain a vibrant film and television industry, and all the incredible culture, people and intangibles that go with it, the incentives in Nova Scotia need to be, and remain, competitive;

  • The current level of government support is comparatively high, and our ability to generate tax revenue is declining; the value of the FTC needs to be reduced; and,

  • A more collaborative change in three, six or nine months – all within this budget year – that has even lukewarm industry and government support, is better than a first draft today that begets white-hot anger.

Most decisions are not irreversible, but their outcomes can be.  In this case, there is still time to move from a positional stand-off to a shared-interest solution.

The so-called budget bill, the Financial Measures Act , will be the place this change is actually effected.  It usually comes in within a week or so of Budget day (last Thursday).  Until that bill is brought in, and frankly until it passes Committee of the Whole House and receives third and final reading in about 3 weeks – the budget decision on the FTC remains a ‘statement of policy intent’, not a hard-and-fast decision.

But once it’s done it is very hard to undo.  Cue the toothpaste analogy.

Speaking as an uninitiated, I suspect the process of making a film or TV episode is not unlike a place where I have a little more experience: the process of making a law or building the provincial budget.  
It can be messy, complicated, and it will take hours of production to gain seconds or minutes of tape that make it to the big screen.

But just like in the movies, until the final cut is done, it always remains a work-in-progress.

One Good Reason

The Lyric

“Give me one good reason why I should never make a change.”

The Artist

George Ezra (keep your eye on this rising star). Album: “Wanted on Voyage”; Song: “Budapest

The Meaning

Maybe like with everything one can imbue much meaning and a variety of perspectives into a few words. This week, I borrow heavily from friends, colleagues and shared or lived experiences that I hope many people can relate to. A trusted mentor of my wife’s once said to her:

Everyone is in favour of progress, it’s just change they can’t stand.”

In a line of work that I spent the better part of a dozen years working within, politics and government, people are literally paid to come to work every day and give you more than one good reason why you should never make a change; while others inside or outside of government (usually the perceived beneficiaries of the change) can think up 1 million reasons why things should never stay the same.

For businesses, many of the top management consultants and other leading strategists base everything they do and say on the principle that your company or organization must either: (a) change or (b) it will die. Sometimes, this leads to change for change sake.

In business and government it’s all too true that we hang on to what we’ve got (or perceive that we have) in lieu of making possible or even necessary change. Safety, comfort and the status quo reign supreme.

In doing so, as one former Premier of Nova Scotia who I observed for many years with interest used to say, “we reap what we sew”.

Change is inherently risky, no question. But there is risk in everything we do. There’s risk in getting up (or not getting up) in the morning. There’s risk in crossing the street. There’s risk in having too much, or not enough, of something.

Risk, in and of itself, is not one good reason not to make a change.

When it comes to change within our personal lives, they are clearly fraught with different calculations than whether to break into a new market or double-down in the one we inhabit as a business.

The risks or consequences associated with those changes affect our loved ones, so often that becomes the one good reason not to do it.

In my experience it can be easier to admire what we see as courage, bravery, or chutzpah in other people who are making change or changes.

Easier certainly than endeavoring to mentally push-back on the niggling tendency to consider all of the risks associated with some change for ourselves, than we do the risks and benefits of not making said change.

I always smile to myself at the cleverness of the Scaredy Squirrel Children’s book series, which I have read with each of my boys. The author has a very gentle yet incisive way of drawing out the good reasons why Scaredy Squirrel doesn’t want to change through exposure to what happens when Scaredy Squirrel, in many cases unwittingly, undertakes change. Scaredy Squirrel always has (at least) one good reason why s/he should never make the change.

The Dots

1. Pick one area in your professional life, or life outside of your home, where you keep coming back to one good not to make a change. Sit down with a piece of paper, be silent, turn off the phone and write down three reasons why you should. See if you still feel the same after you’re done.

2. Think about a habit you have. Something you do which after you do it, you quietly regret it. Try changing it, or the way you approach it or do it, for just one hour. Then tomorrow do it for longer…etc. At the end of the week reflect on whether it’s made a difference.

3. Venture out of your comfort zone. Just on something small. Then ask yourself – what was the one good reason you didn’t try this before?