Leadership

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This election comes down to two things: leadership and the economy. I’ll talk about the latter tomorrow but first let’s consider what we mean by leadership.

There are many people who want to be told that everything is under control, that a firm hand is at the tiller, that the leader will guide us through safely. There is a certain comfort to that, the comfort a small child feels when he is being carried up to bed, the relief that those who are lost and despairing have when a strong arm supports them toward safety. But is that what we really want in a Prime Minister – someone to be a comforting parent? Someone who makes us feel safe?

If we look back in time, what kinds of leaders have we had and how did they lead us? Perhaps the greatest was Mackenzie King, he certainly led us the longest and he got us through World War II without destroying the country. That was a real possibility. The issue of conscription was the first great wedge that threatened to divide Canadians. And it wasn’t simply an English-French issue; there were many outside of Quebec who didn’t support the war. King got us through, not with bombast and force, not with divisive language but through compromise, through doing exactly as much in all areas of life as Canadians as a whole were willing to support. His leadership was that of collaborator – he had many very strong Ministers—and conciliation. He managed the war, while at home he brought in – under pressure from the CCF – the first universal social programs, including the Old Age Pension.

Robert Borden was another War leader. He was more in the mold of the traditional statesman – he even had a beard. He spoke in grave tones and made considerable demands on both Canadians and on his counterparts in the Empire. But he also brought people together – forming a grand coalition during the first war. And he was a man of great compassion who visited wounded soldiers and wept by their bedsides – something that was kept from the public because they weren’t ready in 1917 for a Prime minister who could weep.

The worst of our Prime Ministers were a different sort altogether. R. B. Bennet was an iconoclast who spent his entire time as PM living in the Chateau Laurier. He believed he knew best and would insist on conformity to his views. He didn’t last long. Louis St. Laurent ruled during the 50s and seemed intent on making the country go to sleep; maybe it was a rest cure after the war but it was not the leadership we needed.

To me, leadership is not about command and control, it is about collaboration, cooperation, about leading from the middle of the pack rather than from the front or from behind. It is about inspiration.

I don’t view Harper as a strong leader, merely as a blustering authoritarian who tries to terrify his followers; Mulcair confuses me – he sometimes comes across as a Harper of the left, at others, as a genuine person who wants to take us to a better world. Trudeau, perhaps, comes closer to my vision of leadership than the others. More of a team builder, though he has shown flashes of steel, too. But we’ll see what kind of leader Canadians want. It’s up to you: vote.

And that’s ten minutes.

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