Home Home Initiatives Comments Insight Publications Correspondence Search Resources Profiles Upcoming






Economic & Social Policy

Foreign & Military Affairs

Think Tanks

To Move A Nation

A Reflection on Leadership
Beryl P. Wajsman 6 June 2004

The voice of great events is proclaiming to us, Reform, so that you may preserve.”

~Thomas Babington Macaulay


One thing is clear in the numbers in the run-up to this election. Canadians are fed up. They are fed up with a political elite that proposes choices that are impotent in voices that are mute. A political elite that tinkers and twists with legislation and darts between the raindrops with one eye always on the polls guarding against upsetting anyone.  A political elite without the instinctive and intuitive grasp of the needs of the nation, unable to exercise the requisite candour and conviction on the great matters of state, and in the end satisfying no one.


This is not leadership. What we have seen in this country is rudderless direction reminiscent of the politician in the French Revolution who ran out into the street to see which way the mob was heading so that he could lead it. Leadership implies daring. Leadership compels decision. Leadership demands dedication.


Canada is at a crossroads. One path continues the smug complacency of worn orthodoxies. The other rouses our national character and conscience to bring to an end the many pious excuses for inaction. We must create the national will to move this nation to a bold resolve to chart the latter course.




When in the mists of history we came out of the forests and jungles and organized ourselves into co-operative societies it was the beginning of civilization. The beginning of a recognition that we could better stave off the wolves together than trying to do it alone. That by ceding certain of our natural liberties to a collective, that collective that eventually we called government, would be responsible for organizing the provision of common defence, food, care and other essentials that would free some of our time so that we could make the most of ourselves as individuals in the pursuit of poetry and passion.


There was a recognition that even the strongest among us would need help at some point in our lives. A social contract developed that was based on a civility  that valued co-operation over competition and compassion over contempt. It was simply a saner way to live. And while it was never expected that government would finance all our individual pursuits,  it was expected that it would get the core basics right.


The first responsibility of government was to assure that distribution of a commonweal’s riches and services be just and equitable and proportionate to the society’s means and that the exercise of its duties be always carried out in a spirit that admitted of the right of individual sovereignty and individual expression. That the quality of governance would never be compromised by appeal to the lowest common delinquencies and deviances of electoral denominators and the words of the laws would never injure the common good by subjecting citizens to the petty tyrannies of the mediocre and the narcissistic triumphs of the mindless. Mankind was to develop with greater nobility of purpose.


It has been argued that Canada has the finest social contract between governors and governed that can be found anywhere in the world. Whether that is in fact true is quite irrelevant. What is in fact true is that any national compact becomes calcified and compromised when tended by a national polity obedient only to the imperatives of partisan posturing.  It is not enough for great parties of power and principle to view electoral success as their sole end. This does not fully meet their duties. It may be unconventional in Canadian politics to make this point. But the times we live in are unconventional. The challenges at home and abroad are unconventional. And they demand renewed vision and renewed vigor.


This is too dangerous a time for Canada’s destiny to be controlled by overt political correctness and inert social engineering. This is no longer a time where we can afford dilettantes in our public life who are merely pleasant and presentable. This is a time requiring hard truths and tough decisions. It is a time that beckons with daunting tasks and invites those of serious will. Our credit account in the bank of international influence is running low, our people are beset with a stifling financial yoke with the bare minimums as rewards, our great national programs are imploding from lack of resources, and the competitiveness of our corporate vanguard is blunted and coarse. We need to respond with straight talk and real change. We need to consider a radical agenda for authentic reform.




Radical does not imply revolutionary. In these times when, as Camus wrote, “…merely to be a man is to be heroic…”, radical does not even mean new. But it does mean true. And it does mean just. And truth and justice know no boundaries in time nor space. But if today’s political culture of myopic mediocrity and mindless mendacity views truth and justice as revolutionary---if it views truth and justice as radical--- then in the words of William Murray “Let justice prevail though the heavens fall.”


For the agenda that stirs us to action was first proclaimed a century ago. “To raise people up from poverty and oppression at home and abroad. To reconcile private interests with public rights. To attack monopoly. To reward enterprise, but not with untrammelled privilege and preference. To exalt the individual over ruler or regulation.”


This magnificent vision was first proclaimed by no less a radical than Winston Churchill in the first Asquith government. There has never been a more succinct statement of the foundational responsibilities of enlightened liberal governance. There can be no clearer program of priorities for what we must get right in our national public trust. There is no better signature for our society.


In our land today there are too many of shrivelled spirit and hostile heart that fear the future, mistrust the present and invoke the security of a comfortable past, which, in fact, never existed. They exhibit suspicion of the people qualified only by fear, rather than exhibiting faith in the people qualified only by prudence. They marshal these evil inclinations to convince us that nothing dramatic is necessary. That no new departures are called for. That other than managerial and technical adjustments, nothing more is required.


This is the mindset that has bloodied the standards of progress in this nation for some twenty years. It is the mindset of the docile who view public office as simply a short road to a pension which vests after six years. The replacement of this political class is the first step toward authentic reform. They are the greatest obstacle to effective governance.


Though the standards they have opposed are bloodied, they are yet held high. Passed from the hands of those who fought great wars to preserve our freedom and led great crusades to enshrine our rights, to other hands tempered by the hard and bitter complacencies of an era when this nation wallowed smugly at harbour, they now rest with a new generation that seeks its own faithful champions.


This new generation understands full well that our problems are not merely managerial and technical but are truly political and distributive. Out of this generation arises a new alignment that rejects the old platitudes and promises and looks for the best and the brightest to lead the land it loves. This alignment is not merely a yoke of temporary allegiances but represents a broad national frustration that is already asking the question of who holds power---and by what right.




Our greatest contribution, and greatest challenge, will be to translate the passionate sentiments of public oratory into powerful advocacy in the corridors of power. With clarity and courage we must raise our national vision above the daily political pressures of mere process and arm our people with the strength they need to unleash their inherent generosity of spirit that is the necessary precursor for the sacrifices required to realize a culture of conscience.


It is our sense that many in our country believe that the purposes toward which we are heading, and the policies that some now propose, will begin the slow undoing of the progress to which our nation must always remain committed. These problems are not new. Many of us have struggled with them in recent years. But now, a period of renewal is upon us. It summons us to vigilant rededication and commands us to unyielding fidelity to those ideals reflective of mankind’s transcendent yearning for redemptive change.


In this spirit we must recognize a compelling truth. It is imperative to force those pursuing positions of political leadership to clearly proclaim what they believe to be the priorities of governance. To make known precisely where they stand on the great matters on the national agenda. We can no longer allow our national discourse to be compromised by those who merely oppose certain parties and platforms. It must be galvanized by those who seek to propose new policies and purposes.


We must always remember that the “Just Society” which people of goodwill seek to build is predicated on a recognition of an equal claim on the stock of welfare of the land by all, and that this recognition has not yet found full expression in the social contract between the government and the people. To achieve it we must encourage a new brand of leaders.


Leaders devoted to the cause that empowers the people’s ability, tempered only by the experiences of reason and judgment, to realize the expanded equitable distribution of just consideration and free opportunity which all human life deserves.


Leaders pledged to the belief that our progress as a people is grounded in the foundational principle of sovereignty over our democratically elected government unencumbered by any conditions of special considerations to property or power, privilege or preference.


Leaders bound to the promise that all Canadians, regardless of rank, can rest secure that through the exercise of their suffrage, they can exact their full share from the bounty of society’s wealth to which their labour has so much contributed.




Canada has historic opportunities given to few nations.


Though the agenda be long, the tasks daunting and the day short, Canadians would not exchange places with any other people or any other generation. 


Though the world has become a most dangerous place, we cherish our greatest gift as free people…the gift of hope.


We know that so long as that hope endures, our dreams shall never die.


We cannot not stand by in mute protest when it is mortgaged to expediency.


We will continue our march to meet the future with a proud banner bearing a clear emblem of progress and not one whose only image is a question mark. That is what we will demand of our leaders. For  as we reflect on the extraordinary and heroic legacy of this land on this 60th Anniversary of D-Day we know that as a people we have paid dearly for the knowledge of an eternal truth…


Leadership does not sit along a fence. It climbs heights. And from those heights it remains true to the vision that justice is not in heaven nor beyond the sea but is in our hearts to dream and in our hands to forge.





Email Article Format for Printing
Home Initiatives Comments Insight Publications Profiles Resources Search Correspondence




Write to us