Political Leadership
Jan 15, 2014

In a democracy, the highest offices of political leadership are expected to be something of a good example, and to act in the best interests of the people to whom they are responsible and accountable. Political leaders should be seen to be of good character, honest and ethically sound. Alas, all this sounds a bit naïve these days. Various political leaders in Canada have behaved so badly this past year one wonders whether more than just the Senate needs a reformation or abolition. It seems that the whole notion of political party membership being the only way to power at the federal level might need a determined re-think. Partisan party members are the only ones who get to elect a party leader who might well be inflicted on the rest of us and historically political parties do not have a great track record in selecting good leaders. Those who appeal to a jaded party rank and file have usually not had the goods to effectively lead a maturing, modern Canada. As organized and run now, political parties might be seen as the incubator of bad ethics, dishonest behaviour and misguided leadership that becomes manifest once in power.

Personal performances of some of Canada’s political leaders occasionally fall below common standards of professionalism, and those at fault might benefit from some remedial training. The CAF has what is probably the most advanced leadership doctrine in all of government. It should be required reading for cabinet ministers, senators and members of parliament.

What is an aspiring corporate executive or young military officer, who is rated on his or her effectiveness, honesty, integrity and sense of responsibility to think when they see the Prime Minister evading responsibility for the actions of his personal staff and failing to recognize or remedy mistakes?

Instances of bad leadership should not be exemplified by our elected representatives. For instance, take Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino’s performance in late January 2014, when he insulted a group of veterans with crass and flippant behaviour, so un-ministerial that one veteran later asked “What the frig is wrong with that guy?” The old soldier could very well have asked the same about the entire government.

A degree of ham-handedness has been seen in the realm of international affairs too, not only from Foreign Minister John Baird, but from Prime Minister Harper himself. Poking a stick in the eye of President Obama to get a quick and favourable approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, if not dumb, is certainly un-statesmanlike. As well, consider the arrogant and obstinate undertone of the government’s policy that it will not “go along to get along.” Is this really all that smart? Why would Canada not go along to get along if it were in our national interest?

And what is this whole ‘hooray for Israel’ thing? Where did that come from? This is not a policy based on principle; it is a stand taken on a Conservative viewpoint. Virtually all Canadians are onside with the notion that Israel, like any other state, has a right to exist and defend itself. Most Canadians also agree that there has been too much unbalanced ‘Israel-bashing’ in the international arena and oppose renewed anti-Semitism bubbling up in some regions. What most Canadians do not understand is how all those reasonable concerns have evolved into bombastic, but ultimately empty hyperbole that claims Canada will stand by Israel “through fire and water”. What does that mean, anyway? We know that Canada-Israel military contacts have increased in recent years, but is Prime Minister Harper’s new-found infatuation with President Benjamin Netanyahu leading us down a path that would see Canada provide material (i.e. military) support in future Middle-East wars? This all seems nothing more than a personal, perhaps dangerous, ego trip run amok.

Domestically, the Harper government has alienated large segments of Canadian society – the Public Service (unexplained cuts), Foreign Service Officers (inadequate pay), government scientists (cuts and ­muzzles), letter carriers (cuts to delivery), librarians (closing departmental libraries), elements of the judiciary (telling them how to do their job), almost all First Nations groups (where do we start?) and most provincial governments (when will it end?). Did I mention veterans? In all this, one thing is clear; when you don’t like people, they don’t like you back.

It is troubling to think so much of what seems to be wrong with the character of the current government may be coming from the Prime Minister himself. A clutch of his personal Senate appointees (Brazeau, Duffy and Wallin) apparently operated in an ‘ethics-free zone.’ And we should not forget that Mr. Harper is also the leader of a party that has been called on the carpet for questionable funding of campaign advertising and was involved in the duplicitous ‘robo-calls’ affair.

Bad behaviour remains close to the PM. Jason MacDonald, the chief spokesman for Mr. Harper, recently insulted a major Canadian Muslim group by publicly claiming they were associated with al Qaeda. The National Council of Canadian Muslims has since issued a libel notice and demanded an apology. Mr. Macdonald’s ill-advised public allegation is yet more proof that the Prime Minister’s Office remains a petri dish of nasty partisan viruses.
It seems there is a persistently belligerent streak in the government’s DNA, one that makes it prone to bullying, resistant to science and evidence, deaf to constructive criticism, unaware of ethical lapses, and driven by an inferiority complex bordering on paranoia. They apparently do not like anyone but themselves.

So, in all this, we can see that Minister Fantino’s haughtiness, in the company of the veterans he supposedly serves, is disturbingly consistent with the generally unfriendly behaviour of the Harper government. Our political leaders seem to have a perpetual chip on their shoulder and have lost the ability to relate to ordinary Canadians. Given the extent to which they have aggravated great swaths of domestic society, does the Harper government see ordinary Canadians as an obstacle on the road to a grand era of Conservative enlightenment? They seem ignorant of accepted leadership doctrine. Like the old soldier wondered, what is wrong with these guys?

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Hudson on The Hill
© FrontLine 2014

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