Ken Hardie joined IAP2 in 2001, about 10 years before IAP2 Canada was formed. He has a unique distinction: a life member who’s a non-practitioner. After a career in radio, he went into communications and media relations, with lengthy stops at the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) and the South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority (TransLink).
Then, having “retired”, he was elected to Parliament in 2015 as the Liberal Member for Fleetwood-Port Kells in Surrey BC.
What attracted you to IAP2 in the first place?
I was looking for new tools for the toolbox. When I was at ICBC, we had a policy decision coming up that affected a lot of people, but a survey had just been released that showed we had a very poor public image. So I set about rebuilding the public trust, going to all the communities and meeting with people.
When I looked into IAP2, what I saw was interesting and I saw that there would be practitioners available to do this job, so I made the strategic decision to get someone in from IAP2 who knew what they were doing.
At TransLink, there were two projects that come to mind. One was the early work on the Evergreen Line (a mass transit system linking the Northeast Sector of Metro Vancouver with the rest of the transit network). This used more of the “officially sanctioned” P2 tools, like charrettes and open houses to consult with the community on the technology.
The technology came down to a choice between at-grade LRT or grade-separated LRT – SkyTrain. Through the public engagement process, which included “origin-destination” research, it was determined that at-grade would do a good job of meeting the community’s needs. The streetscape design and station locations all emerged from that process.
Was the community surprised at being consulted?
People warmed up to the process: if someone had walked in halfway through the process, they would have been intimidated at the length and breadth of the activities underway. We took everyone through iterative steps and people organically came to understand what was going on. The results and the output started to flow as things progressed.
My role was mainly in media relations, keeping tabs on what was going on and I left it to the public consultation team – the people who knew what they were doing.
What have you learned about P2?
The real key is to make the public engagement genuine. We see examples where it’s not done very well, where organizations think that it’s only about putting up art boards and telling people what they’re going to do. But more and more, people are asking to be engaged. IAP2 folks have known for a long time that communities have been looking for a genuine seat at the table.
The most notable right now is the First Nations. They’ve been treated as colonials for 150 years, and now they’re seeing a process where they can see what the issues are, co-own the solutions and co-enjoy the results; but it’s taken the Canadian government a long time to see that they’re not a colonial power and the First Nations are not colonials.
Have you had any “golden learning moments”?
There was a similar situation (to the one involving First Nations and P2) a few weeks ago when we held a townhall on autism. A young woman who had autism stood up and was highly critical of the process. The source of her displeasure was the same: there were very well-meaning people coming up with a process to help autistic people, but the autistic people weren’t being included in the discussions. This isn’t to say that the people trying to come up with solutions weren’t earnest and didn’t have their best interests at heart … but the autistic people wanted to be part of the conversation.
There was an episode in my early days at ICBC and then at TransLink where the power of genuine communication and genuine engagement paid off. I mentioned that ICBC’s approval ratings were poor, right when we had a major policy decision to make. I went around the province, meeting with people in their communities, then playing back “what we heard”. I focused on Chambers of Commerce, too, which helped build the reputation among their members.
At the end, public confidence had moved to an “acceptable/high” level and we had a very good chance of getting approval for those policy decisions.
The decision was photo radar, as a means of keeping auto insurance rates under control.
At TransLink, there was a long and bitter bus drivers’ strike in 2001, and afterwards, we were voted as having the worst reputation of any public agency in BC. So we launched a public involvement campaign that included “Front Room Forums”. We’d have citizens host a “forum” in their home. We’d buy the pizza and people would hash out the transit issues.
It was a very overt way of signalling that we were prepared to employ methods that were effective in getting people engaged in the discussion. We found that the same kind of stresses and forces that we as an organization had to deal with were at play in the neighbourhoods. The people were not all on the same page, so having forums like those helped people understand the challenges involved in coming to public policy decisions. A year later, TransLink got the tax increase it needed, enabling it to expand services.
Having been around Ottawa for a few years now and making some valuable mistakes along the way, I know that we have to ensure that the communication we’re involved with is indeed genuine. You know that, as a politician on the government side, you have to make decisions; some will like it and some won’t.
You have to mind your tone with the ones who don’t like it and not make anybody “wrong”. If you can start with something that gets both sides nodding in agreement, you have something to work with and build on. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll win them over, but you build a connection that allows for further dialogue. And that’s the key: a two-way flow that can be candid, so that at the end of the day, although the person may not vote for you, they can say, “I can talk to this guy”.
I’ve been involved with radio and much of that job is to put yourself in the shoes of the person on the other side of the microphone and add something that’s useful or stimulating. Back in the old days, we found a way to do that without being nasty or contrary: we wanted to be ‘that nice guy on the radio”, and if you look at the world through their eyes you build that critical element in a relationship, which is affinity. Once you have built affinity with somebody, you have trust and you can have difficult conversations and come out the other end with something maybe that’s brand new, synthesized from your combined thoughts and ideas.
As it was then on the air, so it is today on social media and your constituents’ doorsteps.