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COLUMN: “You say you want a revolution …"

"Canada isn’t the U.S., but neither are we now a leadership powerhouse. But we can expect or elect better."
Jackson Roger
Columnist Roger Jackson

"... Well you know, we all want to change the world.” We are going through a global revolution. Partly pandemic-driven, we’re seeing nationalism and isolationism, international trade changes and disruptions, international balance of power shifts, societal balance of power challenges (antiestablishmentarianism, “rage against the machine”). Not for the first time in history either, or the last. Some of it will turn out to be good, such as a better balancing of societal power and a better awareness of public health. Some not so much, such as a weakened U.S. and more empowered China and Russia, social media predominance and manipulation, and the invasion of privacy (so Orwellian). But if revolution is repetitive and natural, why fear it?

Canadians are privileged, most of us anyway. We live in relative peace and prosperity, in comfortable surroundings, most of us anyway. However, the challenges facing us now, and the changes we’re experiencing, take us out of our comfort zone. Interconnected with and incorporated into our discomfort is the global recession we’re also experiencing.

When events in past collided like this, a significant source of comfort was in the presence of good leadership. Roosevelt and Churchill are two prominent examples of intelligent and effective leadership at a time when global depression/world war threatened citizens in their countries. They acted like benevolent dictators, using force of will, public money and services extensively to get things done expeditiously. We’re witnessing similar leadership behaviours and actions now in and across Canada, but it’s not the same, at least across the spectrum of regions and leaders. With Churchill and Roosevelt, citizens were comforted by their strength, determination, focus and apparent integrity. When they spoke, people listened, often in awe. Look up any compendium of great speeches or quotes and you’ll find these two leaders well-represented. Maybe radio and “fireside chats” had something to do with it; you had to listen, you couldn’t look (may be just as well as the boys weren’t pretty, but when you did see them you saw strength and honour). They made you believe you were going to beat the demons facing you and your country. By the way, Mackenzie King was an excellent depression and wartime leader, although not with quite the same commanding presence or oratory of the other two leaders.

Governing is not easy, certainly in a democracy. And the bigger the domain to be governed, the harder the work. Notwithstanding, in Canada provincial, municipal and, certainly, public health leadership has been better than national leadership. Not that the Trudeau government has done badly on pandemic leadership and service, unlike his economic and international leadership, but I feel more confident in the judgement and actions of the premiers, municipal leaders, chief medical officers of health and the deputy prime minister.

The leadership challenges of last year are compounded this year by the pandemic and increasing international and ethno-social divisions. If we're going to weather the storm of change ahead of us, we need clarity and unity of purpose, which good leadership must provide (“united we stand, divided we fall”). Canada isn’t the U.S., but neither are we now a leadership powerhouse. But we can expect or elect better.