As we sit tonight and let the polls be counted, I have a few very recent revelations to share.
Clinton famously said "It's the economy, stupid." Politicians from all sides eagerly co-opted that approach over the last few weeks here in Canada, but I think they got it wrong. Sure, they spoke to what Canadians were most worried about, but you heard it here first: Canadians got it wrong too. Ironically enough, Harper hit the nail on the head when he raised the specter of leadership two years ago in his anti-Dion slamfest almost two years ago. Harper is a great politician, but is not an effective leader, which is exactly why he went out of his way to tear down that part of his opponent.
He has been accused of aping the policies of George Bush, but I disagree. He hasn't quite signed on to the policies, but he sure as hell took entire chapters out of the political playbook. He made it his mission to distort Dion's leadership qualities, thus avoiding a discussion of his own. Bush and Rove were quite good at those kinds of red herrings. Brilliant, really. Many pundits will tell you that Harper's "team" featured weak, under performing ministers that had to take the bulk of their direction from the Prime Minister's Office, and were usually roasted on the national and international stage whenever they spoke their minds. Most would acknowledge that Harper's method of interacting with the opposition parties created one of the most negative House of Commons sessions in history. This was no accident, considering that he released a manual to his caucus that instructed them in the fine art of disrupting parliamentary committees. I could go on, but those of who like Harper will disagree with me no matter what, and those of you would dislike him already agreed with me about six sentences ago. If Harper had been running a company, half of his employees would have quit or been fired long ago, and the company would have folded.
For the record, Dion is a great leader, but a lousy politician. He has surrounded himself with good, quality people that would have formed a very effective and cooperative cabinet. He had good ideas and was not afraid to listen to other people and their ideas, which is a hallmark of good leadership. He trusted his candidates to make the right decisions and not rely too heavily on talking points. The problem is that these are all things good managers/leaders do in business and government, but they are not what smart politicians do. You see, the fact that Harper framed it on leadership, and the fact that Dion effectively failed to debunk Harper's accusations through either debate or smart politicking, is perhaps the biggest failing of the campaign. Some may argue it was the green shift, but I stand by my assertion that it was leadership.
Here's where the rest of Canada dropped the ball. We decry talking points, "gotcha journalism" , poll obsessed pundits and negative campaigning, but fall for all of those things, hook, line, and sinker every time. Dion put himself out there every day, doing hundreds of interviews unscripted, giving us a sample of how open and accountable he would be as a Prime Minister, and most people guffawed and refused to listen through his heavy accent and imperfect English. Conservative supporters called it the "Liberal friendly media", forgetting that their fearless leader chose to restrict press conferences and refuse to take part in any interview that didn't show him the questions in advance.
We all saw the dirty tricks and undemocratic actions that Harper took over the last years, and either shook our heads or called him "decisive". We continually ask for our politicians to stop being politicians, and this election, we actually saw a candidate step forward and be honest, discuss policy, demonstrate transparency, and be a generally poor politician. Our response? We questioned his leadership and decisiveness. I thought we didn't like politicians, so why are we slagging this man for granting us our biggest wish? I can only hope that as the years go by, we stop confusing politicians with leaders.
And this is why it's not the economy, it's leadership. Regardless of who has the better policy ideas, we are electing people who are supposed to lead, and bring us together in concerted action to maintain and build this nation. The leaders who do so will not burn bridges before they are built, and will effectively set aside their egos and delegate the hard jobs to the people that can handle them. We have not seen that for quite some time. Unless the controversial entity of strategic voting rears its ugly head, we will probably get a Conservative minority - and for the moment, we deserve no better.
- ▼ 2008 (5)