Public’s trust is essential for political leadership
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/06/2021 (707 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
As public support for his government continues to erode, it seems obvious Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister has not taken any cues from the political success of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. That’s unfortunate, because Ms. Ardern is a noteworthy example of what can be accomplished by leaders who earn and maintain the confidence of their citizenry.
Her political career has been meteoric, to say the least. In New Zealand’s 2017 election, Ms. Ardern found herself rather unexpectedly in the prime minister’s office, the result of a hastily arranged coalition government.
Her first year in office was interrupted briefly by a six-week maternity leave after the birth of her first child. After returning, she unleashed a series of social programs, including new supports for families, a national school lunch program, new public housing and an increase in the minimum wage. She also cancelled tax cuts planned by the previous government, and in 2018 became the first New Zealand prime minister to march in a Pride Day parade.
Ms. Ardern also demonstrated the capacity to manage a crisis. In March 2019, 51 people were killed and another 49 were injured in the Christchurch mosque shootings. Within a month, Ms. Ardern introduced a ban on semi-automatic guns and assault rifles.
When COVID-19 struck, New Zealand’s government quickly established one of the most aggressive, science-based responses in the world. Rather than employing the suppression/mitigation strategy favoured by most developed countries, Ms. Ardern’s government clamped down hard with a plan aimed at eliminating the virus from the island nation.
Last year, Kiwis responded to Ms. Ardern’s barrier-breaking, tough-love, activist agenda by re-electing her Labour Party in a landslide.
The contrast between the approaches taken by Ms. Ardern and Mr. Pallister could not be more stark.
Where Ms. Ardern has been a skillful and direct communicator, Mr. Pallister’s messaging has been, at best, inconsistent. Where Ms. Ardern has excelled in building relationships, Mr. Pallister has seemed more inclined toward confrontation — an approach that has burned more bridges than it has built.
Where Ms. Ardern allowed transparency and science to prevail in her country’s pandemic response, Mr. Pallister’s response has seemed often to discount science in favour of political instinct and apparent deference to special interests.
The result for Mr. Pallister, according to recent opinion polls, is a profoundly low level of public confidence. Without that confidence, it becomes very difficult to cultivate compliance, which is critically important if we are to break free from the shackles of COVID-19.
Manitoba needs as many people as possible to get fully vaccinated as quickly as possible, and to show restraint in availing themselves of new freedoms Mr. Pallister approved — prematurely, some argue — this week. A great responsibility falls on Manitobans during what the premier’s plan has predicted will be “One Great Summer,” to make prudent, cautious choices despite being offered opportunities to gather in places and numbers that invite further viral spread before fully safe vaccination levels are reached.
Mr. Pallister has strongly suggested he will retire sometime this year. The leadership path he has chosen, a stark departure from the one blazed on the other side of the world by Ms. Ardern, seems to have cemented a political legacy reflected in the current polls.
However, it is not too late for Mr. Pallister to acknowledge a poignant reality Ms. Ardern represents: without the support and respect of your citizens, it’s very difficult to lead through a crisis.
Food for thought as consideration of retirement plans continues.