It’s time to break up with some traditions
Drawing parallels between different experiences in my life is one of my favourite things. I especially love it when something seemingly unrelated allows me to understand things I am grappling with in a totally different context. My other favourite thing is meeting brilliant people with different perspectives – their insights are often linchpins and my fleeting thoughts and ideas take a (somewhat) coherent shape when adding their take.
When those two things materialize at the same time, magic happens.
One of those magical moments happened last week, in the margins of a significant event (1) that will have ripples across the globe for years to come. The brilliant people (2) in this instance were from far and wide, from Canada’s East Coast to New Zealand’s capital. We were talking about what we had learned throughout the event, about good examples other countries were setting – this was after work hours, after dinner; a lively conversation about our public sector woes and hopes and aspirations (yes, yes we are public sector nerds). As is often the case these days, we were chatting about Singapore’s Smart Nation, Taiwan’s vTaiwan, and Estonia’s… well, Estonia’s everything, really.
Once again, lamenting the seemingly glacial pace of (digital) modernization in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. I wondered out loud, what could these three countries possibly have in common that no one else has? Why do we struggle with things that everyone else seems to have figured out, or at least started to? (Ahem, the UK is also a few years ahead of us)
I (half?) jokingly said that we are Westminster system (3) Commonwealth countries and we have that in common, unlike anyone else (4). And then, my parallels aligned. My life became an inspiration for my thoughts about this conundrum.
I am an immigrant to Canada. My parents left our country in search of a brighter future, a safer place to call home, a place where their values and way of thinking better aligned with those of the society around them. We brought few belongings with us, and even fewer traditions and customs. I guess you could say we’re not typical. I have, however, observed behaviours in my friends’ families that were different from my own. Grandparents who had emigrated in a different era, for different reasons, who often treasured traditions and objects from the homeland and spoke of it with a reverence and wistfulness often reserved for first loves. You could not pry honoured traditions from them, try as you might. Funnily enough, customs had changed back in the mother country – as time passed and people evolved so did these traditions. Some were updated, some simply vanished as they were no longer relevant to people and society’s context. Yet you could still find them thousands of miles away, exactly as they were decades ago. Like a delicate insect preserved in amber, frozen in time, preciously guarded and put on display, shown to guests as proof that the ties were still there, alive and well.
What if – what if– we (inadvertently) did the same thing with the Westminster system in Commonwealth countries? Safeguarded its customs and quirks and traditions from eras long gone, not allowing it to evolve and adapt as needed, but instead guarding traditions against all elements, encapsulated in this unwieldy substance meant to preserve them until the end of time? All the while, in its original birthplace, the system is changing and adapting to new realities.
There it was. Someone said it (5).
Are we more Westminster than Westminster?
Like the customs and traditions brought over by immigrants generations ago, the processes and customs of the Westminster system were brought over and not allowed to evolve. We were slightly stunned as we considered the implications. Clearly, we were all having the same conversations in our respective jurisdiction (6) – you know which conversations, the ones that inevitably circle around to the Westminster system, how rigid and difficult it is to change it, how it is to blame for any major roadblock that gets in our way. It turns out it’s not the system itself.
If not the system, we have to look at everything around it, all the traditions we brought over that no longer make sense in this connected, digital age. We have to examine them, ask ourselves if they serve a legitimate purpose, if they bring any value, if they make sense. And if they don’t – we have to let them go. It will be ok.
There’s no one to ask for permission to stop doing nonsensical things that hinder our ability to evolve and serve people the way they need to and deserve to be served. Obsolete traditions, you have to go. You will have a place of honour in history books and we will fondly reminisce on our time together. But this relationship is no longer working for us. We’re breaking up.
- OneTeamGov Global, a one-day event, the culmination of months and thousands of hours of work, supported by hundreds of volunteers, that showed everyone what a collective can do when we care about making our work better, our world better. Here’s a sampling of write-ups: https://t.co/UfJPFmbDiq
- Who I now hope to call friends
- I chose this article on purpose because of this sentence: “The model, used by many other nations around the world, including Australia, has endured partly because of its ability to adapt in the face of major social changes and the checks and balances that have evolved.”
- Technically untrue, as a host of other countries share both these characteristics – India, Pakistan, Malaysia among others
- It was Beth. Told you she’s brilliant.
- Three separate jurisdictions, as it happens