I heard CBC personality Harvey MacLeod’s commentary yesterday on leadership. He thinks that the problems in the U.S. are the result of a lack of leadership. However, he quickly moved from the U.S. to Canada and to New Brunswick. He asked where all the leaders have gone and invoked the names of Robichaud, Hatfield and McKenna. You may not have liked many of their policies, he said, but you can’t deny their desire to lead the province in one direction or another. Initially I dismissed Harvey’s rant as just another in his increasingly cranky (but humourous) commentaries. But upon reflection, I think he is dead on. Look at our province. Leadership is about addressing the problems in a decisive and resolute fashion. Our government is so reluctant to act they only do so at the last minute. Consider automobile insurance, or education test scores or the pulp mill in Nackawic. In these cases, among many others, the government did not want to act and then when there was no other option – had to act. This is not leadership – it is reaction. Here is another example. New Brunswick has dropped from 7th to 10th among the provinces in Canada for the number of households connected to the Internet. A little thing, maybe, but maybe not. Even lowly Newfoundland which had been at the bottom of the heap for the previous six years is now ahead of us. Why no action? Why no leadership on this issue? No one has pressed the issue. I’ll bet if you ran a series of articles on the front page of the newspapers warning that our Internet illiteracy will seriously jeopardize our future economic development – then you might get the politicians interest. Beyond that, they will continue to act on the latest crisis making wild promises (remember we will rise from last place to third place in Canada for educational test scores and don’t forget the famous Prosperity Plan which said we would rise to fourth (from last) in research and development spending) and not being proactive on any issue.
Leadership is about identifying the serious problems facing New Brunswick and addressing them in a determined fashion no matter what the political cost. Everyone knows our problems: declining industries, shrinking population, low levels of education, Internet illiteracy, inability to create true entrepreneurs and wealth, NB Power. Health care is not a problem – it is a symptom of a chronically underperforming economy.
So to answer Harvey’s question “where are the leaders?” – they are out there. Ex presidents and vice presidents of major corporations (McCains, NBTel, Irving, etc.). Men and women with decades of experience running large and complex organizations. Let’s find a way to encourage them into provincial politics. Would you hire a 30 year old lawyer with no real world experience to run a $5 billion corporation? Never. Yet that’s exactly how we hire our premiers. And we live with the results….