I am a political junkie. I think I showed great restraint in the amount of posts I devoted to politics during the Canadian federal election. If you don’t care for politics, especially Canadian politics, you may not agree.
In the election aftermath there are a few themes I want to address that seemed better dealt with after the votes were counted. Former Prime Minister Kim Campbell said an election was no time for serious discussion of the issues (I’m paraphrasing) and she was ridiculed for that, even though she was right. So over the next few days we’ll look at some issues (such as legalizing marijuana, refugees and social integration) in a less partisan environment. Even if you don’t care for politics and policy I think I can promise it won’t be boring and will contain some universal truths. Of course, I am a politician of sorts, so maybe I’m lying to you.
Today we look at leadership. There’s so much I want to say, but I will limit myself to a few comments.
I started this blog on a whim, and after my initial, political, offering didn’t bother posting for three years. That beginning came to mind as the results rolled in Monday. In 2011 I had said the recently deceased Jack Layton, leader of the New Democratic Party, was Superman.
Layton’s successor, Thomas Mulcair ran a strong and principled campaign in 2015. At the outset it looked like he was on track to become our next Prime Minister. On election night though he led his party to a devastating loss, dropping more than sixty per cent of their seats. This year’s results are the party’s second best showing, ever, but that isn’t good enough. Turns out Thomas Mulcair is no Jack Layton. Voters judged his leadership abilities and found him wanting.
So too they judged Stephen Harper, the Conservative leader, who failed in his attempt to lead his party to a fourth straight election victory. His campaign was not great, and it became increasingly obvious that Canadians were tired of him, or maybe the people around him. Negative advertising may work for a while, but it seemed some of the best known people in Harper’s party came across as unlikeable. (I should mention I have met Stephen Harper on several occasions and always found him to be much more fun to talk with than media reports would indicate. As two introverts, maybe like calls to like.)
It is tough to be a leader. It is even tougher to know when your time is up, when to pass the mantle to the next person. Canadian political history is rife with examples of people who overstayed their welcome and hurt their party in the process. Brian Mulroney and Pierre Trudeau are recent examples that come to mind. The electorate punished their parties for their leaders’ sins the first chance they got, though Mulroney and Trudeau were no longer running by that point. Both parties recovered over time.
I had not expected Stephen Harper to contest this election. When he formed a majority government, in 2011, my assumption was that he would retire in 2013 and give the country a couple of years to see what his successor could do, before he or she had to face the electorate. Conservatives in Canada have always been weak when it comes to leadership succession. I figured Harper was smart enough to fix that.
Then the Liberals chose Justin Trudeau, Pierre’s son, as their leader. I said at the time that might be too much of a temptation for Harper to resist. He had defeated three Liberal leaders already; he had nothing to prove. However, he was a western Canadian, and to many westerners the name Trudeau is anathema. No westerner of his generation could resist the opportunity to kick a Trudeau’s butt.
The butt kicking didn’t happen and Stephen Harper’s successor as Prime Minister is named Trudeau. After almost 10 years of a Conservative government, people were ready for change.
Maybe leadership doesn’t really matter. Maybe Stephen Harper’s time was simply up. And voters realized Thomas Mulcair is no Jack Layton. Justin Trudeau reaped the rewards of both those facts. I think it is more likely though that the party leaders set the tone for the campaigns. Their candidates reflected those attitudes and Canadians made their choice on election night.
Leadership does matter – but to be effective it has to be consistent.