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Follow the leaders if you can find them

November 20, 2011


By Ric McIver

There is a reason the world has structure. A group of people can do more together if they organize around some hierarchy and choose a good member of the group to lead it.

That leader or small group of leaders can then prioritize the needs of the group and focus in on the most important ones first in order to make the greatest gains possible for the overall benefit of the members. After a multitude of books, seminars, theories and myth on leadership, it seems the art is often lost, even among those who are called leaders.

The whole Occupy situation brings this home in a very clear way. I intentionally call it a situation because a movement actually moves and has some direction. What we are witnessing is something else completely.

There have been a few leaders emerge and I would like identify them as they relate to this situation. The first signs of leadership by city council occurred this week when Aldermen Colley-Urquhart and Mar brought forward motions to put an end to the situation in Olympic Plaza. The motions are not as strong as they should be but they are the first outward sign of a willingness to take a direction and stick to it until the problem is solved. The problem is not protesting. The problem is squatting on public land.

The squatters split geographically and philosophically into two groups. The St. Patrick’s Island group was led by Paul Hughes who is most famous for leading the urban chickens cause in Calgary.

He said on the radio some time back there was no leader on the island. Apparently leadership was thrust upon him after sleeping outdoors for weeks and making no progress. He filled the vacant position of leader on St. Patrick’s Island in time to help negotiate a deal to get help for the people there who are homeless. This did not happen until Tim Richter of the Calgary Homeless Foundation came forward with a simple but important objective to get all people in a home. Mr. Richter’s leadership roll cannot be overstated.

The squatters on Olympic Plaza have no hierarchy and no agreed set of goals to achieve. It is rudderless. If there are a set of targets for change, those are not clear and certainly not consistently supported by any identifiable number of participants. They are in a word leaderless.

Unless this changes they are doomed to fail, primarily because no one knows what success looks like. Since they seem to have disdain for structure and hierarchy of any kind this will go on until they get tired or violent or until some external source of leadership arises to clean up the mess that exists. What they have done is provide a background to show a contrast in leadership around them.

Art Pawlowski, the Street Preacher is a leader. He has structure in his organization. He has goals to feed the hungry, help the poor and introduce any who will listen to the gospel of Jesus Christ. His shoddy treatment by the city while serving citizens is in stark contrast to the carpet rolled out for those who have chosen to flagrantly disregard all rules of society.

Cory Morgan is a leader. He sacrificed his time and money with a clear goal of bringing clarity to the situation on Olympic Plaza. His illegal use of public space was ended quickly by security personnel armed with ticket books, guns, batons and a tow truck operator before he really got set up for business. This was the right thing for them to do and serves as an example of how the squatters could have and should have been handled right from the start.

Where was the leadership in the enforcement of the bylaws a month ago? The enforcers have structure and a defined set of standards of conduct and goals of public order and lawful behaviour. Did they ignore their jobs or receive orders from somewhere more senior in the hierarchy as I believe?

The public could be forgiven for not knowing what is really going on. You sure can’t tell from what Calgary’s supposed leaders are saying. One day, we’re told no law is broken, the next day we are told the opposite. We are told on alternate days that the strong arm of enforcement is either available or not an option.

Is there a leader out there to apply some identifiable standards to the current situation?

Ric McIver was a Calgary Alderman for nine years. He is the principal of McIver and Associates Inc. and a board member of the Institute for Public Sector Accountability.

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