Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Canada Day gratitude

As we celebrated Canada Day this week, a question on many minds was whether our current prime minister should continue to lead the Liberals. At stake is the question of how his presence on the national political scene will affect the outcome of next year’s election in the face of a strong challenge by the Conservatives. While it is a question that has been pondered for some time, it became particularly acute following last week’s bi-election loss in what has for decades been a Liberal stronghold.
Similarly, a question on the minds of many Americans as they celebrate this Fourth of July is whether their president should stand for re-election later this year. Of particular concern is whether he has the ability to fend off efforts by Donald Trump to win the White House. Following last week’s televised leadership debate, there are strong doubts that he could.
While the leadership question in Canada is a weighty one domestically, the stakes are considerably greater in the US version. There is concern that even if Biden were to prevail in the coming election, he could prove unable to deal effectively with the challenges presented by Russia/Ukraine, Israel/Gaza, China/Taiwan, the rise of the far right in Europe, and the risks all of these issues pose to international policy coherence on trade, immigration and climate change. Failures of US leadership on these files would have global implications. Few take consolation in the ability of his vice-president to manage the affairs of state should the need arise for her to do so.
If either Trudeau or Biden decides to step aside, he will be replaced by someone his party believes will have a better shot at winning the upcoming election. In Canada, that person would immediately become prime minister and would have however many months remain before next fall’s federal election to convince Canadians of her or his worthiness in that role. The experiences of John Turner and Kim Campbell, both of whom took over the leadership of a less-than-popular government at the last minute before an election, provide a somewhat cautionary tale.
In the US version, the new leader would have to accelerate from zero to 60 in a matter of weeks in order to have a decent shot at winning the contest for the White House four months from now. While the names of several impressive candidates have been bandied about, it is never a sure thing that switching horses at this point in an election year will deliver the hoped-for outcome.
So, while some say it is game over if the current leaders choose to stay on, it really is a gamble, either way.
How do you navigate all this if you are a political leader trying to decide whether to stay or go? How do you know when to hold them, when to fold them, when to walk away, when to run?
It can’t be easy.
But whatever the leaders decide, one of the many things for which Canadians can be grateful is that we live in a place where changes to who governs us come about by peaceful, orderly means. No storming of the legislature, no threats of violence, no weapons required. We just have to show up, mark our ballot, drop it in a box and accept the outcome, whatever it may be. We can only hope for a similarly civil process for our cousins south of the border.

Charles Dickson


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