Where have all the leaders gone?

Roy MacGregor January 28 1980

Where have all the leaders gone?

Roy MacGregor January 28 1980

Where have all the leaders gone?


Roy MacGregor

Leadership is a cabinet which includes Mitchell Sharp, John Turner, Don Macdonald and Alastair Gillespie. That is leadership.— Pierre Trudeau, 1974

Once people get to know me better, they'll like me more.— Joe Clark, 1979

They are, like their memory, faded, but the Conservative election posters of 1958 have deservedly become collector’s items, for we shall not see their likes again. Footprints, two simple words, FOLLOW JOHN—the ultimate précis of Diefenbaker’s most glorious victory. This year, 1980, there are no tracks to be found—only a confusing and sometimes foul spoor. In Toronto, where the unholy grail of Feb. 18 lies teasing, Pierre Trudeau—in his only semi-public appearance of the daystands humbly and silently to the side of a hotel stage filled with those he once arrogantly called “nobodies”—backbench members of Parliament. Where only years ago he drew crowds like a Tom Jones handkerchief, his own party has turned him into a used Kleenex and the halo above his head has been replaced with invisible strings. In this same hotel less than 24 hours earlier stood Prime Minister Joe Clark, not welcome in a single close riding in Toronto for fear he may tip the scales against himself. How ironic, then, that the Clark entourage, when sneaking from the hotel to its political bunker known as Air Canada Charter 89, would come upon Debbie and Pat Boone checking in at the reception desk and would be understandably taken aback by the presence of true, unabashed stardom. This, after all, was Debbie Boone, whose immaculate preconceptions concerning premarital sex have given her just cause to brag that “Mothers hold me up to their children.” Given the first five weeks of Election 1980, Joe Clark and Pierre Trudeau are lucky if they can count on their mothers, let alone anyone who might be expected to look up to them.

Canada may well have entered the age of negative leadership. A vast number of people no longer vote for whom they like but against the one they hate. It has become an election in which Pierre Trudeau remains the great hope of the Tories and Joe Clark carries the Liberal banner highest. As Bruce Anderson, the campaign manager for Liberal incumbent Jim Fleming in York West, says, “The focus has shifted from Trudeau to Clark, and that is a beneficial shift for the Liberal party.” Out in Winnipeg, senior citizen Avril Hill won’t even allow Trudeau’s name to cross her lips. And the most compelling sign in Tory David Crombie’s campaign office says, simply: “Certain destruction with Trudeau.”

“I see this campaign as not a clash of personalities,” Trudeau said in Toronto, “but a clash of philosophies.” Last week he was holding out against a television debate—certainly one way to eliminate any clash of personalities. He also announced that a Liberal government would raise the price of oil, but would not say how much, meaning it was difficult to hear the clash of philosophies even with a stethoscope. The loudest sound of Week 5 came, oddly, from within the Tory party, when the prime minister and the finance minister stood, in John Crosbie’s words, “bum to bum” and passed wind over different ideas on future oil prices.

Even so, if Pierre Trudeau honestly believes that philosophies decide elections, he has not read Political Choice in Canada, published last year by four Canadian political scientists and showing conclusively that issues mean next to zilch. Of the components that go into a voter forming a positive image of a leader, personality matters by far the most, followed by style, distantly by leadership qualities and then, nearly imperceptibly, by such matters as the leader’s stand on inflation and economic issues. Trudeau himself in 1968 measured 50 per cent in personality, 25 per cent in style, two per cent in leadership and less than one per cent on economic issues. Using data gathered from the 1974 election as well, the authors* concluded that one out of every four Canadians have “leadership” as the “real reason” behind their vote—more than enough voters to decide the difference between defeat and a majority. Pierre Trudeau is wrong. Much to the worry of both parties, personality will decide the results.

During the last election the Tories were distraught to discover through their polls that support for Joe Clark seemed to fall off immediately after he had visited an area; they were only heartened when further research discovered that Trudeau was doing the same thing to Liberals. Keith Davey, the Liberal campaign chairman, likes to make a reverse play on the word “charisma,” coming up with amsirahc to illustrate the repelling of voters rather than attracting them, and it may well be the deciding factor of the future. “In the 1980s,” says Paul Fox, the wellknown Canadian political scientist, “the people are more cautious about their choice of leader. The era of the charismatic leader is over. We are now suspicious of charismatic leadership.” What this has caused is a case of the shepherds chasing after the sheep, their route guided by computer printouts from party pollsters Martin Goldfarb and Allan Gregg. So while it was considered a witticism when Andrew Bonar Law, the only Canadian-born British prime minister, quoted a French revolutionary who had said, “I must follow them; I am their leader,” today it is regarded as a creed. “It is impossible for any party to have a solution to an oil crisis,” says David Surplis, an Ontario government adviser who has done extensive research on leadership. “They can’t say, ‘We’re the party with the answer,’so they have to say, ‘We can cope better than the other parties.’ ” Consequently, the main parties are trying to sell their leaders as managers, not magicians, and Clark’s perceived ineptness and Trudeau’s obvious discomfort have meant that the NDP’s Ed Broadbent has profited. In a Gallup poll taken last September to determine which leader was the greatest asset to his party, Broadbent scored a first in Ontario, the Prairies and British Columbia, second in the Atlantic provinces and Quebec, and, had he not trailed Trudeau 39 per cent to 71 per cent in Quebec, he would have beaten Trudeau on the national totals as well. “Broadbent’s strength,” says NDP candidate Bob Rae, whose opinion is obviously biased, “is that he projects a very strong feeling of decency, of concern, of intelligence.” Bill Borys, a construction worker from Surrey, B.C., agrees, and favors Broadbent because he was the sole leader “who stuck to the issues” during the 1979 television debates. Unfortunately for Broadbent, too many Canadians share the belief of Holger Heitland, 22year-old president of the student union at Lakehead University. “Broadbent is the best leader,” Heitland says. “But he belongs to the wrong party.”

*The University of Windsor’s Harold D. Clarke and Lawrence LeDuc; and Carleton ’s Jane Jenson and Jon H. Pammett.

No such easy fix is available for the Liberals or Conservatives. Trudeau watchers have come to feel they are dealing with a science-fiction character from Dune, the Face Dancer, Scytale, whose special quality of simpático gave him “a mimic’s insight with which he could put on the psyche of another as well as the other’s appearance.” As for the Tories, however, perhaps only they could appreciate the argument of Elvis Presley’s personal physician last week when he claimed to have been making great strides toward improving Presley’s health—complicated only by the singer’s death. Clark has not fared well. After miraculously connecting the NDPassisted defeat of his government toCanada’s ineffectiveness during the Afghanistan invasion, even Clark himself was admitting he had blown his day last Wednesday.

“You’re going to see,” veteran Tory MP George Hees told a New Brunswick crowd last May, “after a few months of office, that the people will be saying, ‘This man Clark is the best prime minister this country has had in 50 years!’ ” Instead, after the Israeli embassy debacle, the people—like Ghulam Haider

Khan, the president of the Federation of Pakistani Canadians—are saying, “Clark embarrasses me as a Canadian and as a citizen of the world.” Khan’s vote will go to Trudeau, whom he refers to as “the lesser evil”—the perfect summation of this leaderless Canadian election.

An extensive American report published in 1976 discovered that 83 per cent of Americans “do not trust those in positions of leadership as much as they used to.” Clark himself said two weeks ago: “There’s no question that there is a profound distrust [of political leaders]. That’s always been there to some degree, never in as acute a degree as it is now.” When the finger of blame sweeps, it always lingers over the press, and there is no doubt that a more diligent modern press—angered by the lies of Watergate, Cambodia and the RCMP— has frightened a great many potential leaders away from the political process, many of them claiming the all-encompassing “personal reasons.” Those nostalgic for a Churchill, a John Kennedy, a John A. Macdonald or even a William Lyon Mackenzie King fear that none would last today, once the press uncovered the drinking, womanizing or levitating of tables. As one American congressman puts it, “The danger is always there that too much sun makes a desert.” It can also be said, however, that only fungus prospers in the dark.

The issue is not so much the press as it is leadership itself. The search is on for new definitions, for obviously the times have changed greatly: Aristotle believed a statesman ruled his fellow citizens the way he ruled his wife, but Aristotle also believed that eels rose spontaneously from the mud. Harry Truman said leadership was “the ability to get men to do what they don’t want to do, and like it.” Clark attempted this route, counting on making Canadians embrace higher oil prices by holding out a vague optimism for the future, but in doing so he disregarded the insight of the French political philosopher, Georges Sorel, who said: “The optimist in politics is an inconsistent and even dangerous man, because he takes no account of the great difficulties presented by his projects.”

In classical political terms, Trudeau is likewise a failure. “The final test of a leader,” Walter Lippmann wrote after Franklin Roosevelt’s death, “is that he leaves behind him in other men the conviction and the will to carry on.” Trudeau, of course, left behind mostly discarded bodies—Turner, Macdonald, Basford, Pelletier—all lost because he would not, or could not, plead with them to stay. His retirement and subsequent rebirth has been labelled deception as much as devotion, and the notion persists that the Liberal party is not unlike an anemic trusting in a transfusion of his own blood.

The authors of Political Choice in Canada used extensive polling data to create a political “thermometer” on the 1974 election and, giving 50 as a median, or freezing point, discovered Trudeau’s score of 62 was the only measure to rise above freezing. Unlucky Robert Stanfield, who scored a chilly 46 in voter receptiveness, had good reason to say: “If I were to walk on the water, the press would say it was because I couldn’t swim.”

Given that 1974 produced a Trudeau majority and only a perceptive few had become suspicious of the dancing face, it may well be in 1980 that no Canadian leader would bask in the balmy side of such a thermometer. Joe Clark—regarded as an asset to his party by a mere 41 per cent of Canadians in last September’s Gallup—said last Monday that “I might not be quite as popular as Robert Redford, but people are going to consider other factors than that.” He will have a difficult time convincing Dawn Lockwood of Carleton County, New Brunswick, who believes the prime minister “hasn’t projected anything but bumbling.”

Clark’s millstone, of course, is the long list of broken Tory promises, covering half the world from Tel Aviv to the preferred interest rates in downtown Thunder Bay. Ironically, only seven months ago Clark was carnpaigning against Trudeau and calling him “the prince of broken promises.” But then, Trudeau was campaigning seven months ago on the slogan, “A leader must be a leader.” At times it appears as if each was the other’s understudy in 1979, merely exchanging notes when the satire hit the road in 1980.

Trudeau, in becoming the “team man” that Clark was selling a year ago, has simply not been convincing. “This isn’t new,” points out political scientist Fox. “It’s been used before, but it’s manipulation by the Liberals to minimize Trudeau.” Believing the war won, the party strategists have adopted full retreat as a battle plan.

John Kenneth Galbraith has said, “The leadership we need for the ’80s is that which interprets the collective judgment.” For Canada, however, that seems like an impossibility. With oil and language driving the fragile cracks even wider, there are those who wonder, as David Surplis does: “Can Clark, can Trudeau, can Broadbent, can anybody somehow transcend these very parochial and provincial interests, which are becoming predominant?” Don Wilson, a Calgary businessman, asks whether “any one man has the dimension necessary to run a country.”

“There’s an old proverb,” says Ann Cools, the Liberal candidate in Toronto’s Rosedale riding. “ T wept because I 'had no shoes; then I met a man who had no feet.’ ” Applied to leaders, such a thought is a kick at the grave of the British philosopher Thomas Carlyle who, more than a century ago, set down the true secret of good government. “Find in any country the Ablest Man that exists there,” Carlyle wrote. “Raise him to the supreme place, and loyally reverence him: you have a perfect government for that country.”

Given the negative leadership of Election 1980, Carlyle’s wish has about as much chance of coming true as the discovery that Aristotle’s eels do indeed rise spontaneously. Actually, less of a chance. Thanks to Pierre Trudeau and Joe Clark, the mud is already about us in abundance.