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Helping Ontario Decide Which Events to Fund in the Bicentennial

"A camel is a horse designed by Committee" wittedly remarked Sir Alec Issigonis, the famous designer of the MINI automobile.   Those words have haunted committee work since they were first uttered, and many have suffered the truism of that statement on one occasion or another.  Even in military situations, lives were lost by trying to run a war by a directionless committee.   The solution to this, is to always develop clear "terms of engagement" or outcome measures for a committee.  To achieve these results you need a clear, tested, and transparent criteria to evaluate options that are put forward.

     A couple of years ago the Ministry of Tourism and Culture took on the unique task of commemorating the War of 1812 bicentennial in Ontario.   Since the ministry's job is to support tourism experiences that create a sustainable tourism industry, commemorating the significance of an historical event that effected many parts of the province seems daunting.  Not only are they tasked to bring tourists they also have to respect the memories of those who fought for Ontario.  Their solution was to break up the task into regional 1812 committees, who then are to identify events and activities the province is to support financially.

     However, what are the "terms of engagement"?  How do committee members decide what is important?  How does the ministry divide its finite resources?  Is it decided by representation by population with the biggest communities getting all the events?  Or is it the committee member with the biggest smile the winner?  It should be pointed out that there may indeed be a selection criteria that has not been communicated to the public at the time of writing this.  However last fiscal year, the Ministry simply divided the budget up and sent equal portions of money to the regional communities, which may be an indication of an unclear way of how to pick the Good from the Bad and the Ugly.  This article humbly offers a possible guideline on how to set priorities for distribution of Ministry's capital and effort.    

     So how do they prioritize? Happily there is a solution or at least a starting point.  The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada has identified everything that is nationally significant for the War of 1812 already by putting up a plaque about it.  So if the event or location is not nationally significant then it becomes a low funding priority.  However the immediate response would be: "There is still a lot of nationally significant places and events.  How do we triage the list further?"  Simple.  If any level of government has made it a priority to preserve and promote the national significance of the place/event by hiring staff or building a visitor experience, then it is obviously more nationally significant.

     How is this useful to the average Joe and Jane?  If you are a tourist or a re-enactor, attending the  commemoration of a nationally significant event of the War of 1812 should be your priority.   If it is not identified as nationally significant, then it is probably a dog-and-pony show (no offence intended to dogs and ponies).   As a taxpayer, you can use this selection criteria as a score card to assess the success of the Ministry's efforts.  There are some tweaks that could be made to this formula to protect it from "personal agenda" abuse, but the core is sound.  Also wasting energy "re-inventing the wheel" is avoided.

     Canadians have always "punched above their weight", in that we have always gotten more done with less resources than other nations.   The defence of Canada in 1812 is a shinning example of this.  The Battle for Vimy Ridge, WWII, Peacekeeping and our membership in the G7 are all evidence of the continuation of this national virtue.   Having a laser focus and firm discipline in setting funding priorities for events and activities in 2012-2014 is in its self a tribute to those who fought and died for us in the war.

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