Courage and Will
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 17 Jan 2002, p. 330-339
Snobelen, The Hon. John, Speaker
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Item Type
Two topics: change and change initiatives. The speaker's experience with both. Leadership. Ways in which governments can change. Illustrative anecdotes. Building on what has been done in the last decade. Creating new possibilities. Examples of leadership. Looking towards the future.
Date of Original
17 Jan 2002
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Full Text
The Hon. John Snobelen
Minister of Natural Resources for the Province of Ontario
Chairman: Bill Laidlaw
President, The Empire Club of Canada

Head Table Guests

The Reverend Dr. John Niles, Rector, Victoria Park United Church and Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Emily Moore-Wickham, OAC Student, Loretto Abbey High School, Employee, Summer Experience Program and Participant, Ontario Ranger Program 2000; Michael Clarke, OC, Theology Student, Wycliffe College; Doug Morris, President, Morris Glass; Fred Dzida, Manager, Ontario Timberlands, Weyerhaeuser; David Milton, President, Ontario Lumber Manufacturers Association; Bart J. Mindszenthy, Partner, Mindszenthy and Roberts Communications Counsel and Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Michael Coren, TV Personality and Political Commentator and Columnist, The Toronto Sun; Tim Millard, President and CEO, Ontario Forest Industries Association; and Norm Bush, Vice-President for Ontario, Weyerhaeuser.

Introduction by Bill Laidlaw

I have had the good fortune of knowing John for many years when I used to be on the circuit for Progressive Conservative functions in Peel and surrounding areas.

John was always there. I would always gravitate to John's corner because he would have such interesting things to say. He was an individual who clearly had a different and thought-provoking view on many issues. He had experienced so many different aspects of life it was difficult to keep up with him.

One thing was clear and that was that he wanted to be a member of Parliament for the Progressive Conservative Party. I don't believe he really cared if it was the federal or provincial party. He wanted it and he worked hard to get the Mississauga West seat and he won it.

John currently represents the new riding of Mississauga West. He was initially elected as MPP for Mississauga North in 1995.

He also served as Minister of Education and Training until 1997, when he was appointed by the premier to his current position as Minister of Natural Resources. As a member in the riding where my former Glaxo Wellcome was located he would go out of his way to assist our company and our industry with numerous issues at both levels of government.

Prior to his election Minister Snobelen spent many years at senior levels within the private sector, managing and guiding several companies, including Jarsno Environmental Incorporated, MidOntario Equipment Limited and also the business consulting firm, the Cameron Group, where he specialised in resolving structural, management and communications issues.

He continues to work with business leaders who are dedicated to bringing about positive change in the global business community. Minister Snobelen continually involves himself in causes that promote peace and human rights throughout the world such as Hunger Project Canada, an organisation committed to ending world hunger. He is also associated with the internationally renowned President Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia.

He enjoys success in his personal interests. An accomplished equestrian, his expertise and interest in horses has taken him across the globe.

Having heard Minister Snobelen speak on numerous occasions, I know that his address will be both interesting and informative.

I am pleased to introduce John Snobelen.

John Snobelen

Well thank you, it's good to see so many friends. I'm glad to be here. Bill, the government of Ontario appreciates your contribution for your fishing license, as it's always nice to get that money from someone who wants to be licensed to fish but not necessarily to catch.

I was going to talk to you about wood products because there are many people from the wood industry in this room, but I've known them all now for about four years and they have learned that I know nothing about wood products. So I thought I'd just say: "Wood is good."

I want to talk to you about two things that I've had some experience with--change and change initiatives. I've had the good fortune to be involved in change initiatives in for-profit organisations, not-for-profit organisations (some of those intentionally not-for-profit), in big organisations and small organisations, and a few of you will recall some minor change programmes in government. I have some observations from all of that experience, one of which is that while not all change initiatives fail, many do. They fail by virtue of not achieving the original goal or vision of the people who wanted to create the change. How that usually happens is they set out to make something new possible and then they meet a little resistance. My colleagues could acknowledge this. A little resistance, and then the goal comes down a little bit. It becomes more reasonable and a little more reasonable and a little more reasonable, and then the time-frame stretches out another week and then perhaps another week and perhaps yet another week and in the words of Neil Young: "It starts out real slow and then fizzles out alltogether."

Now some of you may be familiar with this. This is related to that phenomenon: "I'll lose five pounds by the end of the month." And this phenomenon could be important to you because this is still that month when those promises you made yourself on the first of January are still in existence. And in your organisation, no matter what kind of organisation, you either are, or probably will be, facing a change in the near term. In my party I am reminded of the words of Will Rogers when he said he was not part of an organised political party; he was a democrat. But my party is very interested in change at the moment, because we are now in the official leadership race and looking at leadership and leadership issues, and change for our province.

And so, this is an area that is very important to all of us. To me personally, leadership and change have been something that has been very important to me for a long time because I met this extraordinary lady many, many, many years ago, who was of the opinion that the most vital and engaged lives were led by people in the pursuit of making something new possible. What George Bernard Shaw meant, I think, when he said: "For this is the true joy in life, the being used by a purpose deemed by yourself to be a mighty one, the being a force of nature instead of a feverish little clod of aches and ailments complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy."

And she would go on to say that the most vital of the vital, and the most engaged of the engaged, the most powerful of lives were spent in a pursuit of a possibility that wouldn't happen in that person's own life. Something that big. And so with that small kernel of knowledge those years ago, I began to think about what it would be like to live in a place where all people, each and every one, with no one left out, could act with power.

And by power, I mean the rate at which your intentions become reality. What would it be like to live in a place where everyone could be engaged in realising their intentions for themselves, their families, and their communities? It would be very, very different. In fact, it would be very quiet, because the only action left to the powerless is complaint. And so a world where people were acting powerfully would be very quiet. In matter of fact, if you're stuck on the 401, as I was this morning, the only action available is to complain to yourself, unless you have the cell-phone number of the Minister of Transportation.

So I got interested in that possibility. I spent some time working on that and also working on leadership because, folks here's the titbit, you can throw all these management books you have away; you don't manage change; you lead it. In fact the older I get the more certain I get that you don't manage people. You either lead them or get out of the way.

And so, I became interested in leadership and in change, and I spent quite a bit of time gainfully employed in the pursuit of those things. And everything was going along quite splendidly until a little over a decade ago when I got a phone call from someone who asked me if government could change.

Can governments change? Even 15 years ago I knew that governments could change; like the name of government. I knew that could happen. To me at that time elections looked like changing seats in a train. You might find a more comfortable seat but you were still going in the same direction. That's how it looked to me. But I knew the answer to: "Could good government actually change?" The answer was no. I could think of three obvious reasons: One, despite the hard work and best efforts of a lot of very qualified people, it's really tough to bankrupt a government; external stimuli that you and I might have in the private sector from time to time was lacking. Secondly, government is inherently a big organisation. Those of you who have worked in even mid-size companies will know that in any large organisation there is always a procedure, a policy, and perhaps a whole department that has been redundant for at least two lifetimes, but which you simply can't get rid of. Large organisations are good, if at nothing else, persisting. As a matter of fact, I have learned over time that large organisations like government improve so as not to change. But the third and most devastating reason why new governments couldn't change is because the fundamental question of government is different than it is in the private sector. In the private sector, the fundamental question is: What's the deal? But in government, the fundamental question, the one hours and hours and days and weeks and whole careers are spent on is: What's today's story? You see, not just the government of the day, but the opposition parties, the NGOs, the interest groups, the consultants and the media are engaged in this question--what's the story? And the story always has three common elements. It has a hero, that would be us, it has a villain, sometimes referred to as the Liberal Party, and here's the devastating part, all stories have victims. And so if you're engaged in the business of "What is today's story?" you will be in the business of creating victims. Now think about that for a moment. It doesn't matter who spins the story what way: Teacher unions hero, government villain, teachers victims; government hero, teachers unions villains, parents and students victims. And so on and so on in this business of stories. But the bottom line is you cannot create something new. You cannot create a new possibility; you can't make fundamental changes if you are creating and surrounded by victims. It doesn't work that way. And so I was certain, when I still had hair, gainful employment and a decent pension, I was sure the government couldn't change.

But yet there were examples of governments changing from time to time. And the possibilities of our country and our province were very diminished in a world where governments couldn't change. And so when the leader of a third party came along and said he wanted to change, I said: "Oh boy," and jumped on that train and ran in the 1990 election and had my butt handed to me.

But in 1995 the results were a little different. And so we came to power in Ontario with the Common Sense Revolution, a change document. When taxes are going up too fast and too high, improvement is about having taxes go up slower. But that Common Sense Revolution was about a complete change in direction. And I was wrong--government can change. It did happen but it took some tremendous, tremendous effort. You see we had a vision that was really clear to people, a promise that was really clear, and millions of copies of a detailed platform called the Common Sense Revolution. We had an agreement around the province that something had to change. We had a problem. We were spending a million bucks an hour more than what we were bringing in and folks can relate to that. And importantly, we had a leader who was unwilling to not have to change anything.

Shaw again said: "The reasonable man bends to circumstance; the unreasonable man expects circumstance to bend to his will; all progress depends on the unreasonable man." And by that measure we had a leader willing to be unreasonable, a leader who was able to provide the certainty that called forward courage, from cabinet, from caucus, from the public sector, from people across the province; the kind of courage it took to take on the inevitable resistance to change.

Now it wasn't all roses. Although I know your memory of 1995, '96 and '97 will be very rosy, there were a few rough spots. And we had some change initiatives that kind of fizzled out. But by and large, we proved at least to me, and I think to many people, that governments actually could cause change. Let me give you one small example. It wasn't perhaps reported as extensively as it might have been. In 1994, the Premier said that we will complete the parks and recreation areas in the province, because 85 per cent of the land mass that you and I own, the public land, was over-subscribed. And so my predecessor Chris Hodgson and the Premier kicked off a thing called "Lands for Life," a long consultation with three round tables and everyone who had an opinion on the subject. A couple of years later and these chairmen of the round tables brought back a report that called for a 50 per-cent increase in the parks in area. Huge. Huge. And the political advice of the day was to do one of two things: accept the report because the government of the day could take credit for everything that was good and pass the blame along on everything that wasn't quite so good. Or, kick off another study. That's always the other political answer. But the Premier did something rather remarkable. He said: "No, this doesn't provide certainty for the forest industry; it doesn't truly, by the measure of 12 per cent, complete our parks and recreation areas. It doesn't meet the objectives. It's great and it's the best we can do by consensus but we are going further. And we're going further right now." He challenged the leaders of the environmental community and the forest industry to join us in actually completing parks and protected areas. In a little over a week, the leaders in those two very different communities got together and made it happen. They didn't take each other on; they took on the status quo in their own organisations. And they created 378 new parks and protected areas, 6.2 million acres, the largest such announcement in the history of North America.

And I wanted to tell you that story today for two reasons. One, when leadership is asked for by government, it's there. We can do those sorts of things in Ontario, not just in forestry but in every act of public life. It's possible, for us to do the currently impossible. The second reason why I wanted to tell you this story is that it was not exactly front-page news. Now I've discussed this with people who use Ontario forest products--those wise people in Europe, in Australia, in Mexico and certainly in the United States--and they're very interested in this unique thing that is happening in Ontario. And yet you probably didn't read much about it in the newspapers or see much of it in the media. Why? No villain, no victims, no story.

Now, the reason why I wanted to spend some time on this today is I have been following the race to be leader of our party, or manager of our party depending on whom you ask. And I have an opinion about all of that. You see if management is the business of getting where we're already going smoothly it is always of interest, but I believe that in this province it is now time to build on what we have done in the last decade. And to go further, to create new possibilities, I think its time for leadership.

I'll give you two examples. In the education system, I saw something like 40 per cent of students in grade 10 can't pass a literary test. Now think about that for a moment. I know that my nephew and my niece benefit from the school system, but I also know that my nephew and my niece would be literate by the time they were 15 with or without a school system because my sisters would make sure that happened. If not, my mother darn sure would. And that's true for a lot of young people across the province.

So 40 per cent of kids who cannot pass a literacy test are the ones who need the school system the most. And so it's time to change, and there are systems available so we can revolutionise education and they are available now. It's time to do it, but that's going to require some tremendous courage because I think there might be some small resistance.

When Tommy Douglas was talking about health care many years ago and said that when there is a tractor accident the farmer shouldn't lose the farm, I don't think he envisioned a system where government ran your wellbeing, where government was responsible for making your choices, where the health-care system was free but unavailable to some folks. And so it's time for change and we can do that. In Ontario, we could create the best-in-the-world-health-care system. We have the people and we have the capacity to do that, but it will require tremendous courage.

And so, as our party looks at its future and the future of this province, I think it's the job of all of us across this province to encourage courage, to look for strong leadership, to look past the story to what is possible, to what we can create together. And I think in our own organisations, in our own families and in our own communities, we have to actively support the kind of courage it takes to make positive change. In the words of Teddy Roosevelt: "Far better to dare mighty things, even though checkered with failure, than to join the ranks of those dim spirits who have known neither great sorrow, nor great joy, for they live their lives in that dim twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat." My friends it is not time for management in this province. It is time for leadership, it is time for new possibilities and it's time to encourage the type of courage that it's going to take to get there.

I thank you for your time today.

The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Bart J. Mindszenthy, Partner, Mindszenthy and Roberts Communications Counsel and Director, The Empire Club of Canada.

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Courage and Will

Two topics: change and change initiatives. The speaker's experience with both. Leadership. Ways in which governments can change. Illustrative anecdotes. Building on what has been done in the last decade. Creating new possibilities. Examples of leadership. Looking towards the future.