By Chantal Hebert, Toronto Star, January 8, 2013
Simultaneous campaigns for the leadership of the Liberal parties of Ontario, Quebec and Canada are unprecedented. So is the fact that, to varying degrees, all three are in trouble.
At this juncture, it is hard to determine which of the incoming leaders will be handed the most poisoned chalice.
McGuinty’s successor will inherit a third-term government serving a minority mandate at a time when Ontario is facing a fiscal wall. Whoever is sworn in as premier next month will operate within a budget straitjacket — with little room to manoeuvre and make a positive impression on voters.
There are not many good-news budgets in the making in Canada this winter.
At least the next Ontario Liberal leader will not have to work hard at managing expectations. By comparison, the Quebec counterpart who will be selected in mid-March will have his work cut out for him.
Jean Charest left his successor with 50 seats in a minority National Assembly — only four behind the winning Parti Québécois.
That high score could be a curse in disguise.
The Quebec Liberal party has done without introspection for a long time. This will be its first leadership vote in more than two decades. It is taking place amid the widespread perception that the party’s spell in opposition will be short-lived.
Absent from those rosy forecasts are the threatening clouds of an ongoing public inquiry into corruption in the construction industry and the fact that the party is facing increasingly solid competition for the non-sovereigntist vote from the Coalition Avenir Québec.
If one needs evidence that it is hard to cure a bad case of magical thinking, one needs look no further than the federal Liberals,
As the party selects its fourth leader since Jean Chrétien retired a decade ago, part of its establishment is still clinging to the notion that there is a shortcut to rebuilding a party that has been national in name only for more than a decade.
Having squandered two Conservative mandates waiting in vain for the voters who made Stephen Harper a victor to come back to their senses, Liberal strategists are now staking their party’s survival on the equally dubious notion that the Quebecers who supported the NDP will see the error of their ways in 2015 and re-embrace their party.
There are four themes emerging from this piece:
- Will new Liberal leaders inherit a poisoned chalice?
- The federal Liberals' bad case of "magical thinking"
- Are Liberals clinging to the belief in a shortcut to rebuilding a party?
- An empty policy shelf in the pantry of the Liberal Party
Charest's departure from the premiership in Quebec amid the construction corruption scandal and commission hearings will hang like a cloud of suspicion over the party similar to the sponsorship scandal cloud that continues to hang over the Quebec wing of the federal Liberal Party.
And then there is the apparent "coronation" addiction in Ottawa, with the federal Liberals, desperate for a platinum bullet to once again secure power, as compared with grass-roots policy proposals that can be and are delivered in digestible packages to multiple and diverse audiences.
Former Liberal Cabinet Minister, Paul Hellyer, once claimed that Canada was excruciatingly weak in management skills, that we had great ideas, that we had vision, that we had compassion, that we had courage, but we seemed lacking in managerial skills.
More recently, John Ralson Saul, frequently in his writings, but especially in his A Fair Country, decries Canada's resorting to managers, as opposed to critical thinkers. I don't know how Saul would respond to Hellyer's observation; however, the question of management needs both research and some truth-telling, in addition to recruitment from a variety of academic disciplines. David Kelly who heads a creative thinking and design project/laboratory at Stanford, (without degrees for the 500 students who attend annually) was friends with Bill Gates, who told him upon learning of the inception of the project, that he did not want any "graduate" from the 'school' at Apple, but would welcome graduates from other disciplines who had spent time working and learning at the institute. The project brings engineers, scientists, lawyers, medical doctors, arts grads and business grads together to "brainstorm" and to solve problems in an empathetic way.
What people want and need is the guiding beacon that points the participants in the direction of collaborative and cumulative thinking, experimenting with test models, refining those models and building prototypes for clients whose specifications, like those of Jobs who demanded a working "computer mouse" for not more than $17 in production costs.
As founder of IDEO, David Kelley built the company that created many icons of the digital generation—the first mouse, the first Treo, the thumbs up/thumbs down button on your Tivo’s remote control, to name a few. But what matters even more to him is unlocking the creative potential of people and organizations so they can innovate routinely.
David’s most enduring contributions to the field of design are a human-centered methodology and culture of innovation. More recently, he led the creation of the groundbreaking d.school at Stanford, the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design.
Kelley was working (unhappily) as an electrical engineer when he first heard about Stanford’s cross-disciplinary Joint Program in Design, which merged engineering and art. What he learned there—a human-centered, team-based approach to tackling sticky problems through design—propelled his professional life as a “design thinker.”
In 1978, David co-founded the design firm that ultimately became IDEO. Today, he serves as chair of IDEO and is the Donald W. Whittier Professor at Stanford, where he has taught for more than 25 years. Preparing the design thinkers of tomorrow earned David the Sir Misha Black Medal for his “distinguished contribution to design education.” He has also won the Edison Achievement Award for Innovation, as well as the Chrysler Design Award and National Design Award in Product Design from the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, and he is a member of the National Academy of Engineers. (From Ideo website)
While engaged in design and production/manufacture of innovative ideas, Ideo provides both leadership and execution in a manner that has proven intellectually, socially, culturally and fiscally sucessful. Is there such a company and such an example of both leadership and innovative thinking in Canada, and if there were, would any of the candidates for the three Liberal party leaderships be interested in learning from such an example? Doubtful!
In fact, there is a poison chalice waiting for all three Liberal leadership 'winners' bred of arrogance, of complacency, of inward and "prvileged" thinking, attitudes and beliefs, and bred of the insouciance of too much power for too long in too many "change-resistant" locations. The most courageous and innovative, at least from the public profiling, to emerge as a candidate is Martha Hall Findlay, whose national profile, name recognition and likelihood of securing the federal leadership is currently running at between 0 and 5%....not hopeful.
Public opinion polls that put Trudeau on top of the federal campaign list is little more than public name recognition, and if the "money" and the "party establishment" make him their candidate, the Liberals will have, as is expected, done none of the difficult, soul-searching, introspective and painful reflection that is required following a single failure, and their files are filled to overflowing with failures, mostly of their own making, making even more introspection, both publically and privately, a necessary component to transformation.
This is one voice that does not believe any of the three prospective leaders of the Liberal Party, in Ontario, Quebec or Ottawa will be successful in the next one, two or perhaps even three subsequent elections, unless and until not only a complete housecleaning, but even a tear-down and rebuild and, in Canadian politics, those who advocate such radical measures are considered "too radical," "too pushy," "too aggressive," and "too abrasive"...all characteristics that David Kelly would welcome if they were ascribed to him and his accomplishments.
We Canadians, and Liberals mirror this to a fault, are much too "middle of the road" and too "politically correct" and "too risk-and-change-averse" and too "traditional" as if the past were sacred and the future some rendition of evil, Satanic because if we behaved in a more unapologetic manner our fellow Canadians would harshly judge us as "immodest," "brash" and "American"....for our taste.
Nevertheless, there is a deep and profound and every day less and less bridled anger, frustration and compliance that we can see and feel in every store, on every street corner, with the rising incidents of 'road rage' and the increasing volume, intensity and severity of our discontent, one has to think with ourselves.
Little wonder we have difficulty managing...we hate confrontation, praise, compliments and sharing...all characteristics of a successful leader. We are dour in our individualism, isolated in our stove-pipes, perfunctory in our politeness, insincere in our praise and compliments of the good work that our peers do every day, as if to recognize it before they die would give them a "swelled head"...the most hated outcome in Canadian culture.
As we seem unable to differentiate between arrogance and justified pride in accomplishment, not merely at the Olympic level, or the Hollywood level, but on the shop floor, in the office, at the staffmeeting, in the boardroom. Our insecurity must be one of the limiting qualities, bridling our generosity, which if released, would only serve to enhance all aspects of our lives together.
And the Liberals are at least as invested in our inhibitions as any political and social group in the country.
Maybe it is the Canadian people collectively who constitute the poison chalice, and the Liberals who have drunk the koolaid of the marketing/public relations mavens that only a few slogans will suffice, if the packaging is "attractive, sexy and charismatic"....let's hope not!