Monday, April 23, 2018

If You're Wondering Why Modern Prime Ministers are So Mediocre, Look No Further.

Do you ever get that feeling that today's prime ministers are lacklustre, petit fonctionnaires, technocrats all but totally bereft of vision? Well, you're right. They are.

They usually come with a university degree or two. They might have written a book or three. Perhaps they even lectured in some Ivy League school. Yet as leaders they're strictly middle management calibre questing for the head seat at the boardroom conference table.

The great leaders who built Canada were not the Dions, the Ignatieffs or the Justin Trudeaus. They were not the Stephen Harpers or Andrew Scheers either. This current crop are/were not leaders of vision, the sort who can improve the country, build and strengthen the work in progress we call Canada.

Contrast these third-rate administrators with leaders such as Pierre Trudeau or Mike Pearson and you'll quickly see how ill prepared to assume the premiership of Canada the latter day wannabes were when they arrived in politics.

Here is an excerpt from the biography of Lester B. Pearson lifted from the web site of the Nobel Prize organization.

Born in Toronto of Irish stock on both sides of his family, he received a balanced education in politics, learning the conservative position from his father, a Methodist minister, and the liberal from his mother.
Pearson entered Victoria College at the University of Toronto in 1913 at the age of sixteen. Too young to enlist as a private when Canada declared war in 1914, he volunteered to serve with a hospital unit sponsored by the University. After two years in England, Egypt, and Greece, he was commissioned and transferred eventually to the Royal Flying Corps, but, sustaining some injuries from two accidents, one of them a plane crash, he was invalided home. He served as a training instructor for the rest of the war, meanwhile continuing his studies at the University. 
He received his degree in 1919 and then worked for two years for Armour and Company, a meat processing firm; years later he said, with the wit for which he is renowned, that the Russians were claiming he had once worked for an armament manufacturer. 
Returning to academic life, Pearson won a two-year fellowship and enrolled at Oxford University. There he excelled not only in his chosen field of history where he received the bachelor and master degrees, but also in athletics where he won his blues in lacrosse and ice hockey
In 1924 Pearson joined the staff of the History Department of the University of Toronto, leaving it and academic life in 1928 to accept a position as first secretary in the Canadian Department of External Affairs. In this post until 1935, Pearson received an education in domestic economic affairs while «on loan»; in 1931 as secretary to a commission on wheat futures and during 1934-1935 as secretary of a commission investigating commodity prices; the same post provided him with an apprenticeship in international diplomacy when he participated in the Hague Conference on Codification of International Law(1930), the London Naval Conference (1930), the Geneva World Disarmament Conference (1933-1934), another London Naval Conference (1935), and in sessions of the League of Nations (1935).

Pearson moved forward rapidly. From 1935 to 1941 he served in the office of the High Commissioner for Canada in London; in May, 1941, he was appointed assistant undersecretary of state for External Affairs at Ottawa; in June, 1942, named minister-counselor at the Canadian Legation in Washington; in July, 1944, promoted to the rank of minister plenipotentiary and in January, 1945, to the rank of ambassador. During his Washington stay, Pearson participated in the establishment of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) in 1943 and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) 1943-1945; in the Dumbarton Oaks Conference on preliminary discussion for an organization of united nations (1944); and in the San Francisco Conference on the establishment of the UN (1945). 
Pearson took over the post of undersecretary of state for External Affairs in the fall of 1946, but gave it up two years later for the possibility of action in a larger arena. In that year, Louis S. St. Laurent, the secretary of state, became prime minister of a Liberal government, replacing his retiring leader, Mackenzie King. Pearson, having conducted a successful campaign for a seat in the Commons to represent the Algoma East riding of Ontario, was given the External Affairs portfolio, holding it for nine years until the advent of John Diefenbaker's Conservative government. 
Pearson drafted the speech in which Prime Minister St. Laurent proposed the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), signed the enabling treaty in 1949, headed the Canadian delegation to NATO until 1957, and functioned as chairman of the NATO Council in 1951-1952. Pearson also headed the Canadian delegation to the UN from 1946 to 1956, being elected to the presidency of the Seventh Session of the General Assembly in 1952-1953. As chairman of the General Assembly's Special Committee on Palestine, he laid the groundwork for the creation of the state of Israel in 1947. In the Suez crisis of 1956, when the United Kingdom, France, and Israel invaded Egyptian territory, Pearson proposed and sponsored the resolution which created a United Nations Emergency Force to police that area, thus permitting the invading nations to withdraw with a minimum loss of face. 
When the Liberals were defeated in the elections of 1957, Pearson relinquished his cabinet post but, accepting that of leader of the Opposition, began to rebuild the party. Six years later, when the Conservative government lost the confidence of the electorate, especially on the issues raised by the Cuban confrontations between the United States and Russia, and when Pearson, after a careful review of his philosophical position on national defence, announced his willingness to accept nuclear warheads from the United States, the Liberal Party was voted enough strength to establish a government with Pearson as prime minister
In control for five years, Pearson pursued a bipartisan foreign policy based on a philosophy of internationalism. In domestic policy he implemented programs long discussed but never adopted; among them, in the field of social legislation: provisions for old age pensions, medical care, and a generalized «war on poverty»; in education: governmental assistance for higher education and technical and vocational education; in governmental operations: redistribution of electoral districts and reformation of legislative procedures. The most acrimonious debate of his half-decade in office centered on legislation to create a new flag for Canada. This legislation became the battlefield of the Conservatives, who wanted some portion of the design to recognize the traditions of the past, versus the Liberals, who wanted to eliminate historical symbols. The Liberals won and the new flag was raised on February 15, 1965.
Missing from this biography is another of Pearson's great accomplishments, recruiting his own successor. Pearson brought Jean Marchand, Gerard Pelletier and Pierre Trudeau into the Liberal ranks in Ottawa. Giving us another legendary prime minister was Mike Pearson's parting gift to Canada.

Ask yourself this. Have you seen anybody of that stature, a genuine visionary who set out to build a better Canada, since Pierre Trudeau?

It's not that people of such stature no longer exist. Louise Arbour is a prime example. It's that they're no longer drawn to politics. Politics is now the exclusive preserve of the mediocre, second even third rate individuals who leave nothing in their wake and are soon deservedly forgotten. Canada merits far better. We may pay dearly for want of them. Leaders of great stature will be sorely needed for the looming challenges Canada will face in the coming decades.


Toby said...

To a great degree we are seeing mediocre people in business too. Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie and the like weren't afraid to hire people smarter than themselves. Guys like Zuckerberg are too focused on greed.

Here in BC W.A.C. Bennett was determined to develop the province. He built roads, a ferry system, BC Hydro, extended PGE on both ends turning it into BC Rail, etc. Everything he did was meant for the benefit all the people of BC. Yes, he made mistakes but he had vision. It is ironic that the Campbell/Clark con-liberals expended so much energy dismantling Bennett's legacy.

Mound, I do think that the population at large suffers from lack of long term vision.

The Mound of Sound said...

Several years ago I described Harper as a "fractional prime minister," a term I used to convey how Harper chose to deal with some national matters but had no time for other, often quite grave issues.

I recall Harper's one-time BFF, Tom Flanagan, giving a talk to some group on Salt Spring island during which he said that Harper eschewed the very idea of vision.

Dion had one idea, the Green Spot initiative, but he lacked any ability to sell it to the public. Ignatieff literally called it in from the standard Liberal checklist - more funding for the arts, daycare, etc. Again, no vision.

Trudeau, if he has a vision I haven't seen it. My take is that he is lacking in the experience and life accomplishments to tackle the vision stuff.

And that's why I've called today's political leadership little more than grey suits stuffed with wet cardboard.

Trailblazer said...

Maybe a lack lustre PM but this was, to me, his finest moment.

Other than that ; leadership is in short supply.

Exceptions .

Often the establishment deny even the best the chance to succeed.
Sometimes those with the best of intentions are defeated by powers we can only dream or guess exist!



the salamander said...

.. whew !
Pearson's accomplishments astonishing

Northern PoV said...

I put Pearson in a category by himself.

But in days of yore, even some Tories were balanced, civic minded folks....

My favourite example of this is Duff's Ditch.

Duff Roblin was the Manitoba premier in the 50/60s - and he had a canal dug around the city to deal with the inevitable Red River 100 year flood.

As you can tell from the nic-name he (and it) became an object of derision over time, as it stayed dry for many years.

In 1997 the 100 year flood happened and the Duff's Ditch saved the city.

Apparently Duff went out for dinner right after the flood (really old by then) and the grateful Winnipeggers gave him a standing ovation.

The Mound of Sound said...

I remember Duff Roblin quite well, NPoV. He was a very "Red Tory" and stood well to the left of Manitoba's Liberal-Progressives. The guy was always turned out and very dapper. And, yes, there was great foresight in his decision to build that floodway. Winnipeggers may appreciate that a good deal more in coming years.

Yes, Pearson was exceptional. So too were Laurier, St. Laurent and, of course, Pierre Trudeau. Unexceptional have been the crop of second rate leaders who have dominated Canadian politics, especially during the neoliberal era ushered in by Mulroney.

We now seem to choose leaders too much on how they campaign for the job and too little on how ready and able they are to lead the country. Perhaps there were some Liberals who imagined that Pierre Trudeau had passed into his son genetically. Of the three, Justin was plainly the least intelligent and the least accomplished. But that's not how Justin was chosen. He was the top pick out of a pretty motley bunch based on his name, his appearance and the prospects he could draw votes for the party, not because he was well suited to lead the country.

We got a dud. He filled our heads with images of the sort of Canada we wanted back and then, once elected, shifted course and reneged on those promises.

The Tories went from Harper to Scheer. The Libs went from Ignatieff to Trudeau (the Lesser). The NDP went from Mulcair to Singh. Inspiring stuff that. Of the three, only Singh has a modestly interesting albeit shallow background before politics.

Now when we need much more depth from our leaders we're left with the kids from the wading pool.

Purple library guy said...

We should consider ourselves lucky we get mediocre. The current social/economic structure in many places seems to be dictating that the only people in high political office are not mediocre but actively horrible. We may be headed in that direction ourselves (Doug Ford for premier? Really?!).

Anonymous said...

Lester Pearson is not without his bug-a-boo. He help sell Newfoundland and Labrador to Canada as payment for the 6.2 million dollars given to Britain after WWII, and, after N&L gave their surplus to Britain as the war began. Newfoundlanders would be much better off if the rigged vote had not happened. The 51.2% was against not for union with Canada. Anyong

Anonymous said...

Henry Ford supplied the Nazis with vehicle parts through Portugal during WWII as did Standard oil provide oil. My father would never purchase a ford. Anyong.

The Mound of Sound said...

If your father boycotted Ford what did he drive?