COLUMN: Good leadership is a crucial component of effective government

Leadership is as crucial in politics as it is in every other area of life. Yet politicians and, in particular, party leaders and mayors, often don’t measure up in this most important role. Poor leadership impacts other politicians and it impacts the public. It also impacts our communities.

Former Cloverdale-Langley City Liberal MP John Aldag, who lost his seat to Conservative Tamara Jansen in the October federal election, touched on how crucial leadership is in an interview with Malin Jordan of the Cloverdale Reporter, sister paper to the Peace Arch News.

“I heard time and time again that people would have loved to have voted for me, but they were mad at my leader. And so, I wore that. But I’m very proud of how I represented the riding and the work that I did.”

Almost everyone familiar with Aldag’s work as MP from 2015-19 would agree with his conclusion. He worked very hard on behalf of his constituents, was not afraid to face up to criticism of the Liberal government and take the concerns back to Ottawa, and was always ready to listen. However, as the Liberal candidate, many people in the riding would not vote to re-elect him primarily because of his party leader, Justin Trudeau. That being the case, Trudeau’s decision to campaign for him in Cloverdale two days before the election may actually have hurt his chances.

The federal and provincial political scenes have become too leader-centric in the past few decades, partially due to the accumulation of far too much power in leaders’ offices. Other factors are the impressions voters get from short sound bites, and campaigns that downplay the strengths of local candidates. Voters are well aware of how politics has changed, and most make their choices based on their perceptions of the party leaders.

In Surrey, there has been much focus in recent months on the leadership of Mayor Doug McCallum. After 13 years out of office, he was re-elected mayor in October, 2018. Since assuming office, he has made it clear that he sets the agenda. This has caused three of his former slate-mates to depart and left him with a 5-4 majority on council.

McCallum’s leadership is crucial. All eight councillors who were elected have never sat on a council. Only one, Brenda Locke, has previous elected experience – and that was as a backbencher in Victoria when the BC Liberals had 77 seats and the NDP two.

The Dec. 16 council meeting ended in chaos, as shouting in the council chambers made it impossible for councillors to properly adopt the 2020 budget. Most councillors weren’t even able to speak. McCallum’s chairmanship of the meeting was obviously influenced by these external factors, but as mayor, it is his responsibility to make sure that proper processes are followed at a council meeting.

Beyond that, he also has the duty to show leadership on civic issues and understand citizens’ concerns. As Aldag has shown by his actions, it is important to be able to communicate with those who disagree with you and your position.

Another Black Press Media story, on the endurance of slates in Surrey politics – by reporter Tom Zytaruk – contained a very interesting comment from Stewart Prest, a political science lecturer at Simon Fraser University.

Prest said it seems like civic slates “are very good vehicles for getting people elected, and making them more competitive, but they don’t have the same coherence when it comes to governing.”

Yet another reason for good leadership.

Frank Bucholtz writes Wednesdays for Peace Arch News.

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