Is there a Disconnect Between Our Grass-roots and Grass-tops?

While I’m typically much more interested in grass-roots leadership, the federal budget temporarily shifted my attention to the grass-tops. And, despite my aversion to politics, I have to tell you that I’m not surprised it was defeated as it missed a lot of what I’m seeing as the priorities of the average citizen. As such, it seems to reflect a major disconnect between the grass-roots and the grass-tops of Canada. 

As a result of having delivering some 25 workshops across the country on the topic of community building, I’m hearing that a growing number of Canadians believe government priorities, policies, and funding formulas are not reflecting their circumstances. Additionally, they believe far too many decisions are being made exclusively on the basis of dollars rather than having economics balanced against our overall quality of life. This in turn is contributing to a growing erosion of trust in authority. They’ve also pointed out that it may be in part because our elected leaders don’t reflect the diversity of Canadians.

Of course, my knowledge doesn’t come from sophisticated polls, focus groups, or studies, so feel free to take it with a grain of salt. Regardless, if I were a politician, I’d be working very hard to craft budgets that reflect a balance between the five fundamental priorities and values conveyed by the Canadians I’ve met. These priorities include (1) health care, (2) education, (3) economic growth (4) community infrastructure, and (5) our overall quality of life and preservation of the environment.

While within each of these five priorities, the specific strategies and dollars allocated may shift from year to year, they should be viewed as the pillars that will keep Canada strong, healthy, and vibrant. And, while I get that some of these priorities cross federal, provincial, regional, and local political jurisdictions, the average Canadian simply wants them to be addressed.

Under the first priority of health care, citizens in our workshops were worried about aging populations and their care, as well as physician recruitment. Additionally, they were far more concerned about keeping a focus on wellness by getting people physically active and helping them making healthy food choices. They recognize that those are the strategies that will reduce long term health issues, chronic disease, and ultimately escalating health care costs. Concerns were also raised about addictions and the challenges many social-profit organizations are facing in terms of being able to deal with them as their organizational capacity is often at risk.

Canadians also understand that an emphasis on education – not only for children and youth but also within the workplace - needs to be seen as a core investment in our future. They reflected concerns about literacy, a lack of school funds for electives, school closings or opportunities for empty schools, and after school care. Many recognized the importance of investing in education in aboriginal communities as they know they are the fastest growing segment of our population. 

The Canadians I met wouldn’t consider a good investment in economic growth being one focused on fighter jets. Instead their priority is downtown revitalization and diversified, locally driven business development.

There are concerns about community infrastructure, particularly aging recreation facilities, and transportation (within, and to, other communities).  Knowing that communities need to be appealing in order to attract the knowledge workers who can work anywhere and thus have the flexibility to choose where they live, community greening, walking trails, beautification, and community gardens surfaced as priorities. There were concerns about attainable housing options as well as recognition of the importance of creating other or third meeting places where citizens can connect. Adequate day care was also identified as a need.

When it came to overall quality of life and preservation of the environment, there were many concerns. One of the most pressing is the decline in volunteerism that is an essential part of each community’s social infrastructure. Funding is needed to ensure the recruitment, placement, supervision, motivation, and recognition of the volunteers who contribute so much to our quality of life.
Youth also surfaced as one of the top most pressing concerns. Youth moving out of smaller, rural communities (outmigration) and the need for youth-friendly communities and more arts-related activities were priorities in every community. Citizens want to see the coordination of environmental initiatives and an increase in initiatives and alternative powers. Fostering diversity-friendly communities, ensuring immigrant settlement services, and increasing awareness of the various populations were issues. Within every community, the key role of the social-profit sector was recognized but concerns were expressed regarding their capacity to respond to needs given the declining support being provided to charities and non-profits.

Perhaps it’s not all that complicated. It seems we’re all seeking leaders who will make sure these priorities are addressed in a collaborative and responsible way. In fact, a perceived lack of leadership is a key concern of Canadians. They’ve had enough with sandbox antics and petty competitiveness among political parties. As they’ve often pointed out in our workshops, the same networking, partnering, and collaboration that is required for innovation and increased effectiveness and responsiveness at the community level must also be modeled by politicians and bureaucrats at all levels.

Posted on 03-27-11


Hi Brenda,

Good blog.  Just wanted to say that the one thing you do not have quite right is about the balance between economics and quality of life.  An economic argument for actions incorporates long-term evaluation of the overall benefit to society. Too often we get caught up in what I call an “Accounting paradigm”. This is where dollars into one program results in clearly identifiable dollars somewhere else.  So, if you fund research, you should be able to get a 5x return on that investment in, generally, a short time period.  Often the benefits from research are quite diffuse and go to a lot of people and are hard to quantify.

•Posted by Paul Watson  on  03/28/11  at  07:42 PM


You know, I think you hit it on the head, Brenda.  It just comes down to simple quality of life and connection to the people in our communities.  When our communities are given the right resources (whether it be money, people, or information-based), they are given the opportunity to thrive.

•Posted by Janet Naclia  on  03/29/11  at  11:22 AM

Add your Comment here:






Remember my personal information

Notify me of follow-up comments?

Submit the word you see below:

Next entry: Be a Gumby

Previous entry: What if?