Monday, May 07, 2012

Canada's "My Way" Leadership

What is remarkable about much of leadership in power today is it's all about "my way," not about uh, you know, leading. Former Pierre Elliot Trudeau's "Just watch me" was either a leader inspirationally leading the charge or a potentate having it "my way," depending on one's point of view or partisanship.

What Trudeau began and begat, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has perfected into multi-hundred pages omnibus bills, scientists who speak only when told to and pretty much not at all, cabinet ministers who are puppets or at best independent but not rivalling the best of cabinet ministers from the past, a PMO so vast, it runs a Parliament of barking seals, and a political moratorium against media covering political events and policies their way. (What is it with the right or conservatives and the media? Are the politicians that thin skinned? Are they that low in self-esteem they don't think they can advocate their own policy positions? Are they afraid of using social media to speak directly to electorate? Or are they so scared of the media, they think they hold all the power and think they must suppress them?) His leadership is seen as either finally-we're-getting-things-done or "my way" by much of the electorate, depending on partisanship. Yet more and more, voices are speaking up and saying, yes, that's all very well, but, uh, what about Parliament? What about taxation with representation? What about transparency and accountability? What about, you know, that hallmark of a democracy: informed debate?

It used to be that one cynically thought our democracy was all about dictatorships elected every five years. One had one's say through the vote, then left the running of the country up to the politicians, grumbling all the way about how Canada was going to hell in a handbasket and eventually morphing into grumbling that under First Past the Post, one's vote didn't count anyway so why bother. Sure, there were protests, but the Liberals saw themselves as the Natural Governing Party, and enough voters did so too in key ridings that they kept them in power for years, with former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney interrupting their run for about nine years. The Liberals felt entitled to power. And until they drop that attitude, they won't be ascending into majority territory any time soon.

But today the Conservative Party of Canada, like the Liberals before it, acts as if it has the right to have power -- instead of understanding it's a privilege -- and as if it will hold it for as long as it wants. It's like Toronto City Council in large-cosm. For seven years, the left held power at Council and acted as if it always would, riding roughshod over anyone who didn't agree with them. Now the right holds power, to the left's shock and dismay -- I mean who'd athunk that the opposing view would be voted into power! -- and has copied the left's ways, except that people voted the left out partly because of its high-handed-my-way ways and aren't too pleased with the right. Sensing that, the griping left teamed up with the centrists and took back power. Now the right is in a victim sulk. And we all get to see the worst of ourselves as the example to follow. This is leadership today.

Harper's omnibus ram-through-everything-at-once-sans-debate-cause-now-it's-our-turn-and-we're-in-a-rush-and-besides-it's-the-best-way-so-what-do-we-need-debate-for ways will ultimately lead to the Canadian electorate being as mad at him as the Toronto one was towards our last mayor, David Miller. And, right now, it is getting a whole bunch of groups riled up into ganging up on him and his minions. As Global's The West Block reminded us Sunday, back in 1982 when Trudeau tried a smaller omnibus bill, the opposition boycotted Parliament for three weeks and forced him to back down. On CBC Radio 1's The House, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair indicated that the NDP had ways up its sleeve to wrest control back from the Prime Minister, back into Parliament's hands.

The problem with a dearth of leadership is that "my way" types arise into power and then the opposition reacts strongly, and one gets constant bickering and boycotts and back room power plays and bribes (you scratch my back, I scratch yours). And then the electorate throws the bums out and votes in another set of bums because for years now, there has been no leader in Canada to inspire us, to persuade people to action, to build us up with joy. Well, except for Jack Layton. But he's dead.

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