Much of the current election narrative has been stripped down to a conflict between Boomers and Millenniums on housing affordability and neighbourhood density. Lost in the generalized simplicity is the role of Generation Xers – the missing generation. As the Boomers depart, it’s argued, the Millenniums will arrive to fill their vacant council chairs, jumping over the Xers in between.
Well, the Boomers are departing (half the mayors in the region, for instance) – but it may be the best time ever for those Xers with some experience or an ambition to run for office, especially those with a lot of contacts and good relations among the diversity of communities in Metro. The in-between generation will be especially needed, given the importance of continuity and institutional memory required for good governance.
To find out more, I talked to two Gen Xers: Patrick Johnstone (running again for councillor in New Westminster on Team Coté) and Tanya Paz (running first time for council as a Vision Vancouver candidate). First up: Patrick.
Patrick Johnstone, 48, is a self-described citizen and rabble-rouser. That may be true rhetorically but it’s not his working style. When asked what he is proudest of, he replies: “I’m a collaborator” – possibly the ideal role for a generation which really has no choice but to work with the generations on either side.
He spends a disproportionate amount of time explaining things: how council works, the rationales for his votes, the complexity of issues, using plain language, especially for the increasing number of constituents whose first language is not English. You can see how he does it on his blog ‘Ask Pat‘ – a compendium of explanations on the decisions he takes in council. There’s probably no comparison in Metro, given the time it requires to maintain. Why do it? “My goal is not to change minds so much as to be transparent.” Patrick is very big on transparency.
Shouldn’t it really be city staff doing something like this blog? In fact, it’s too dangerous and difficult for public servants to simplify complexity or take positions; that’s a politician’s job. Johnstone is one of the few to actually make the effort – stripping a thousand-page agenda into a blog report accessible to citizens with an unabashed political context.
Experienced incumbents will be needed for another purpose: regional perspective and negotiation. After a term or so devoted to local issues in their municipalities, those with Metro background are going to be critical in the next four years, especially to offset those who find it expeditious to dump on the jurisdiction they only remotely understand. Johnstone, having served as second vice-president on the Lower Mainland Local Government Association, grasps that issues like transportation have already spilled beyond Metro’s borders.
Gen X leaders will be mentors to newly elected Millennials, providing continuity and memory, using the tools of social media, caring less about parties and more about personalities that connect government to those who need a face, not an ideology, before they will get involved.
Faces like Johnstone’s will be a little older than generationally anticipated but younger than the traditional leaders now stepping aside.