Don’t Obamatize Trudeau

The election is over; much of Canada is celebrating the end of the Harper era. Buffeted by winds of hopeful change, Justin Trudeau is bringing his sunny ways to Ottawa. Already comparisons are being made to the shift in the US from the dark Bush/Cheney years to Barack Obama. As our nation works through its collective catharsis, our expectant eyes turn to Trudeau to make everything better.

Let’s pause right there for a moment, shall we?

What were the things about Stephen Harper that riled Canadians so? Here’s a short list of the biggies:

  • top-down micro-manager; under Harper, government was the Harper show, all the time. He didn’t play with others, in his team or beyond
  • lack of engagement — Harper and co. ordered, bullied, and messaged, but have an actual conversation? Dream on
  • simplification of complex issues and a super narrow policy frame that left too much (from climate change to MMAW to youth employment to the Silver Surge) unaddressed
  • Shut out the press — also stakeholders, senior public servants, etc. Bottom line was Harper would not accept challenges to his positions
  • Politics of division — Team Harper turned pitting a nation against itself into an art form

These are the kinds of things Canada rejected by embracing Justin Trudeau, the open guy, the collaborative guy, the “Conservatives are not our enemies, they are our neighbours” guy.

With that in mind — how much sense does it then make to expect Justin Trudeau to:

  • be single-handedly responsible for making everything in Canada better
  • not dither with consultations — just get it done already
  • it, naturally, being the fixing of our priority first — and if he doesn't, man, we’re gonna push back!
  • make no mistakes, ever! He and everyone in his team from the PMO down to constituency staffers and the entire public service has to be flawless, tireless and message-perfect, or we’ll hold him personally accountable!
  • recognize that we are right and the people who disagree with us are wrong and if he can’t, he’s a failure!

Why do you think Harper was successful for so long? He understood the game and played to win, regardless of the structural consequences to Canada as a whole or communities/issues that he didn’t feel mattered.

Team Harper played to our base concerns and we generally played along in all the ways it mattered most. He gave us narrow, emotionally-laden policy positions because that’s what we twig on to. The media and dissent was shut out so that he could spend as little time as possible justifying and more time racking up the wins that people ultimately vote for. Harper was The Boss — and isn’t that what we’ve come to expect from our Prime Minister?

Back to Obama. While he’s had some successes, it has become painfully clear he wasn’t, isn’t and never could be Jesus. Such a let-down, right? Isn’t that what he promised?

If we expect Justin Trudeau to be perfect, his team to be flawless, and his policies to be all things to all people all at once, we’re going to be sorely disappointed. Especially if we figure our work is done for the next four years.

We’ve gotten into a habit in Canadian politics and civil society of railing against what we don’t like, but not being active participants in delivering the “real change” we claim to want. It’s as hypocritical as it is ineffective.

Trudeau can lead the way on policy files, on changing the culture of government, on redefining Canada’s role on the world stage and tackling all the complex, interconnected issues we face at present, but he can’t do it alone.

We have to want to be part of the change; we have to want others, including Opposition parties, the private sector players whose goods and services we buy, our neighbours and ourselves to be equally and equitably engaged.

The same holds true for Team Trudeau itself; don’t get fixated on being “Canada’s CEO” or whatever, but remember and remind yourself every day what you believe in and who you’re in the game for.

Not to win, but to empower.

Not to control, but to lead.

Not to message, but to inspire.

Not to dictate, but to engage, as messy and slow a process as that might be.

Canada can be everything we want it to be and Trudeau can be the catalyst for the change we seek, but if we expect one man to carry all that weight on his shoulders alone, we’re going to be disappointed.

Remember — Harper was not imposed on Canada. We brought him on ourselves.

If we truly want the leadership Trudeau has put on offer, we’re going to have to follow suit, roll up our sleeves and commit to some hope and hard work ourselves.

There can be no moving forward together if we aren’t willing to budge individually.

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