Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Last Word...

A missive for the last Wednesday of the month.

A friend sent me a cartoon today. In it, a little boy tells his dad he’s considering a career in organized crime, to which his father promptly replies, “Government or private sector?”

While jokes may abound, there is no doubt that Americans are unhappy with the state of their union. In fact, according to a recent Rasmussen Report, only 29 percent of U.S. voters think the country is headed in the right direction while 65 percent think we’re going down the wrong path.

Fifty-nine percent of U.S. voters believe that cutting taxes would be better than increasing government spending in order to create jobs; however, 72 percent believe the government will go ahead and increase spending anyway...a kind of disconnect between the will of the people and the actions of their representatives that has spawned grassroots protests across the country.

Although everyone has their own opinion about why they think the U.S. is going to the dogs, most people seem to instinctively understand one thing: Our leaders in Washington D.C. are simply not behaving in a sustainable manner.

The word sustainable has many meanings. Traditionally, a sustainable business has been one which could maintain healthy profits over time. More recently, the “green” definition of sustainable has included environmental stewardship and social responsibility as well as economic profitability—a “triple bottom line.”

Executive Order 13423, signed 3 years ago, gives a more legalese definition: “Sustainable” means to create and maintain conditions, under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations of Americans…

By any definition, it would be difficult to argue that our government has done anything to maintain a healthy economy for present or future generations of Americans. As we face an incomprehensible $1.35T deficit for this year, the idea proposing a 3 year freeze on domestic agency budgets seems analogous to closing the barn door after all the horses have run free.

In fact, the news seems so bleak, that it’s difficult to see any hope at all. Forget about political parties for a moment, is there someone…anyone...out there who can lead our country???

Last year, I heard about the mayor of the 6th largest city in Canada, Hazel McCallion, who may have potential. Though not without her faults or detractors, “Hurricane Hazel” is most definitely a force to be reckoned with. The 88-year-old has been the mayor of Mississauga for over 30 years and won the City Prosperity Award in 2009.

Under Hazel’s leadership, the city of 700,000 (6.5 million in the metro area) has created a “fiscally sound government” with no debt and a $600M reserve. Not surprising, she has won 11 elections, the most recent with 92 percent of the vote.

In addition to creating the capacity to generate wealth, the city of Mississauga has also embraced environmental sustainability and has initiated a Healthy City Stewardship Centre to “better the health of the people of Mississauga.”

And while it is doubtful that Mayor McCallion would be willing to relocate to the states, perhaps we might take a moment and consider what she has done right. As she put it, “Our goal in Mississauga is to ensure that residents and businesses prosper as the City becomes a global centre where creativity and innovation thrive and people of all walks of life are welcome." Now that’s sustainable.

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