One of the reasons people hate politics is that truth is rarely a politician's objective. Election and power are. - Cal Thomas
I was really too honest a man to be a politician and live. – Socrates
[Author note: There are important addendums following this post, particularly addendums 2 and 3]
Dear PC Party of Alberta / Blair Houston (Candidate for Calgary-Foothills):
While a lot of my readers in Alberta have been enjoying (or hating me for) my occasional musing about the PC Party of Alberta and the missteps it has taken in recent years, writing about you has become a little boring for me and I would rather move on if you don’t mind.
However, I can’t move on because I see political leadership as an essential component for creating a strong future for citizens and when I see flaws in political leadership, I know said flaws, if allowed, will fracture the future for the people that the politician and political Party claim to serve.
As a long-time conservative, it matters to me where conservatives stand, what we represent, why we are allegedly the best choice and when we make mistakes (and we all do), what we intend to do to fix them.
When the Calgary-Foothills election was called, I asked you and Mr. Houston publicly what had been learned from mistakes in the past general election and how the Party will re-engage the hearts, minds and votes of the voters. After all, to win the vote, one must influence the mind of the voter and to influence the mind, one must touch the hearts of those voters. As a long time strategy person on Wall St., this seems obvious to me – that a mea culpa and a new strategy are necessary to regain the support of the people.
When I asked the question, I received insults which I found amusing enough to write about here PC Party of Alberta–Proving Einstein and Churchill Right? and here PC Party of Alberta–Who Will Bell the Cat?.
However, I never received a reply from the candidate or the Party specifically answering my questions or concerns.
Now a story is circulating about Mr. Houston’s alleged resume embellishment, where he claims to have gone to the University of California, a highly prestigious institution, while his campaign manager admits that he went to the College of the Desert (a two year technical school). Here’s an important note – most people who have attended the University of California note the specific campus as many campuses have prestigious reputations of their own (e.g. UCLA, UC, Berkeley, etc).
While I’m sure the College of the Desert is a fine institution and in fact, there is nothing wrong with having attended such a school, in the private sector where I live, intentional resume embellishment for the sake of employment / personal promotion is grounds for dismissal.
That aside, you both have dodged the question in the media about Mr. Houston's education credentials which brings the same old question to mind:
When will honesty and transparency become a part of the PC Party in its alleged desire to rebuild itself or are they just clichés to hide a desire for status quo under the guise of something different?
Should we just give up asking any politician for honesty and transparency in the first place?
If the claims are true and you are going to steamroll ahead anyway, then we are in the process of watching another dishonest person run for office. If that’s the case, the PC Party hasn’t changed and honesty is still a rare commodity within the Party.
If the claims are true, then Mr. Houston should do the honorable thing and step aside unless he has an excellent reason for the discrepancy. To admit such a discrepancy, whether he decides to continue running for office or not, would take a lot of courage but would be the right thing to do.
If the claims are not true, then one can make them go away instantly by merely responding to them.
And finally, to at least publicly respond to the accusation would show some level of accountability and responsibility to the public.
Because if we don’t have honesty, courage, accountability and responsibility in our political candidates and our political parties, what do we have?
And if we don’t have that, we don't have anything and neither should any Party claiming to want to represent our best interests.
Mr. Houston, please say something, otherwise you don’t deserve anything. You claim to want to be the voice of the people – let’s here you speak when the people ask you questions.
Your integrity has been called into question – defend it otherwise other people will define it.
Yours most sincerely,
A citizen who worries about the future we are creating for our children.
In service and servanthood,
PS The difficulty with silence is that it usually (not always) suggests that an inconvenient truth has been spoken. Human beings have a tendency to fill in the blanks when there is a vacuum of comment / information / response, often to the detriment of the person who has little to say in their own defense when others have much to say about them.
Addendum 1 – A Call For Honesty
The Calgary Herald ran a piece on Mr. Houston for the Calgary Municipal election in 2013 (found here).
Ironically, he cited the importance for “respect earned by honesty” and for the need for people “to have faith in politics again”.
It’s hard to know if he believes these things based on the afore mentioned musing.
(click on image for larger version)
Addendum 2 – Post Debate Conversation – August 24, 2015
I attended the debate in the Calgary-Foothills riding tonight with the hope of requesting clarity on this item.
I submitted a question regarding this to the moderators but it was included in the questions which were considered to be attack questions and so was rejected. This is what I tweeted when I heard this:
Since Mr. Houston was unavailable after the debate, I stopped by the campaign table set up outside the debate area and asked his staff why the brochures on the table still imply that he graduated from a school that he in fact, did not graduate from.
The nice lady at the table stammered for a bit, suggested that he had graduated from there (which I refuted) and she suddenly had another answer. She told me that the truth was that he had started to go to school at the University of California (didn’t know which campus which is still curious as previously noted) and that his mother had died while attending and therefore he had returned home.
While this is unfortunate if true, I told her “But you imply in the bio that he graduated from there so this doesn’t make sense. In addition, if this is the truth, then why don’t you just say that to the press and to the many people who are concerned about his honesty and integrity and settle it once and for all. All it takes is one statement that says ‘I went to the College of the Desert and took some courses at the University of California but had to leave because my mother died’ and it becomes a non-issue. Allowing confusion over his education credentials to grow this way, if this is in fact a true story, creates a vacuum of information which is likely to be filled by speculation that will likely not go in his favor.”
She said “You should have been been his campaign manager” to which someone standing nearby, listening to the conversation, said “To hell with that – he should have been Harry’s campaign manager.”
Here’s another idea. If a candidate is discovered to have some “ambiguity” in how their education credentials are presented but the issue is admitted and corrected as soon as it becomes known, the candidate can actually leverage the correction as “Look at how honest and forthright I am”. Some strategy people I know would take this one step further and leverage the death of the parent to tug at the heartstrings of the voters (this is a morally questionable strategy but happily used by some). Unfortunately, this strategic opportunity was passed over by the candidate.
If there is concern about how a “lack of education” would be perceived, I couldn’t care less. I have worked for Bill Gates, Larry Ellison and others and they didn’t have degrees when starting / growing their companies. Formal education is fine but it is a human being’s inherent wisdom, knowledge, business savvy, communication skills, listening skills, collaboration abilities, life skills and other things that matter.
I have no idea if her story is even true, especially the way it was told to me after I refuted the first story she told me. It may be a sad, true story or it may be a fabrication. For the many universities that I have taken the occasional class from, I do not claim to have “attended” the institution because it would likely create some confusion as to my education credentials. For those classes, I note them as “class x completed from institution y” so as to not imply that I obtained degrees from those institutions. If Mr. Houston had intended to attend full time and didn’t convocate, there is nothing wrong with merely stating that.
During the debate tonight, Mr. Houston claimed to be a “relationship builder”. He and his campaign team have a long ways to go to better manage public expectation using effective communication. I and others asked him and the Party several times for clarity and they never even bothered to answer (something that would have taken a minute or less).
As I noted before, we can define our reputation or allow others to define it for us.
The nice lady at the table said that he chose not to address these concerns because he felt that he didn’t need to.
When one makes this choice, one has chosen to allow others to define who they are, a move that is not very astute or strategic in the political world, sending the wrong message to potential voters while simultaneously projecting an air of arrogance or incompetence.
Bottom Line - Control the Message
Maybe if people like myself and others keep giving these guys free consulting advice, that they will finally use it, otherwise they can continue to produce the result they are producing.
Addendum 3 – The Mutability of Human Values – August 26, 2015
I was told by PC Party execs and some MLAs that the resume embellishment is known but that it is important that the candidate stay in the race anyway without a public correction since officially addressing the issue may damage his chances.
This suggests to me that the human value of honesty is mutable and wavering within these individuals, being something that can be paraded around when convenient / useful but can be modified or ignored when required.
What does this say about politicians and political parties?
What does this say about us if we accept it?
Does it remove our right to complain when individuals let us down later, when we suddenly learn all over again that their values and ours aren’t in alignment?
Why do we care more when the politician lets us down after being elected instead of caring more about the details of the people before we elect them?
Politicians rely on the apathy, indifference and ignorance of the electorate.
What does this say about them?
What does this say about us?
Addendum 4 – Questioning the Strategy – August 28, 2015
Watching the lackluster performance of Mr. Houston in several debates and recognizing that he is a perpetual candidate who has ran for various seats over the years without winning any of them, I wonder why the PC Party chose him over a “ringer”, especially if the riding is as important to the Party as they claim.
Is this a strategic failure on the part of someone within the PC Party or did they believe or fear they were going to lose despite their desire for a win, thus not wanting to sacrifice a more important player?
Only a select few know.