Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/4/2016 (2219 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Whether it’s Tom Mulcair, Justin Trudeau, Greg Selinger, Brian Pallister or even Donald Trump, the pursuit of political power combines any number of personal attributes, good and bad: sincerity, conviction, honesty, compassion and integrity, and often an excessive ego, arrogance, a sense of entitlement, poor judgment and the misguided belief in your own indispensability.
We will never know for certain how the recent Manitoba election would have played out if Selinger would have seen the writing on the wall and stepped down as premier when his leadership was first challenged by the five rebel cabinet ministers back in 2014.
Or, if enough NDP members had opted for Theresa Oswald at the party’s leadership review in March 2015 instead of letting Selinger keep his job.
Would Oswald have been able to rejuvenate the NDP’s appeal and stop Brian Pallister and the Progressive Conservative march to a majority government?
For the most part, political power has been relinquished uneasily ‐ sort of like trying to pry a meaty bone from a hungry dog.
Admittedly, Selinger faced a difficult conundrum. Bowing out in the face of the cabinet revolt would have been personally humiliating. It must have gone against his genuine desire to keep serving Manitobans given his ardent faith in NDP policies.
Yet, clouding his judgment, arguably, has been his sense of self-importance and his refusal to concede, publicly at any rate, that he misled Manitobans about raising the PST— and the fact that it was only a one per cent increase is not really the point — when he expressly said he would not.
Now, the shellacking he and the NDP have taken has left him with no other choice but to resign the party leadership.
You would think a decisive election defeat would be cause enough for a leader to resign, but, in fact, it has not been the norm.
Arthur Meighen in 1926, R.B. Bennett in 1935, Louis St. Laurent in 1957, Kim Campbell in 1993, Paul Martin in 2006 and most recently Stephen Harper following the last federal election, all took the high road and resigned as leaders when they lost elections.
John A. Macdonald died in office in 1891. And, Wilfrid Laurier, though defeated in the 1911 federal election, remained as leader of the Liberal party until he, too, died in 1919. In the late 1940s, the Liberal Party was anxious for William Lyon Mackenzie King, who was of 73 in 1947, to retire. Though there was grumbling, no caucus or party member was about to push out a leader who had guided the party for more than two decades and won the Liberals five federal elections. King finally said farewell on his own terms in August 1948.
For the most part, political power has been relinquished uneasily — sort of like trying to pry a meaty bone from a hungry dog.
Despite winning three consecutive majority governments in 1993, 1995 and 2000, Jean Chrétien was compelled to fend off challenges to his leadership by supporters of his chief rival, Paul Martin, and resign earlier than he wanted to. Chrétien did not want to face a leadership review, which he might have lost — like federal NDP leader Tom Mulcair just did.
Mulcair, touted as the next prime minister, was shell-shocked after the NDP lost more than half its seats and was reduced again to third party status. Nonetheless, he unwisely ignored the debacle of the campaign and vowed to carry on. A majority of NDP members saw the situation much differently, and at the party’s recent convention in Edmonton voted to replace Mulcair as leader.
The rejection of Mulcair was the greatest humbling of a Canadian political leader since the Progressive Conservatives ousted John Diefenbaker, who at the age of 72 absolutely refused to quit.
Dief, who had been elected leader of the Tories in 1956, squandered his majority government over a five-year period, from 1958 to 1963. After that, he was the epitome of the politician who could not take a hint. It took a concerted effort by PC party president Dalton Camp to force a leadership convention on him in 1967.
Ultimately Robert Stanfield replaced Diefenbaker as Conservative leader, but that did not do much to improve the party’s showing in the 1968 federal election it fought against Pierre Trudeau and the Liberals.
Joe Clark, the Progressive Conservative leader from 1976 to 1983 and the prime minister in 1979-1980, took the opposite and rarest of approaches. Despite receiving 66.9 per cent of the delegates’ support at the party’s meeting held in Winnipeg in January 1983, Clark determined that number was not sufficient enough an endorsement and asked party officials to hold a leadership convention.
Six months later, Clark lost his position as Tory leader to Brian Mulroney, who went on to win the greatest majority government in Canadian history in the federal election of 1984.
At the time, Clark was criticized for proceeding with the leadership convention, yet in retrospect it was a decision that was politically astute, honourable and exceptionally unselfish for a Canadian politician.
Now & Then is a column in which historian Allan Levine puts the events of today in a historical context.