15 October 2008

Goodbye Stéphane, We Hardly Knew Ye

Well, I have to admit, Stephen Harper was right about one thing: Stéphane Dion is not a leader. He could not rally Liberal support in yesterday's election, could not see his way to bring the vast Liberal political machinery into play. Consequently, he suffered the worst defeat of any Liberal leader in the country's history: the lowest plurality since Confederation, and a seat count even lower than that of John Turner's disastrous performance. With that, Mr. Dion joins the Kim Campbell Hall of Shame for implosion of a political party.

True leadership, particularly now in our massively interconnected world, must primarily be referent leadership. Legitimate leaders - those who have been appointed or elected to a recognized hierarchical position - are all well and good. They have the right to exercise coercive power (that being, reward and punishment) within the bounds of their respective ground rules, be they corporate or political. But if they attempt to lead without being willingly recognized by those whom they would lead as worthy of leadership - by demonstrating values, vision, tactility, and instilling inspiration and energy among their membership - well, reward and punishment only go so far.

Stephen Harper is a legitimate leader - he won the most seats in our otherwise waste-of-time election. He has gained 18 months of clear sailing for his agenda, since forcing an election before 18 months to two years from now would be political suicide. Besides, the Liberal Party needs to find a new leader and regroup, and it will take all three parties working in concert to bring the House down. But for all the legitmation that Mr. Harper enjoyed last night, the question remains: is he a referent leader?

Clearly, the answer is a resounding NO!

He gained only a point in popular vote. Given that the turnout was a dismal 59% of those eligible - the lowest turnout for a federal election in history - Mr. Harper was endorsed by an equally resounding 22% of the electorate. More than three-quarters of those eligible to cast a ballot rejected Stephen Harper's policies, agenda and record by voting either with their pencil or their feet. All the fuzzy pullovers in the country weren't enough to warm the Canadian public to cold, Conservative divisiveness.

Is Stephen Harper truly a man of his word? To listen to his supporters - indeed, to listen to the man himself - he does what he says he will do. So here's what he said last evening during his very gracious victory speech:
This is a time for us all to put aside political differences and partisan considerations and to work cooperatively for the benefit of Canada. We have shown that minority government can work, and at this time of global economic instability we owe it to Canadians to demonstrate this once again.
To be true to his word, that he will work for the benefit of all Canadians, here's what I would suggest:
  • Work with Jack Layton on the issue of lost employment, and ensuring Canada's strong social infrastructure;
  • Work with Elizabeth May on the issue of climate change and the environment;
  • Work with Gilles Duceppe on the issue of preservation and encouragement of Canadian culture (including bringing Michael Geist in on the copyright reform file;
  • Work with Stéphane Dion on the issue of Canadian unity, and the problem of fractured regionality and disparity throughout this land; and finally,
  • Work with the new Liberal leader, whoever s/he may be, on an overarching economic policy and approach to globalization, both in trade and foreign policies
Sadly (and I'm willing to be proven wrong here), I don't think Stephen Harper has the courage to admit that in order to be true to his word, he needs to include the perspectives of those whose political and economic ideologies are different from his, but nonetheless represent the collective opinions of more than three-quarters of this country. If he can muster that inclusiveness and set aside his personal grievances with this country, he has the opportunity to become a real leader in a UCaPP world.

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mrG said...

I'm not going to let this go unchallenged; I've been running down the 2008 counts resolving out of the VoteForEnvironment.ca predictions list of at-risk ridings and the numbers do not bear out your accusations there, Mark. What these numbers show is realy a pretty strong show for the liberals in many ridings, even in a lot of rural ridings! Unfortunately, the deciding balance went Green :( I lost count after finding dozens of ridings where the Liberals lost by only a fraction of what went to May's Greens. That's where your election went.

What is the essential difference between a Liberal and a Green, anyway? I mean, really, in relation to the difference between either of them and a Harper PC. I went from that PDF chart to the CBC's interactive display and you know what I saw? Green Party support does not come at the expense of Conservative support, it is largely syphoned off the Liberals. Where Green numbers are up, Liberals are equally down, PCs remarkably the same.

You might say this shows Dion was missing some essential policy so as to attract those wandering votes and that is partially true, but what I saw wasn't rational Green supporters willing to consider any party if the deal was good, what I saw was Green-o-mania, a brand-name allegiance and a delicious delirium that This Time Could Be It, which they found far more seductive than whether or not we wanted Harper in charge.

if anything, the poll numbers show it was Elizabeth May who failed to show leadership. May failed to step up to the challenge and lead, she failed to be brave enough to admit defeat and put Canada first. Had Ms May spared just a few votes here and there, had she not so valued those $1.87 perk points more than the state of our nation, we would be looking at a Liberal minority right now. Perhaps even a slight majority.

True, iff we had MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) then those 980,000 who voted Green might have scored some seats (and those 870,000 Albertans might have not scored 27 seats) but we don't and Eliza-May knew full well we do not do MMP in this country; our only option in this land as it is today is strategic voting.

I know it is about as un-hip to be critical of the Greens as it is not to use network appliances who's names begin with 'i', and I have to confess I would have loved to be now sitting in Canada's first Green Riding. It is just that, realistically, in the sober hangover of the morning after, the Greens have to ask themselves whether it was really worth the joy ride.

Mark Federman said...

Although I don't disagree with your analysis as far as it goes, mrG, a quote from Understanding Media comes to mind: "The specialist is one who never makes a small mistake while moving toward the grand fallacy."

It is true that the Green Party syphoned votes from the Liberals among those people who voted. The question in my mind is, what would have attracted those citizens who voted with their feet? Had more people been excited by one of the palatable alternatives, the result would have been different, exclusive of those 7% who turned Green. Had Dion been more inclusive in the running of his campaign, had he listened to political guidance rather than relying on his academically-grounded assumption that elections are won on policy rather than image and impressions, the outcome would likely have been different.

But I stand by my assertion: to win an election these days, you have to be a referent leader for the majority of the electorate. Dion was unable to mobilize that opinion among either his own party, or throughout the country.

mrG said...

I'm one of those who voted with his feet. It was an agonizing decision, and it drew a lot of flak from friends and neighbours, a suprising lot of flak, especially from the highly-conditioned young adults and seniors. You're not VOTING??? Jaded middle-agers were more forgiving ;)

Now here's my reasons why:

1) the whole debate has become so hopelessly polarized, there was very little chance my vote would count. I live in the #2 top beef-producing riding in Canada. There is not a chance of anyone but a Conservative winning this seat so long as the Conservatives profess extreme Right ideals like the glories of war and the need for a strong police state. No, I don't understand it either, but the newspapers, the radio and nearly every one I meet who isn't Green is out for somebody's blood. Yeah, its depressing.

2) Even more depressing than that, in this riding the Liberals ran a man who's bio says "network consultant" and Google says "Thom who??" No experience, no credentials, and a nasty disposition for tit-for-tat namecalling against the Conservatives and Greens. His brochure was also an ugly two-tone photoshop hack job, odd that, considering he's said to be "a computer guru". He had no blog, no facebook page, and his "campaign trail" page on his 'website' was only a collection of photos of him riding in cars.

All of which is forgivable in a politician, except I found strong indications he was tied to the Sauble Beach Sewer Lobby, a plan to have taxpayers fund a sewer for the predatory US developer Jaymor. That lobby needed a Man in Ottawa and suddenly hmmm one of the core buddies is running for a seat?

I tried to resolve that tangle right up to when the polls closed because I wanted to vote Dion, I liked his Father Knows Best style, but ethically, I couldn't endorse this candidate who stands for trampling and bulldozing and properly monetizing our rare and delicate and un-developed local ecology, nature's Last Stand in southern Ontario.

Now, voting Green is a fun hip thing, and BGOS stands the best chance of hitting the news as the first ever actual seat (yeah, right, if he can double his support) but even just for voting fun our Green (sic) candidate endorses nuclear power?? He's a senior admin at the nuclear power plant, and openly thinks the whole thing is just dandy, after all, it's there, eh? might as well use it. There is an OPG lobby afoot to create a "Deep Geologic Suppository" to stick their waste under our beds, the sort of installation never before attempted by humanity and OPG needs to assure us all their plan is 'environmentally friendly' ... and hmmm, an employee runs for the Greens? And then that Green gets a slick slick campaign, full colour brochures and garners more votes than probably all other Green Candidates combined? I'm not going to draw any conclusions, but I'm not going to endorse him either.

3) I may not like Larry Miller's ambivalence to everything that interests me (eg education, technology, economy, access to neutral broadband, copyright, arts) I do live in cattle country and Larry is a cattle farmer, and he's done oodles of good for the farmers through the beef crises of the past few years. He's likable, quaified, experienced and he always gets me an answer (although the answer is always bureaucratic gibberish) His primary flaw is that his boss is a madman.

Oh, I hear you ask, what about the NDP? Our riding even sported a candidate with long personal roots deep in the old-school party and a long history of personal community service. Well, for one thing, the NDP was so behind their candidate they could not put her name on her signs, just in case they need them next time? Most signs said "Jack Layton" and a cult of personality is not the sort of party I want in power. Besides, in this neighbourhood the NDP are still persona non grata left over from the Great Mistake of the last Strategic Vote Election.

And yeah, I checked out the other hapless joe, Christian Heritage's young Joel, and he told a good yarn, well rehearsed, without hope enough he could give honest answers like "it's not that simple" and "I don't know" but, well, it is the CHP, y'know?

So there you have it. I reasoned it was better to be counted among the (record) 41% Abstainers than to throw even my no-chance vote away to pump $1.87 into a coffer I couldn't endorse, and it was my hope that yes, the parties would eye that 41% and maybe, just maybe, in the dark of a moonless night, reflect and ponder in their souls on the true reason all this electorate dark matter eludes them.

mrG said...

I have, however, arrived at a compromise plan for National Unity and resolved my issues for next time: the only reasonable and logical strategy is for us to duct-tape the torn Centre-Left back together, and to that end, I have set up a page for The Red-Green Party of Canada with the slogan

"if the voters don't find you handsome, they should at least find you handy!"