David Kilgour: In the end, it's up to voters to choose their leaders

David vs. David

Before, and certainly since the First World War, universal suffrage democracy became the only legitimate form of governance for a large part of the world. The list of national leaders whom most democrats everywhere admire today includes Mandela, Churchill, Gandhi, both Roosevelts, Vaclev Havel, and Aung San Suu Kyi.

They and many other leaders, including national, provincial and municipal figures across Canada, won the trust and votes of fellow citizens through whatever combination of leadership qualities were attractive to particular electorates at given periods.

At the other end of the leadership spectrum are brutal despots, such as Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Idi Amin, Pol Pot and Mugabe, with many other political leaders falling somewhere between the two groupings of the best and the worst.

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Many Canadians appear to think we are suffering today from a crisis of leadership, but rather than saying, “Too many leaders are failing.” perhaps we need to ask, "Why aren't we choosing better leaders?"

For instance, how could Torontonians have voted for Rob Ford, thinking he would be a good mayor? The Globe and Mail noted after his recent confession about using cocaine and apology in an editorial that he “exchanged hundreds of phones calls with a suspected drug dealer and extortionist, has been observed accepting mysterious packages from the same man … (He) has also refused to answer questions about nearly all of the above. And he still shows no signs of planning on stepping aside, or stepping down.”

On the other hand, probably quite a number of Canadians, who know the harm substance abuse can do, as Rex Murphy put it, “would like to see some sense of charity extended to the fallen man himself.”

In 2010, Maclean’s magazine asked: “When municipal politics matter more than ever, why do so many cities end up with bad mayors?” Fortunately, there are a good number of excellent mayors across Canada, with Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi, elected in 2010 and re-elected in 2013, and Edmonton`s Stephen Mandel, recently retired after nine years as mayor, being only two of them. A partial list of other admirable incumbents includes Dianne Watts (Surrey, B.C.), Jim Watson (Ottawa), and Gregor Robertson (Vancouver).

The Edmonton Journal columnist Paula Simons probably speaks for many in describing the ideal mayor as someone who will “fight for (a city's) rights and head offices, be committed to public transit and new technologies; be a populist, have business and financial savvy, understand that a city cannot succeed without prudent investment in public infrastructure, and have the vision, the courage and the commitment to see us to our best future.”

Adding the recent suspension of the three senators to the brouhaha surrounding Mayor Ford appears to be causing many at home and abroad to query what has happened to our country, with our national civility, humility and respected governance as beacons.

A Leger national opinion survey recently completed for Yahoo Canada produced some surprises along with more predictable results. For example, Canadians generally — presumably in the case of the Toronto residents surveyed before the Ford matter blew up — are most satisfied with their municipal government (42%). The federal government follows with 28% and the provincial ones with 26%. For municipal officials, honesty and integrity are the most important qualities nationally (40%), but 53 per cent of Quebeckers choose them.

Quebecers (51%) understandably believe their provincial government has the greatest impact on their lives, whereas Albertans (34%) name their municipal government. Prairie Canadians (60%) and Albertans (50%) tend to believe that the federal government is most likely to be influenced by corruption. Quebecers have high levels of confidence in their municipal representatives (25%), but they also believe that municipal governments are the most likely to be influenced by corruption.

The more of us who vote in elections at every level, the more likely it is that strong, accountable and inspirational leaders will be able to win office.

The book Transformative Political Leadership, published last year by Robert Rothberg, argues that good leaders have clear strategies to turn their visions into reality. They find paths to promising and inclusive futures, which include economic growth, prosperity and general well-being through well-developed emotional, analytical and political intelligence. Good leadership and how successful nations and institutions are built remains chronically understudied in colleges and universities virtually everywhere.

The book focuses on leaders who have performed well in the developing world, including Nelson Mandela in South Africa, Seretse Khama in Botswana, Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore, and Kemal Ataturk in Turkey. All of them transformed their countries, largely for the better. Most of their approaches appear to apply to Canada and other so-called “developed countries.”

The key to good political leadership today at the municipal, provincial and national government level appears to be a deep caring for both followers and opponents, a sense of legitimacy, emotional intelligence, competence, vision, self-discipline, knowledge and courage. Voters everywhere are seeking leaders who exhibit these qualities.

The more of us who vote in elections at every level, the more likely it is that strong, accountable and inspirational leaders will be able to win office. Canadians are fortunate to be able to vote, thereby influencing the future of our country and ultimately the world.