Tuesday, August 07, 2007

James and the politics of leadership

NDP leader Carole James took quite a little beating for her muddled responses to the treaty ratification by the Tsawwassen First Nation.
Mostly deserved, I'd say. James was attempting to explain why the party hadn't taken any position on the treaty in the months leading up to the vote.
It was out of respect, she said. The choice to accept the deal - or not - was up to the First Nation.
James said she decided the party's position should be kept secret to avoid any appearance of telling the Tsawwassen what to do.
So how does the party feel about the coming Maa-Nulth treaty vote, James was asked.
We hope it passes, she said. (It did.)
Which raised the obvious question: Why wasn't James staying silent on that treaty ratification vote out of respect, as well?
Right. I should have, said a stumbling James. Oops.
Not a great leadership moment.
And confirmation, I'd say, of suspicions that the New Democrats' silence on the Tsawwassen deal was based more on a desire to avoid airing their public divisions than on any principle.
The party is pro-treaty. An NDP government fought for the Nisga'a treaty, while Gordon Campbell staged a long battle against the deal, trying to stall approval in the legislature and challenging it in court.
But the NDP has also taken the Agricultural Land Reserve as a sacred cause.
The Tsawwassen treaty includes a transfer of land to the band. Some of it was in the reserve, but it will be removed before it is handed over to the First Nation.
Supporting the deal would have been tough for the ALR purists within the party and the caucus. There might have been internal fighting.
And James' contradictory responses on the two treaties suggest that avoiding a public squabble was a large part of the NDP's decision to stay silent on the Tsawwassen deal.
The whole affair raised once again that perhaps James isn't tough enough for the job. The suggestion, I suppose, is that she should have bludgeoned the party into line - or at least public silence - and taken a position on the treaty.
There's not much evidence for the claim. James' approval ratings are still better than the public marks for Premier Gordon Campbell.
The last Ipsos-Reid poll, in June, found 54 per cent of those surveyed approved of the job she was doing. Campbell won positive ratings from 49 per cent of those surveyed.
And James has generally been gaining ground. Back in March 2005 a similar poll found her approval rating at 50 per cent. Some voters who were undecided then have been won over.
It might be that the pundit types put too much value on toughness.
It seems to be generally considered a good thing when leaders are decisive, even authoritarian. Hesitation is worse than being confidently wrong.
Canadians don't cut and run, says Prime Minister Stephen Harper, so the war in Afghanistan continues no matter what's happening on the ground. But certainty can be dangerous. The leader who insists he alone knows the right course can - with great and stylish decisiveness - lead his followers over a cliff. (Or into Iraq.)
Earlier this year The New Yorker profiled rising U.S. political star and presidential candidate Barack Obama. One of the knocks against Obama is that he's too inclined to compromise and consensus. (The article was titled The Conciliator.)
But Obama said he simply considers that sensible. He has strong views, he said, but he also recognizes that he doesn't have a monopoly on wisdom. If others feel strongly about an issue, it's smart to heed their views.
There's a risk of drift and indecision in the approach.
But we've run into a lot of problems created by leaders who are convinced they have all the answers.
Maybe it's time to celebrate a little compromise and conciliation.
Footnote: What's Campbell's approach? Tough to tell from the outside. But the government's big initiatives - the Conversation on Health, the New Relationship with First Nations, forest policy changes and now the new enthusiasm for fighting global warming - have all been launched from the premier's office. And the role of backbench MLAs in shaping policy through caucus committees has been sharply cut back since the 2005 election.


Anonymous said...

Sure Carole rating is above Campbell's personl rating but he still does what he wants and after a lot of talking she ends up agreeing with him. Two arguments on pay raises and one on pensions for example. The party has a policy on ALR land, it was there before she was. The policy paper that the negotiators worked with for years had the same thoughts. Any land, called aquired land would be still under the ALR. Any aquired lands would still be under provincial laws. Any law the band writes is to be equal or better than the two governments laws in place. The right to sue is right in there somewere as well. Paul I hung around treaty tables for years. ALR land was not an issue as all bands knew darn well, they couldn't use it for anything they wanted, which appears to be no longer the case. Gordon wanted to enlarge the coal Port, who wnated more space. the band stated they would rent it out long term even before they voted for the final agreement. Bye Bye ALR land. dl

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