If leadership is example, Canadians need more than empty selfies

 “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” — Warren Bennis (pioneer of Leadership studies)

By Larry McCloskey

If only. Regrettably, the modern political landscape of past weeks exposes leaders whose unwillingness to see reality translates vision into tragedy. Vladamir Putin’s sick quest to re-assemble the corrupt empire of the USSR can only end in death and destruction, with no discernible vision or benefit to Ukrainians, Russians, or the watching world. Winning the war will only make Putin and Russia morally and monetarily bankrupt. Putin’s leadership vision to ‘de-Nazify’ Ukraine is a ludicrous lie that is lost in translation.

Joe Biden’s leadership vision—for which progressive Democrats are leading him by the nose—is to lead in the greening of the world, is antithetical to real leadership, is undeterred by the reality of global events as they unfold before our eyes. The best route to true leadership and political influence—the means to lead green initiatives and to effectively deal with political crisis—is for the United States to be energy independent. It was, and he gave it away. And in giving it away, the United States gave away a historic opportunity to provide Europe with a dependable energy alternative to reliance on Russia, as well as meaningful deterrence to Putin’s reprehensible territorial designs.

The irony of American ‘green’ aspirations is matched by former ‘Climate’ Chancellor Angela Merkel’s leadership in eliminating much disparaged nuclear power. Germany’s current dependence on Russian gas to the tune of over 40% helped create the fertile ground and petro-dollars for Russia’s malevolent ambitions in Ukraine.  And ironically, after Germany spent billions on its green agenda, on February 2nd, just days before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the European Commission issued a statement declaring nuclear power and gas to be sustainable, and therefore ‘green.’ Additional irony: between dependence on Russian gas and eliminating nuclear energy in the name of green, Germany will have to extend its use of dreaded coal years beyond its targeted date of 2030. Ouch. All that money and effort fuelled by aspirations to transform a nation and lead the world, only to return to the same place. A dog chasing its tail comes to mind.   

And then we have our very own Justin Trudeau. Whatever one thinks about the truck convoy— and that is a very wide divide—most people agree that the prime minister’s response, or lack of a response followed by over-response, exacerbated protest into manufactured crisis. 

I feel for the Ottawa centre residents who had to put up with three weeks of disruption, but that was not the only issue. We really don’t have to pick a side between regarding them as heroes or villains to understand that some of their protest had merit. There is emerging empirical science (turns out when ideologues lecture people to follow the science, the science can come back to bite you) that lockdown mandates provide little benefit, or worse.

Though truckers may not have been aware, a new study out of Johns Hopkins University has determined that worldwide lockdowns saved only 0.2% of deaths, which in consideration of alarming increases of loneliness, addiction, obesity, delayed or missed medical treatments, and mental illness, means that Covid mandated lockdowns will be shown to have caused more deaths than they prevented. Think about that.

I’m not talking about vaccines or the need for careful protocols to protect and save the lives of vulnerable people. But the multiplicity of non-sensical, freedom compromising and confusing mandates that the entire population has been told it must obey without question will be proven to have caused more devastating human harm than good. The Johns Hopkins bottom line: worldwide pandemic lockdowns were “not an effective way of reducing mortality rates during a pandemic.”

It is not, has never been about the science; it is and has always been about terrible leadership. Our flashy prime minister exemplifies a disturbing and increasing divide between the educated elite who deal with abstract, consequence-free utopian ideals in a virtual world versus blue collar workers with everything on the line, dealing with concrete issues in the real world. Real being defined as those doing the work that holds everything together that we take for granted, who are the same people Trudeau feels comfortable disparaging as racist, misogynists, as well as potential Nazis and rapists (most recently Minister Mendocino to the Common public safety committee).

And yet, with bridges unblocked and sufficient laws in place to deal with public nuisance issues, Trudeau invoked the never used Emergencies Act that is so oppressive and draconian, is so indicative of the great divide between the elite and those fetching fresh kale for the elite, that he is forced to immediately withdraw it in response to worldwide reaction. The fact is that the convoy was not a Canadian emergency even if it was a political emergency for the prime minister.

This week, just when you thought that Justin Trudeau couldn’t be more brazenly out of touch with the people and issues he purports to represent, Canada’s twenty-third prime minister makes a historic (or histrionic) March 23 speech to the European Parliament. 

Understatement of the century: Trudeau’s lecture on leadership and democracy—especially given the juxtaposition between Canada’s faux crisis and Europe’s real and heartbreaking crisis—did not go well. Two European parliamentarians blasted Trudeau’s “quasi-Liberal boot” as a “disgrace for any democracy.” But far more noteworthy, and far less reported was the fact that Trudeau’s leadership speech was given to an almost empty house. Worse, many of those who left did so in protest of his anti-democratic leadership. Apparently, Canada’s offer to ‘convene’ peace-keeping meetings was insufficient to stem the tide.

Neither our prime minister nor his media cheerleaders, the CBC, seem to grasp the concept of shame. After his shameful debacle on the world stage, the CBC reported—not that nine-tenths of the EU parliament had left—but that the remaining 10% gave a standing ovation.

The disparity between what our prime minister says and does— surely the most important ingredient to leadership— was not lost on members of the European Parliament. To demonize the protestors as deplorable or ‘the other’ who must be shunned, Justin Trudeau strategically chooses not to meet with them. And yet lost in the prime minister’s accusations and mainstream media’s uncritical propensity to echo his false claims was the fact that the worst part of the trucker debacle could have been mitigated by discussion.

Even with hit squads actively searching for him, President Zelenskyy would not leave Kiev, refusing President Biden’s offer with a Churchillian response, “The fight is here: I need ammunition, not a ride.” Oh yeah, and throughout this crisis, this war, these many multiple crimes against humanity, President Zelenskyy has continued his offer to meet with Putin. In putting his life on the line against the onslaught of the Russian army, President Zelenskyy elevated leadership into heroism, not in consideration of image but in response to actual events.

I had the privilege of working with students with disabilities for almost 40 years. These were students in difficult circumstances, often achieving great things. I talked to 1000’s of students over those years, and sometimes difficult circumstances lent themselves to difficult discussions, but never in all those years did I refuse to meet with a student. And if there was a single lesson learned from 40 years of difficult discussions, it was this: however difficult, oppositional, entrenched, or angry a petitioner might be, there is never a downside to discussion.

In fact, meeting and greeting someone eye to eye often results in an unexpected, human moment of clarity and understanding. The exercise is never about convincing people that they are wrong, or reading the riot act, or displaying power. In unleashing the Emergency Act, our privileged prime minister had his autocratic moment that will echo throughout history as judged by world reaction, even as President Zelenskyy continues to send inspiring messages to the seven billion of us captivated by his singular leadership.

I’ve always thought that the only way to narrow the great divide between people of differing views is to attempt to draw a picture that they can see themselves in. If done carefully and authentically, it can be the epiphany moment. One can imagine President Putin refusing to draw any picture (unless it is a revised map of the USSR that includes Ukraine); or President Zelenskyy drawing a picture of us all, including a Russian us, together for democracy and against tyranny, best epitomized by his cry for ammunition and not a ride; and finally, there is our Prime Minister Trudeau drawing a picture of himself, an empty selfie we are expected to admire for no particular reason. If leadership is an example, Canadians are in trouble, and the world knows it.

Larry McCloskey is a writer whose latest book celebrates 40 years working with university students with disabilities. Inarticulate Speech of the Heart won a Word Guild national award as best Canadian manuscript.

PHOTO: Vlodomyr Zalenskyy via atlanticcouncil.org, Justin Trudeau by Ariffin Jamar/AP/SIPA