Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Reflections on Political Leadership

Inveterate cynic that I am, I have long believed that most politicians see us, to borrow a phrase that I think originated in The Depression, as 'easy marks,' people who are especially susceptible to manipulation and victimization. The fact is that as a species we are a mass of contradictions, at times incredibly weak and at times surprisingly noble; and it is a rare politician indeed who chooses the path less traveled by appealing to our better natures through logic, respect, and conviction instead of rhetoric that plays on our fears, prejudices and attraction to easy 'solutions'.

So it seems only fitting to use two quite disparate politicians to illustrate my thesis, and although both are from the Ontario political landscape, I believe what they represent has widespread application.

Let's start with Rob Ford, mayor of Canada's erstwhile world-class city, Toronto. While his buffoonish antics are well-known, why does he continue to be very popular with a significant proportion of Toronto's citizens? Clearly, his message of low taxes, the elimination of gravy trains and his simplistic and disingenuous promise of ending gridlock painlessly (casinos, casinos, casinos!) resonate with a substantial segment of the populace, no matter how absurd his 'vision' may be or how socially expensive it would be to implement. Indeed, Ford poses as 'everyman,' understanding the travails of the average person - he 'feels their pain.'

I think it is clear which side of human nature Rob Ford is appealing to.

Then we move on to another neophyte leader, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. Here is a lady I find myself liking and respecting more and more each day, and for one reason only: she is treating us like adults, not talking down to us, not talking to distract us, but talking to make us think, and in the process, appealing to our nobler instincts.

Despite the fact that an election is likely sooner rather than later, Wynne has taken the bold step of initiating a frank (and hopefully mature) discussion on how to pay for the infrastructure needed to deal definitively with the perennial problem of gridlock in the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area. Her message is refreshingly frank: There are no free rides in improved transit. Billions in revenue are needed, and there is only a limited array of funding options.

No sugarcoating for the sake of political expedience. No promises of a painless panacea for gridlock. No shirking the responsibilities of real leadership.

A risky approach to take, as noted by Martin Regg Cohn in today's Star, one fraught with all manner of pitfalls thanks to a political opposition all too willing to continue offering platitudes rather solutions, rhetoric rather than substance.

I may very well not ultimately agree with the funding measures the Wynne government decides upon. But at least I will feel that I have been respected, I have been listened to earnestly, and probably most important of all, not been lied to.

In 'the corrupted currents' of this political world, that is as much optimism as an inveterate cynic can muster


  1. Wynne took over in the most tenuous of circumstances, Lorne. But, so far, she has been impressive.

    Ford, however, has never impressed me.

  2. Ditto for me, Owen. It is interesting, isn't it, to see the two styles/approaches being practised in such close proximity?