, 07.12.2022 12:12 PM

My latest: JC, come back

Where have the political leaders gone?

The federal ones, that is. The national ones. The ones who are supposed to be leading this country, and other countries.

National leadership — in Canada, in the United States, in Europe and in myriad democracies around the world — seems to have disappeared. With the exception of the extraordinary Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Ukraine, it feels like Western nations are adrift, rudderless and leaderless.

If you don’t believe it, try a test this writer popped on various political and journalistic friends over Colonnade pizza in Ottawa last night: Name one national leader, apart from the aforementioned Zelenskyy, who has not appeared diminished in recent months and years.

There isn’t one. Consider the evidence.

Joe Biden facing open calls for his removal as the Democratic Party’s standard-bearer, alongside carping about his age and mental acuity, all made on the record in the Democratic house organ, the New York Times.

Boris Johnson, forced out of power in Britain by hubris and serial scandal. France’s Emmanuel Macron, barely surviving an electoral challenge by the fascist right — and then losing control legislatively.

And here in Canada, of course, Justin Trudeau’s government is unable to provide even the most basic of services — functioning airports, timely passports, and a coherent fiscal policy. His main opposition, meanwhile, has slid into the maw of internecine warfare, alt-right lunacy, and conspiracy theories.

What makes all of this a bit shocking — and places it in stark contrast — is how state and provincial leaders are faring. Here in Canada, our premiers are meeting in British Columbia and acting as a united non-partisan group on health care — led by impressive premiers like Francois Legault, Doug Ford and John Horgan.

In the United States, it is much the same. The stronger leadership is increasingly seen at the state level — most notably California’s Gavin Newsom now actively challenging Florida’s Ron DeSantis with attack ads, thereby foretelling a possible future presidential contest.

So, in Canada, an unhappy nation turns its eyes towards Ottawa, and wonders if we will ever again have a strong national leadership. Because, at one time, we did.

A poll recently conducted by Leger for the Association for Canadian Studies suggests that things were once better than they are now. The Leger survey, published by Postmedia, found that 41% of Canadians had a positive view of my former boss Jean Chretien, who was our prime minister from 1993 to 2003.

It has been almost three decades since Chretien was in power. But he still remains by far our most respected prime minister — most popular in Ontario, at 45%, but also favoured 42% in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Atlantic Canada, and around 40% in Quebec and Alberta.

Wrote the National Post: “(Chretien) is a more popular — and far less polarizing — figure than other prime ministers of the last few decades, including (Stephen) Harper.”

“While Harper, who governed for roughly a decade between 2006 and 2015, is popular in Alberta, with 51% having a favourable view, his popularity collapses elsewhere … All told, just 35% of Canadians have a positive view of Harper, while 45% have a negative view.”

What distinguishes Jean Chretien from other prime ministers, perhaps, are the two things that seem to be most lacking at the national level nowadays.

One, voters do not feel like they are in control of their own lives anymore. Buffeted by war, pandemics, inflation and a looming recession, they feel that countries have become unmoored from stability and predictability. So they want national leaders who know how to lead — and are in control.

Two, voters have a reasonable expectation that they will get the services their tax dollars pay for. Here in Canada, the near-total collapse of basic federal services has enraged Canadians from coast to coast. And the Trudeau government seems completely incapable of doing the one job they were hired to do.

Leaders who lead, service providers who provide service: Voters do not ask for much. But they want that much.

Will we ever see again the likes of Chretien or Harper? It seems unlikely.

National leadership is a calling.

But it is no longer calling the best and the brightest.


  1. Doug says:

    Will we ever see again the likes of Chretien or Harper? Probably not, until society moves on from social media. In the interim, we will be stuck with celebrities masquerading as leaders.

    My view of Chretien has maybe softened slightly, but I still can’t find much to admire beyond the 1995 budget, which was likely more of a Paul Martin achievement. Chretien heavily campaigned on division and didn’t get on the fiscal conservative path until financial markets and the Reform opposition pushed the Liberal government in that direction.

    My impression of Harper becomes even more favorable as time passes. He kept an unruly caucus in order, successfully withdrew stimulus once the financial crisis was passed, took federal spending to a post WW2 low relative to GDP without breaking anything, and didn’t play regions or groups against one another. Most of all, he had substance. Control freak or not, was there ever a time when Harper didn’t have a better understanding of important government files than practically anybody else?

    • PJH says:

      I would have included Mr. Harper in my list save for two things: His tearing up of the Kelowna Accord, which has had far reaching consequences for the Conservative Party of Canada to this day…..and his failure to act on the crisis facing dwindling wild Pacific salmon stocks, and I left the party for these two reasons. Junior hasn’t proven much better in this regard, and I am hoping M. Charest will set things right.

      • william shakesfeare says:

        Let’s skip the part where Harper wasted 1.2 Billion dollars on a preemptive attack on Toronto during the G20 in 2010 where he built walls around downtown, kettled innocent civilians, and held them in pre-installed cages near cherry beach and God Help Us All.. Gazeboes and Officer Bubbles.
        Now that’s what I call a leader.
        I think of him as the coup nazi who pushed us all to the back of the line.

        • PJH says:

          Thanks for the reminder…..I believe tight security was needed, but the costs were ridiculous…..same for the gazebos and fountains…..and I’ll throw selling the Wheat Board into the mix…..and perhaps some broken furniture at 24 Sussex Drive…..

  2. PJH says:

    As a long term card carrying Tory(with a few hiatuses) I have to say I think M. Chretien was one of the best Prime Ministers this country has ever had…..along with the likes of MacDonald, Laurier, and St. Laurent(my Dad’s personal favourite). I will include the Rt. Hon. Robert Stanfield in the group as an honorary member. Under M. Chretien’s tenure the country was united, prosperous, safe, and gov’t services functioned. You are duly proud of your service under M. Chretien, and so you should be, Sir. We need more statesmen like M. Chretien in this country,

    • PJH,

      Absolutely but Chrétien and company inexcusably snoozed in the second referendum and but for Charest, Canada would have been toast and Chrétien would have worn it in the history books. My God, even with Charest, we barely made it over the finish line.

  3. EsterHazyWasALoser says:

    Newsom should worry about his own backyard (California is a disaster) before going after the most competent leader in America.

  4. Sean says:

    Chretien running against Poilievre… the Tories wouldn’t have time for campaigning… they’d be spending all their time looking for missing teeth.

  5. Douglas W says:

    Waning days of 2021 federal election: Chretien campaigning hard for Justin Trudeau at Brampton rally.

    Chretien, most respected PM? He almost lost the country– 1995 Quebec referendum.

    Charest saved his bacon, and the country.

    • PJH says:

      It was a group effort….M. Charest, M. Johnson, and M. Chretien…..and M. Chretien later was responsible for the Clarity Act, which put the kibosh on any further ambiguous referenda questions put forth by separatistes bound and determined to break up Canada. All three deserve our respect and admiration for their efforts in keeping Canada together…..

      • Douglas W says:

        Group effort? Knee slapper.

        Mr. Chretien badly underestimated the strength of the Oui side.
        Read Chantal Hebert’s book, The Morning After.
        A grim portrait of the federalist approach to the referendum.

        The tide changed when Mr. Charest waved his Canadian passport in front of a law class and said: this passport means something.
        A Quebec passport won’t mean a damn thing.

      • Sean says:

        Every triumph has a thousand fathers… etc… sigh.

        Jean Chretien was Prime Minister when the referendum started.

        Jean Chretien was Prime Minister while it happened.

        Jean Chretien was Prime Minister when it ended.

        Jean Chretien was Prime Minister when the Government of Canada made it impossible for such a disgraceful referendum to ever happen again.

        Jean Chretien’s signature is still on the same Constitution that includes Quebec as part of Canada.

      • PJH,

        Reform’s Clarity Act, implemented by Chrétien, is bullshit. Is English Canada actually stupid enough to think that if Yes won the next referendum that the CA would keep this country together? Not a chance. After a referendum win the then former autonomist will declare UDI and English Canada will have a choice: fight or cave. They’ll cave in a NewYorkMinuteTM because they simply don’t have to balls for the inevitably civil war that military action would bring. Period, end of story.

        • Jim Keegan says:

          Ronald, it’s not so much that English Canada wouldn’t have the balls to undertake military action; it’s more a case that most of us outside Quebec would not view it as worth fighting for. Indeed, I think that if a referendum was held on the question in the ROC, the result would be “See ya later, Quebec, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” The attitude toward Quebec has hardened considerably since 1995 and having Justin as PM for the past 7 years hasn’t helped.

          • Jim,

            Fair enough. We in Quebec have pretty much the same attitude about AB and would love if it joined a Trump America further down the road but our attitude doesn’t make it right nor is it fair to AB and yet it also strongly exists even despite overly generous equalization to Quebec since at least the seventies.

            But the big problem with Canada is that it’s a false and futile entity: in no way truly bilingual other than for NB with the rest wanting only to be English speaking and Quebec mostly only wanting to be French speaking. What a horrible mess of a construct and country.

          • And the idiot who runs it plays Mr. Tough Guy with us, not to mention all the rest. Too stupid to recognize that a quarter to half a loaf given to most if not all of us could save this country.

            It was repeatedly a flat No to Couillard and now to the phoney, you know, the guy pretending to be autonomist…exactly the same. But the phoney wants to hear only Nos from the federal numbskull who keeps playing into his hands. Can anyone in Ottawa be more stupid? Apparently not.

            The at best B-rated actor will sink this country yet. Just give him more time, that dolt.

          • Imagine, this dullard thinks he can stick handle the constitutional puck like the old man did. Not in a million years. This guy is way beyond delusional. The old man isolated Quebec and this genius will one day finish off federalism. That should make the old man positively shit in his grave out there in the boonies.

    • Sean says:

      almost lost the country…

      The West almost lost the Cold War.

      The Americans almost lost the Battle of the Bulge.

      The Union almost lost at Gettysburg.

      Tampa almost lost to the Leafs in the 2022 playoffs.

  6. Scot says:

    Doug Ford impressive. You lose a lot of your credibility with me with that statement. Also this bs poll from NP is a joke. 32% strongly disapprove. All cons. 23% partially disapprove. Dips and Greens who will still vote for him. Let’s see a poll on how many disapprove of PP.

    • william shakesfeare says:

      PP. Another Harper leftover just like Kenney before him.
      God these guys will do anything to keep their hands on the public purse.

  7. Steve T says:

    History tends to soften the perspective of most politicians, except perhaps the most egregious ones (eg: Nixon, and I’m guessing Trump).
    Chretien was certainly a decent PM, but I’d hardly categorize him as great. As others have noted, his key achievement was bringing the country out of the red, and your longtime foe P.Martin deserves at least some of that credit.
    Chretien had a somewhat easier time with the Canadian Alliance in opposition, because he took the classic liberal approach of cartoonishly painting his opponents as things they weren’t – but some of that blame lies with the Alliance picking leaders like S.Day, and also some of the blame goes to Canadians themselves who seem easily swayed by these methods. It’s the same reason Trudeau is lapping up the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and the gun violence in the U.S., even though both those topics have zero relevance in Canada. Many Canadians are dumb enough to fall for the faux outrage and scare tactics that the Liberals have perfected over decades.

  8. The Government of Canada is finally and truly a perfect reflection and representation of this Prime Minister’s so-called abilities…

  9. Warren,

    The Who you would like to have a beer with poll is the only one that counts and Chrétien takes that one hands down.

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