A failure in leadership, by the book
It is hard to imagine a wider gulf between ideologies than the one that separates Stephen Harper and Lorraine Michael.
Michael is a socialist. A true believer.
If Canada had a Tea Party like they do in the U.S.A., then Harper would be its leader. Come to think of it, Canada did have a Tea Party once, only they called it the Reform Party. Stephen Harper was a member, but saw that Canada as a whole was not right-wing enough so he quit to lead the National Citizen’s Coalition, where being very right-wing is not only not a problem, but mandatory.
Biding his time on the sidelines he observed the evolution under first Preston Manning, then Stockwell Day, from Reform Party to the Canadian Alliance. This metamorphosis included a very brief period when it was entitled Canadian Conservative Reform Alliance Party. This name lasted a mere 24 hours until party members realized the gales of crossCanada laughter were the result of the initials of the party: C.C.R.A.P.
Once the dust had settled, Harper returned to lead the Canadian Alliance, whose initials, C.A., are those used by Chartered Accountants. They imply leadership that is frugal, responsible and cautious, characteristics Harper hoped Canadians would believe were his own.
Harper promptly conned Peter Mackay, the leader of the Progressive Conservatives, into a merger with the Canadian Alliance that would unite the right under the name Conservative Party of Canada. The merger took place, Harper became leader and Peter Mackay was left to joy-ride in Search and Rescue helicopters equipped with fly rods and dip nets.
On his third election attempt Harper finally achieved a majority government and was free to shed his sheep’s clothing and reveal to the Little Red Riding Hoods among Canadian voters what big teeth he had.
This is the pivotal moment in the evolution of a political leader when, with power finally achieved, he or she can reveal their true identity. And so can members of caucus.
Lorraine Michael may not have achieved power yet, but it must have seemed like it to her. The NDP scored their best result ever in the last election, with five seats in the House of Assembly.
Against the backdrop of a Liberal Party in the process of deciding on a new leader and the Tory leadership in a spectacular meltdown, the public turned to Lorraine and her gang. The party was at unprecedented popularity in the polls and the leader’s numbers were extraordinary. Never before seen, either by the leader or by her caucus, all four of whom signed the email that greeted Michael when she returned from a vacation. Buoyed by the wave of enthusiasm from the public, the caucus demanded her resignation and a leadership convention.
Sometimes those annoying things about the captain that the crew is forced to tolerate when the vessel is becalmed, become impossible to bear when the wind begins to fill the sails and a change of skipper seems to promise more speed.
When she got wind of the mutiny, Lorraine Michael, instead of swallowing her pride and talking things over, went public. Two of the mutineers begged forgiveness and turned on the ring leader. The other two refused to recant and jumped ship. Now the NDP caucus is reduced from five to three, the minimum number to qualify as a political party in the House of Assembly.
The worst damage inflicted on political parties often comes from within. The provincial NDP has found this out. And Stephen Harper is finding it out.
Unlike Lorraine Michael, Stephen Harper is known to be well-practiced at playing hard ball, but despite being famous as a control freak, he seems to have forgotten the same fundamental rule that the NDP leader and her mutineers forgot: people backed into a corner have nothing to lose.
Both the provincial NDP and the the Harper Conservatives have already been dealt severe blows with, quite possibly, more to come. The blows are self-inflicted. Political leadership is not easy. It is a constant balancing act in which a leader must weigh the wishes of a caucus, party members and the voters at large. A leader must balance political doctrine with common sense, justice with mercy, right with wrong.
These last few weeks have seen textbook cases of how not to demonstrate leadership. What does the future hold? Stand by.