What does a real leader look like?

There is sex­ism, dis­crim­i­na­tion among the elec­torate. Po­lit­i­cal par­ties can’t cater to them

The Hamilton Spectator - - Comment - WADE POZIOMKA

Re­cently I at­tended the On­tario Lib­eral Provin­cial Coun­cil and had the op­por­tu­nity to meet for­mer premier Kath­leen Wynne. The day was ded­i­cated to what went wrong in the past elec­tion and how the party will be­gin its re­build. It was in­ter­est­ing to see how Wynne fac­tored into the dis­cus­sion. It is no se­cret that many On­tar­i­ans do not “like her” — it was a pri­mary fac­tor in the sig­nif­i­cant de­feat of the On­tario Lib­eral Party.

An im­por­tant ques­tion we need to ask is why so many On­tar­i­ans dis­like her. By most accounts, she is a pas­sion­ate, eth­i­cal and hard­work­ing in­di­vid­ual. She cares about hu­man rights, ed­u­ca­tion and mak­ing life eas­ier for On­tar­i­ans. Speak­ing to those in her in­ner cir­cle while she was a premier, she was re­spected and revered. So why did so many On­tar­i­ans dis­like her?

Some peo­ple iden­ti­fied a clear rea­son for their dis­like. Many were up­set she sold off a por­tion of Hy­dro One (I was un­happy with that move, as well). Some claimed that the Lib­er­als had sim­ply been in power for too long — 14 years (change is good and com­pla­cency isn’t, but we should re­mem­ber that the Con­ser­va­tives reigned in this province for 42 years from 1943 un­til 1985).

Many vot­ers, how­ever, per­haps most, could not iden­tify a clear rea­son why they didn’t like Wynne. A com­mon re­sponse was, “I can’t put my fin­ger on it, there is some­thing about her” or, “She just doesn’t look like what I pic­ture a real leader to be.” What does a “real leader” look like?

A man? A straight man? A straight white man?

Ho­mo­pho­bia and sex­ism ex­ist — per­haps to a much greater ex­tent than many of us would like to ad­mit.

In Au­gust, I wrote an opin­ion piece for The Spec­ta­tor, a por­tion of which bears re­peat­ing here:

Canada has seen 23 prime min­is­ters who have served our coun­try over 151 years. Of those 23 prime min­is­ters, one has been fe­male and she served a mere 132 days, for­get the fact that she was not even elected (but rather won the lead­er­ship of the party af­ter Brian Mul­roney re­tired and then lost in the next elec­tion).

The road to vic­tory is tough for fe­males. Even tougher for les­bians. Don’t just take my word for it, though; a poll con­ducted last year by An­gus Reid shows trou­bling re­sults:

• 84 per cent of Cana­di­ans said they could vote for a party led by a leader who is les­bian. This means 16 per cent of Cana­di­ans couldn’t.

• 58 per cent of Cana­di­ans said they could vote for a party led by a leader who is Mus­lim. This means 42 per cent of Cana­di­ans couldn’t.

If 16 per cent of Cana­di­ans rec­og­nize that they could not vote for a party led by a leader who is les­bian, how many more Cana­di­ans feel the same way and are not pre­pared or able to rec­og­nize it?

As pro­gres­sives be­come bolder and so­ci­ety be­comes more in­clu­sive and di­verse, there will in­evitably be back­lash. Re­sent­ment is grow­ing and sim­mer­ing just un­der the sur­face. The en­vi­ron­ment in North Amer­ica is ripe for di­vi­sive lead­ers to spew pop­ulist rhetoric and rise to power. No­body should cater to this back­lash — es­pe­cially not po­lit­i­cal par­ties, who ask for our votes in or­der to lead us — all of us.

An­other po­lit­i­cal party I have al­ways had tremen­dous re­spect for and ad­mi­ra­tion of is the fed­eral New Demo­cratic Party, which must now be well aware of a statis­tic from the same An­gus Reid poll that shows that only 56 per cent of those polled could vote for a party with a male leader who wears a re­li­gious head-cov­er­ing. This means that 44 per cent of those polled could not. If this poll is cred­i­ble, the chance of suc­cess for the NDP in the next fed­eral elec­tion is not promis­ing based solely on the fact that its leader wears a re­li­gious head-cov­er­ing.

One po­lit­i­cal fol­lower I spoke with re­cently told me that it doesn’t mat­ter why vot­ers don’t like a leader — the fact that they don’t like the leader is enough. The party comes first and the leader should step aside and be re­placed.

This can’t be the an­swer. Racism, ho­mo­pho­bia, sex­ism and dis­crim­i­na­tion are things that ev­ery po­lit­i­cal party, re­gard­less of stripe, should stand against. To pub­licly stand in op­po­si­tion to such things, while qui­etly re­shap­ing poli­cies in the back­room to gain the sup­port of sex­ist, racist and ho­mo­pho­bic vot­ers is wrong. A po­lit­i­cal party that is pre­pared to re­place a leader be­cause he wears a head­cov­er­ing, or a leader who is les­bian, be­cause those things do not sit well with some vot­ers, is a po­lit­i­cal party that does not de­serve any of our votes.

The Lib­er­als made the right de­ci­sion. It was no longer about votes, it was about do­ing what was right and eth­i­cal. There is a dif­fer­ence be­tween work­ing to save a po­lit­i­cal party and work­ing to en­sure a po­lit­i­cal party is worth sav­ing. The party sup­ported its leader, even in the face of dec­i­ma­tion. And be­cause it did, it re­mains a party worth sav­ing.

Wade Poziomka is a hu­man rights lawyer and Part­ner at a law firm in Hamil­ton. He cur­rently sits as Chair of the On­tario Bar As­so­ci­a­tion’s Hu­man Rights Sec­tion and 1st Vice Pres­i­dent of ARCH Dis­abil­ity Law Cen­tre. His views are his own.


For­mer premier Kath­leen Wynne in the leg­is­la­ture. The elec­tion’s re­sults made it clear vot­ers didn’t like her, but the rea­sons are less clear, and trou­bling, writes Wade Poziomka.

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