Moral leadership

  • October 23, 2008
{mosimage}It’s probable that a majority of Canadians felt deflated by the Oct. 14 election. Nobody really won, even though the Conservatives emerged with a slightly larger minority. Instead, we lacked real leadership — the kind that people truly want to follow instead of just tolerate.

The resignation of Liberal Leader Stephane Dion reminds us of what real leadership requires, mainly because his own deficiencies revealed the missing ingredients. It’s true that Dion showed intelligence, integrity, boldness and creativity (in his poorly understood GreenShift). And by stepping down, he displayed a rare selflessness. But he failed at an essential task of leadership: getting others to follow.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper failed, to a lesser degree, in this same task. Too many Canadians saw his early election call as mere opportunism. Reaping only 36.7 per cent of the popular vote, he didn’t convince a majority of Canadian voters that he was the right man for the job. Roughly two-thirds of Canadians marked their ballot for other, left-of-centre parties.

The other party leaders — Gilles Duceppe for the Bloc Quebecois, Elizabeth May for the Greens and Jack Layton for the NDP — struggled gamely but none of them really touched the imaginations of Canadians.

Rather, all the party leaders appeared to be technically competent (perhaps) managers. They seemed to be decent folks with a raft of ideas on how to manage government better, but little more. So most Canadians opted to vote against a party leader rather than for.

It’s no secret that many Canadians are far more engrossed in the drama of the U.S. election. And there is real drama south of the 49th parallel. The two presidential candidates — Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain — offer clear alternatives. In three widely watched television debates, they had many chances to explain their policies and why voters should choose them. Yes, they indulged in the usual red herrings and insults that are part and parcel of politics. But there was more than enough opportunity for viewers to get a clear understanding of what these two men want to do for the country.

And this is more than just a matter of different types of TV debates (though that could be an entire editorial in itself). In the U.S. campaign, Obama makes his case in moral terms. So, too, does McCain, though with less success, not having his Democrat rival’s eloquence. Obama calls on Americans to be more than self-interested voters; he urges them to unite to build something larger than themselves. We might disagree on his different positions (especially his pro-choice stance), but there is no arguing that he appeals to the fundamental optimism, generosity and compassion of Americans.

Canadians can be just as caring and willing to work together to build a better society for all. But so far, we have no politicians who inspire us to be far more than we have been. We long for just such a leader.

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