Only leaders' achievements matter - Keith Roulston editorial
The assassination of Shinzo Abe, former Prime Minister of Japan, and the ongoing controversy of claims by former U.S. President Donald Trump, highlight the importance of leadership in our democratic society.
Abe, twice Japan’s Prime Minister – and some suggested he might be Prime Minister again – was his country’s longest-serving Prime Minister, although he was seldom loved by the majority of his people. He was respected, though, for getting Japan out of a recession soon after he entered office and finding a way for Japan to wriggle out of its pacificist constitution imposed by the U.S. following World War II – as long as Japan supported the U.S.
Abe was killed by a lone gunman who claims his mother sold land belonging to his grandfather without permission, and gave the proceeds to the Unification Church, pushing her into bankruptcy and ruining the family’s relationships. Abe was a member of the church and the assassin somehow blamed him.
Meanwhile, while most former U.S. presidents fade from view after leaving office, Donald Trump continues to have incredible influence in the U.S., claiming he really won the 2020 U.S. Presidential election, even though there is overwhelming evidence that he lost. If he holds a rally, thousands of his supporters will show up to hear him. Meanwhile Republican politicians, seeking his favour, change the rules for elections so they can make it harder for Democrats to win in the future.
The two men demonstrate the power of political leadership. Just being the leader of your country doesn’t matter – take a look at the low popularity of current U.S. President Joe Biden. Somehow you have to reach out and touch people – and it can be a mysterious connection, as the case of Trump proves.
I’m showing my age, here, but John Diefenbaker made that sort of connection with the Canadian public in the 1950s,
winning a huge Progressive Conservative majority over the long-serving Liberal government of the time. He didn’t deliver, however, so he was replaced by Lester Pearson, who never caught the imagination of the Canadian public, being handicapped
by government minorities. Despite that, he reshaped Canada, giving us medicare, the Canada Pension Plan and the Maple Leaf
Pearson was succeeded by Pierre Trudeau, who was wildly popular with the Canadian public in the 1968 election, when
he was mobbed even in Huron County – where people still voted Progressive Conservative. Pierre Trudeau’s popularity faded, however, and by June, 1979, Joe Clark won a minority government. Trudeau resigned, but before the Liberals could choose a new leader, Clark botched a vote, and his government was defeated. Still leader, Trudeau came back to win the government in March, 1980 and went on to change the country forever by negotiating the Canadian Constitution, a move which has changed the way Canada is governed.
Pierre Trudeau also led Canada through the FLQ crisis in 1980, and despite his anti-establishment background, used the War Measures Act to help defeat the rebels (and temporarily jail many innocent people who came under suspicion of helping the FLQ). He also helped defeat the first attempt by a separatist government in Quebec to win a mandate to negotiate independence from Canada.
By contrast, Canada has not had such formative leaders since, the longest serving being Jean Chrétien for the Liberals, who barely won a second Quebec referendum, and Stephen Harper for the Conservatives. Although he has won one majority and
two minority governments in a row since 2015, Justin Trudeau, son of Pierre, remains a controversial character, His attempts to persuade/force Canadians to deal with issues like climate change by imposing a refundable carbon tax have been controversial, being opposed by Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government and bitterly fought by petroleum-producing western Canadians. The western-led anti-COVID vaccine protest in Ottawa earlier this year called for him to be deposed, even though he won (minority) re-election just last fall.
Internationally, we’ve seen how fleeting support can be. Winston Churchill, celebrated as Britain’s wartime leader, was defeated in 1945 by a public that wanted to go in a different direction.
The U.S.’s Depressions and wartime leader, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was popular enough to be elected four times, the longest term ever by a U.S. president. It was enough to make the Republicans pass a bill limiting presidents to only two terms – something they may have regretted with the popular Ronald Reagan.
Leaders come and go. Some are loved, some not. Still, in history it’s what they accomplished that matters.