May 24, 2019

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Editorial

Leadership as popularity contest

CP

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 2/3/2015 (1544 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There's an old joke that political parties are like diapers and should be changed regularly. Indeed, being a political leader means being an easy target, everyone seemingly waiting to pounce on the tiniest misstep. Increasingly it's clear the job is getting tougher, with the public and party insiders less reticent to look the other way and forgive political missteps. Political lives are shorter and oftentimes that means Canadians get short shrift as political parties worry about re-election rather than good policy direction.

Consider this. Of the five premiers elected to office in 2011, only one is left standing completely unscathed -- Brad Wall in Saskatchewan. One ended his career on a high note, stepping down while his party was in good shape -- P.E.I.'s Robert Ghiz. The rest have not been that lucky. Kathy Dunderdale from Newfoundland and Ontario's Dalton McGuinty are both gone, forced to resign. Premier Greg Selinger, of course, is hanging onto his job by his fingernails.

Last week, the Manitoba Institute for Policy Research held a public forum to talk about the idea of political leadership, particularly in light of the historical decision by Mr. Selinger to continue on as premier while attempting to win leadership from two serious contenders. David Stewart from the University of Calgary talked about the difficulty many premiers in Canada have been facing with a cranky electorate and an even crankier party membership eager to dump the leader at the first sign of polling trouble. Gone, too, are the days where opposition political leaders are given several kicks at the can to win elections before they are thrown out on their ear. While Gary Doer is indeed an outlier with four election losses before scoring a win for the NDP, increasingly the leader is given just two tries before they're tossed out by party insiders ready to leap on the next warm body in a bid to win government. Just ask former PC leader Hugh McFadyen, who got two chances to oust the NDP before having to step down.

Much of the discussion at last week's forum focused on the various parties' focus on winning and polling numbers instead of formulating strong policy ideas and implementing innovative policy, which is a shame and increasingly may explain why folks are so turned off of politics they can't be bothered to vote or participate in the political process.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 2/3/2015 (1544 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There's an old joke that political parties are like diapers and should be changed regularly. Indeed, being a political leader means being an easy target, everyone seemingly waiting to pounce on the tiniest misstep. Increasingly it's clear the job is getting tougher, with the public and party insiders less reticent to look the other way and forgive political missteps. Political lives are shorter and oftentimes that means Canadians get short shrift as political parties worry about re-election rather than good policy direction.

Consider this. Of the five premiers elected to office in 2011, only one is left standing completely unscathed — Brad Wall in Saskatchewan. One ended his career on a high note, stepping down while his party was in good shape — P.E.I.'s Robert Ghiz. The rest have not been that lucky. Kathy Dunderdale from Newfoundland and Ontario's Dalton McGuinty are both gone, forced to resign. Premier Greg Selinger, of course, is hanging onto his job by his fingernails.

Last week, the Manitoba Institute for Policy Research held a public forum to talk about the idea of political leadership, particularly in light of the historical decision by Mr. Selinger to continue on as premier while attempting to win leadership from two serious contenders. David Stewart from the University of Calgary talked about the difficulty many premiers in Canada have been facing with a cranky electorate and an even crankier party membership eager to dump the leader at the first sign of polling trouble. Gone, too, are the days where opposition political leaders are given several kicks at the can to win elections before they are thrown out on their ear. While Gary Doer is indeed an outlier with four election losses before scoring a win for the NDP, increasingly the leader is given just two tries before they're tossed out by party insiders ready to leap on the next warm body in a bid to win government. Just ask former PC leader Hugh McFadyen, who got two chances to oust the NDP before having to step down.

Much of the discussion at last week's forum focused on the various parties' focus on winning and polling numbers instead of formulating strong policy ideas and implementing innovative policy, which is a shame and increasingly may explain why folks are so turned off of politics they can't be bothered to vote or participate in the political process.

Leaders are no longer given the opportunity to test drive potential options in the long term and now have to focus only on the numbers — approval ratings and polling numbers. As Prof. Stewart pointed out, the traditional notions of the electoral cycle, where governments could do unpopular, but potentially necessary things early in their term with the hope that in the later stages they can turn things around, are now nearing an end. Prof. Stewart believes that with the proliferation of approval ratings and criticism from social media, parties almost panic at the first sign of trouble and look for a new leader to turn things around. Part of the problem is that not that long ago it was the leader and the party advisers who had the most polling data available, but now almost everyone can find the data quickly.

In essence, that's exactly what happened to Mr. Selinger, who was viewed as breaking his promise on raising taxes without a referendum. The Gang of Five — those rebel cabinet ministers led by now-leadership candidate Theresa Oswald — saw the polling numbers and feared the NDP were in annihilation territory because of the implementation of the PST. They revolted. And what a mess this has caused.

Hopefully, the next premier will get the chance to be bold with strong policy direction and innovative ideas without having to keep their eye on approval and popularity ratings.

It's what Manitobans deserve.

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Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.

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