Note: The following is the article I wrote for the London Free Press for June 23, 2012, with the illustration by Jane.
The headlines came fast and furious once Bob Rae opted to decline the chance at running for official leadership of the Liberal party. The onslaught Justin Trudeau must have felt in the hours following Rae’s decision would have been intense.
London isn’t immune from the subject, given the hectic amount of questions about Trudeau’s future I’ve received in the last week. You have to say this: he has been consistent. At our house for dinner a while ago he continued to stress that his young family was his primary concern, and I, for one, accepted and respected that outlook.
I have been fortunate enough to have worked with both Bob Rae and Justin Trudeau over the past few years, but the leadership interests don’t just stop at these two individuals, as others mull over whether to take a run for the brass ring.
Right now it’s the Liberals’ turn for attention on leadership and a few months ago it was the NDP that took that journey. However, perhaps it’s time we asked ourselves if this fixation on who leads what party is healthy for us.
The politicos say that leadership conventions are great things for a party and that they can alter political landscapes.
Really? In many ways it doesn’t matter who leads whatever party because the reality is that politics itself is broken and no head of any party can fix it. The hyper-partisanship that has consumed Ottawa in recent years has rendered our nation’s capital dysfunctional.
Our greatest challenges remain before us – unaddressed, unresolved, and unreachable. Climate change, the condition of our aboriginal communities, the growing gap between rich and poor, our loss of image in the world, the ignoring of cities – these are real and concrete and speak to the ineffectual nature of our modern political construct. The national parties have been so busy struggling for power that they have spurned compromise and action, leaving Canadians all the more powerless.
This isn’t about leadership; it’s about citizenship – or the lack of it. The penchant for hoping for some powerful figure to ride over the hill to save us, the party, government or even Canada has become moot in a political world where our greatest challenges remain on the sidelines while the parties fight it out in an ever smaller democratic arena.
As citizens we are tired of it all – fatigued by the shenanigans, propaganda and a partisanship that puts power above people, careers over citizenship. And increasingly we are checking out of the process. Our voting numbers prove it, election after election.
But it is precisely in our re-engagement that we stand a chance of making our public life count again. It is up to us as citizens to reclaim the democratic franchise back from the professionals, and that won’t happen unless we pull together in ways that are effective and purposeful.
As former president Woodrow Wilson put it: “The whole purpose of democracy is that we may hold counsel with one another, so as not to depend upon the understanding of one man.”
This is not about playing Follow the Leader and the severe consequences than have resulted. Rather it’s about following our instincts for a greater public space that fights for our children and our grandchildren and not merely for political advantage. It’s about you and me. It’s about ReThink London. It’s about demanding accountability from our political representatives.
It’s about a democratic system that must develop a direct link to the values and aspirations of its citizens.
No leader can save a political system that refuses to fix itself – the opposing forces are just too strong.
When the democratic system was vibrant, leaders could shape a country’s progress through compromise, diplomacy and respect for other views. They and their parties were never greater than the representative system but subject to it.
It’s time to let go of the leadership music playing in our ears and start permitting our love of country to trump politics. There is only one true leader in a democracy – the citizenry – and the jury is still out as to whether they will run.