December 05, 2008

The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.

The title of this post is a quote from Warren Bennis, a pioneer in the study and implementation of leadership. I used this quote as recognition of what my extremely intelligent and insightful wife had told me two nights ago; "expect status quo."

So what did she mean by this exactly? It's the underlying theme of the past, present and future of this current episode in Canadian politics. It perfectly describes the catalyst and the successive events, the prorogation and what we should expect going forward.

The catalyst was 'status quo' in the sense that is was more of the same hyper-partisan political gamesmanship. Harper and the Conservatives have shown that in almost all things they attempt they look to further erode many of the balances between parties, people and groups. Rather than govern for the good of all and in an accountable manner, they would rather divide, distort and deceive.

The catalyst of this parliamentary showdown was a combination of all these things. They made an attack on workers' rights and women's equity. Then in an attempt to distract from these issues they went after political party subsidies so they could either take their opponents out at the knees or use this as a theme in the event the opposition fought back. Their intent wasn't one based on economic concern or something equally just. Their intent was to use a crisis to justify some of their more extreme parts of their ideological and partisan proposals. These are ideas that are really attacks on democracy and that I have been referring to as 'vicious'.

What followed was much more of the same. The Coalition was deemed unconstitutional, undemocratic, and unpatriotic. Meanwhile, evidence of hypocrisy and opportunism were presented, verbal barrages against Quebecers' opinions were made and their was fleeing from the mandate set out by Canadians. All of this so Harper could appeal to the worst side of nationalism. Divide, distort and deceive.

The granting of the prorogation is status quo in the sense that our Governor General, right or wrong, played to the image of the figurative character. Arguably, too afraid to fulfill her duties as the "guarantor of responsible government" she allowed the lack of requirement of her position to influence her decision. Our Governor General, typically, is unnecessary. Most governments act responsibly in a general sense and put importance on governing and progress.

Mostly, Canadians have elected majority governments, which eliminates many gray areas within parliament. Therefore, it's easy to go decades - if not generations - without a significant requirement of the Governor General (as it should be). However, this lack of requirement has allowed for the entrenchment of the image of the antiquated and figurative role. No real lasting decision has been made by a Governor General in some time but that shouldn't mean a removed opinion from a constitutional or parliamentary debate has little value or shouldn't be weighed. This is especially true in times of minority governments where the mandate is one of compromise and consensus and an impartial mediator is warranted. Michaƫlle Jean went with status quo and we now enter a period of just the same.

The immediate future is fairly predictable at this point. Since parliament is not sitting, little progress will be made. With the granting of prorogation, our government is essentially paralyzed. No ideas will be voted on, the mandate of the people will not be fulfilled, and in the event some sector or institution should suddenly take a turn for the worse no action can be made to counter it. It's not as though Canada's government, for many years (not just the last 2.5 or so), has actually made many major decisions or worked to solve some of our greatest challenges (poverty, health care, etc.) anyway. So not responding to a crisis or an unexpected (though all too predictable) occurrence is pretty much par for the course in contemporary terms.

Even in regards to what we should expect from our current batch of parties and leaders is pretty much the same. Harper will sound conciliatory and compromising but will act just the opposite. And we'll likely see more election-like campaign leading up to the Conservative budget. A budget that rejects much of what the majority opposition proposes and is interlaced with wonderful red herrings to distract us from the more vicious ideological and partisan inclusions. I also don't expect much more from the opposition leaders than what we've already seen.

Expect 'status quo'. And my wife, after all, was right.

Why Bennis' quote as the title? Because in the end it all comes down to leadership. Last night I had the opportunity to see John Ralston Saul do a speaking engagement at the University of Toronto. He's on tour to promote his latest book, A Fair Country. He spoke mostly to the themes and the more interesting aspects of his latest offering - this included the idea that Canada has become a nation led by 'functioning elites'. These elites have become addicted to complacency. They've lost the art of and the necessity of negotiation to develop answers but rely upon complex analysis when the solution is generally simple. They've become wrapped up in action that leads to nothing when a decisive response is required. And ultimately they begin to speak in a language that differs from that of the challenge that they face and this renders all else ineffective because communication becomes impossible.

John Ralston Saul was speaking in terms of Canadian history and identity - it wasn't supposed to be a critique of the current showdown in parliament. However, this showdown and all of what I've been describing as status quo is essentially a physical and political manifestation of his argument. Whether it's the fear of making a lasting decision, proposing a significant solution, spending time in constant argument and deliberation, battling ideologies - all of which can be applied to what we've just witnessed - our government is addicted to complacency; to the status quo. Leadership, real leadership, is something of the past and has been replaced with managerialism in some cases, something less and worse in others. Most of our current challenges were predictable and/or avoidable. But complacency and the lack of grasping the bigger picture has brought us to a situation where little is accomplished and ultimately, the disagreements we have are over items of little significance.

And for what is the first and likely only time in my life, I'm agreeing with Ronald Regan when he said, "Status quo, you know, that is Latin for the mess we're in."


Timothy said...

The audio of Saul at U of T is here:

Kyle said...

That's amazing. Thanks!

Quotes from people smarter than me...

"If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich" ~ JFK

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. " ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. " ~ Benjamin Franklin

"First it is necessary to stand on your own two feet. But the minute a man finds himself in that position, the next thing he should do is reach out his arms. " ~ Kristin Hunter

"When you're a mayor and you have a problem you blame the provincial government. If you are provincial government and you have a problem you blame the federal government. We don't blame the Queen any more, so once in a while we might blame the Americans." ~ Jean Chretien

"Which is ideology? Which not? You shall know them by their assertion of truth, their contempt for considered reflection, and their fear of debate." ~ John Ralston Saul

"It is undoubtedly easier to believe in absolutes, follow blindly, mouth received wisdom. But that is self-betrayal." ~ John Ralston Saul

"Everybody dies, Tracey. Someone's carrying a bullet for you right now, doesn't even know it. The trick is to die of old age before it finds you." ~ Cpt. Malcolm Reynolds (Firefly, Episode 12)