What does a real leader look like?
There is sexism, discrimination among the electorate. Political parties can’t cater to them
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.