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Popularity not a guarantee for good leadership

There must be worse things than finding yourself stuck in an elevator with a politician, especially during an election campaign. It’s just difficult to imagine what they could possibly be.
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There must be worse things than finding yourself stuck in an elevator with a politician, especially during an election campaign. It’s just difficult to imagine what they could possibly be.

Still, some members of this particularly annoying subset of humans would be preferable to others in being thus confined, though in a perverse way the less arduous such an enforced close encounter might seem the more potential danger those particular politicians hold.

Simply put, we should never confuse personal popularity with competence. In fact so often the inverse holds true – people we don’t particularly like end up being proven the best leaders.

So it isn’t too surprising that despite the current horror show of massively increased debt, lingering unemployment and enduring economic frustration, our premier remains quite popular among ordinary Albertans. Rachel Notley certainly ranks way higher in polling than her NDP party, as the next election looms increasingly closer.

That’s because she seems a genuinely decent person and despite the mishmash of policies and daft decisions made during her tenure as Alberta’s 17th premier, most regular folk judge her as honest and caring. That’s all fine and dandy as long as we collectively don’t then make the mistake of voting her back into power, because she has been a disaster for Alberta.

Then there’s the fellow who wants her job; United Conservative Party head honcho Jason Kenney. In many ways he’s the mirror opposite of Notley.

In his previous federal career, Kenney proved he could tackle the most potentially arduous portfolios and make a decent go of them.

His work trying to break the age-old lock that the federal Grits have had on recent immigrants when it came to federal votes was remarkable, endlessly criss-crossing the country to promote conservative values on recent, newly minted Canadians of all races and faiths. The curry-in-a-hurry minister he was eventually dubbed.

But let’s face it, much like his buddy Stephen Harper, he doesn’t have that type of personality and presence which appeals to the voter who appreciates style over substance, who casts his or her vote based on simplistic sound bites and a winning smile.

That is a good thing. When we lazily admire politicians because they seem so gee-whiz nice then the more likely it is we allow them to lead us down that proverbial garden path. But the more leery we are of them the better chance we’ll keep their feet to the fire when it comes to actual results.

What clearer example of this than our current disaster of a prime minister, Justin Trudeau.

His arrival at the political winners’ table four years ago was greeted with gushing adoration from many Canadians, who, after a decade of dour competency from Harper, wanted some sugar on their political gruel.

The same was true of the world at large. Suddenly we basked in the glory of having the planet’s most popular politician, complete with great hair, an earnest countenance and snazzy socks. Our southern cousins even wanted to know why he couldn’t be their president.

Strange, then, that Canada under Trudeau The Second has actually managed at various times to antagonize the regimes of the three most populous counties in the world – China, India and the United States – as well as engaging in a running feud with Saudi Arabia. The stardust has well and truly vanished.

Even Notley herself fell for that boyish Trudeau magic: for a while at least. Now she just wishes she had never followed him into that metaphorical elevator years ago, complete with heady pipeline promises and imposed carbon taxes. Today, she just wants to get out. And in a few months she will.

Chris Nelson is a long-time journalist. His columns on Alberta politics run monthly in the St. Albert Gazette.