Monday, May 21, 2012

Trudeau's shadow

Hat tip to the National Film Board - can't believe Harper hasn't slashed it yet - and their excellent website, It's packed with awesome documentaries from years back. What an asset to Canadian culture. The question of who will be Canada's next great leader seems decidedly undecided right now. Though he's achieved his political objectives, Stephen Harper is not a great leader - a man who inspires us to greater highs - nor a nation builder - sensible for a politician who sees little role for government in nation building. Thomas Mulcair is showing a divisive, calculating streak by hanging his economic credentials on Canada's "dutch disease". But he has years to prove himself. This weekend's free TV - Hat tip to the Internet, wag of the finger to the cable companies - included this series on the simultaneous rises, falls and interplays of Pierre Trudeau and Rene Levesque. The first of three: Trudeau's removed intellectual style seems wildly out of place in today's Riddelin-starved retail politics - see Michael Ignatieff. Yet he was the last to reshape our nation. Significantly, he was the last prime minister a significant number of people seemed to love. But a review of his governing record, as the documentary suggests, returns many periods of listlessness and managerial dysfunction. On environmental sustainability, indigenous living, urban challenges, health care sustainability, competitiveness and more, Canada needs fundamental change - realignments of responsibility, bold but careful intrusions into the market, a reconsideration of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. Yet we have elected, since Mulroney, incremental managers in the style of your supervisor at work. Chretien and Martin succeeded in slaying the deficit in the 90s, yes - but those are trophies from award dinners, not the stuff of grade-school textbooks or tearful flag-raisings. Despite his style, the meaningfulness of Trudeau's big accomplishments are with us still exactly because they impacted both our emotional and material lives. In retrospect, it's possible to draw the connections between a strong stance on rights and the impact the Charter of Rights and Freedoms has had on the lives of all Canadians. Trudeau's intellectual rigour on rights - the succinctness of his thinking - eventually and almost accidentally came around to unite the heady and the daily. I've yet to see a leader emerge who has thought through all those fundamental challenges and can explain why the work must be done. No leader has stepped forth to present with ruthless honesty and unending patience a plan that rises above easy criticism. Is there a leader who could do both and get elected in Canada today? Would we listen? The search goes on.

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