Archive for the ‘Character, Values, Vision, and Will’ Category

The Roman Catholic Bishops of Canada — Freedom of Conscience and Religion

June 8, 2012

The Roman Catholic Bishops of Canada have recently published a pastoral letter.

The Bishops begin by writing that “We are writing this pastoral letter to men and women of good will because of our conviction that religious believers can enrich society with their innumerable contributions to culture, political and economic life, health care and education.” I share the Bishops’ conviction.

The Bishops go on to say that “freedom of religion… implies the ability to embrace and openly practice one’s faith, both individually and communally, within society. It is directly related to freedom of conscience inasmuch as conscience, oriented to truth, is formed by religious faith.” I agree with the Bishops, at the same time raising a caution.

There are three problems with attributing truth to religious faith.

The first is that some “religions” are created by frauds in order to dupe others, or they are created by malevolent people in order to ensnare others.

The second problem is that while great and enduring religions may be “oriented to truth”, their orientation may be way off base from time to time. This has certainly been the experience of the Roman Catholic Church, as in the case of Galileo. There are good Catholics who believe, today, that the Church is off base with respect to the role of women, gender assignment and sexual orientation, and other issues.

This raises a third problem that comes with attributing truth to religious faith. Sometimes the institutions of a Church hold to a very different understanding of ‘truth’ than do the parishioners in the pews. And then, not every church has a hierarchical organization: not every church would place “truth” with the clergy alone, rather than with the congregants as well as the clergy.

For all of these reasons, in a civil democracy, freedom of religion is not conceived of as unrestricted, and it is not unrestricted in law or in practice. In Canada, as elsewhere, there are limits on religious freedom and the limits — including any restatements of them — are matters difficult to debate, difficult to decide, and fraught with political tensions (and even dangers). But from time to time we must have the debate. As the Bishops themselves say, quoting the Pontifical Council: “believers also need to recognize that “just limits of the exercise of religious freedom must be determined in each social situation with political prudence, according to the requirements of the common good.”

So far, our limits have relied on a solid framework. We can distinguish between what is done, on the one hand, in the public sphere but as a private person, and what is done, on the other hand, in the public sphere by someone whose role is as the voice, hands, or feet of the public in service to others of the public.

We allow individuals to say things in the public square that we would not allow a teacher representative of the whole community to say in a public school classroom. We allow a doctor who operates outside medicare to withhold a service although the withholding would be unacceptable if the doctor were receiving public funds. We allow clergy to decline to officiate at a religious ceremony uniting two people, although we would not allow a Marriage Commissioner, representing civil society, to refuse to officiate at a civil ceremony that embodies civil law.

The Bible says that we should “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” The corollary is that when a citizen represents Caesar, as an agent of the public, in the performance of a public act, Caesar’s rules apply.

This raises the question of the unjust law or, more difficult, the public policy which a citizen (or the citizen’s Church leaders) believes is morally wrong. Assuming that a matter of conscience separates a faithful believer from the law or policy of his civil community, what is he or she to do?

In a civil democratic society, we acknowledge and respect at least two honourable courses of action. The first is to resign, withdraw from the position in which one finds conflict of conscience. Cabinet Ministers and others have resigned from office. (Admittedly, that doesn’t happen often these days, but it is there for the person of conscience.) Conscientious objectors may be excused from military service, but if they join the army they must accept the terms of its discipline.

The second course of action is to engage in civil disobedience, a concept that is widely misunderstood these days. Civil disobedience is not premised on people breaking the law in secret, or publicly breaking with law and continuing, with immunity and with impunity. Civil disobedience is premised on people breaking the law in very public fashion, and accepting the consequences in the hope that public reaction will subsequently force a change in the law or the public policy. The Bishops write: “We recommend the following … to our fellow citizens: … protect the right to conscientious objection.” But conscientious objection without being willing to pay the price is mere theatrics. The Bishops may wish to go further. They may wish to advocate civil disobedience. (One of the most listened to songs on my iPhone is “Have you been to jail for justice?” sung by Peter, Paul and Mary.)

The Bishops express concern that “when it (freedom of religion) is threatened, all other rights are weakened and society suffers.” I understand their concern, but I would word the sentiment somewhat differently. Freedoms are constantly threatened. Threats alone do not weaken society, weak responses to threats weaken society. Threats may strengthen society, if the response is wise (imaginative, creative, and inclusive), strong, flexible, and mindful of posterity.

To put it another way, religious freedom is just as threatened by religious license as it is by religious oppression. Religious freedom, like every other freedom, exists and is strong when it is in tension with other rights and responsibilities.

The Bishops are right to express concern about freedom of religion and conscience. As a community, we should always be concerned about our freedoms, and our responsibilities. The Bishops are right to acknowledge “just limits of the exercise of religious freedom must be determined in each social situation with political prudence, according to the requirements of the common good”: this is the role of civil society.

Beyond that, it seems that some readers have read too much into the Pastoral Letter. The Bishops do not say that freedom of religion and conscience are absolute, and they certainly don’t say that it should be religious teachings that determine the boundaries (see above).

One very appropriate boundary for civil society to enforce is that, when a person of faith undertakes a position that represents the public to any citizen, the person of faith must represent the public fully and generously. If that is not possible, freedom of religion and conscience simply provides that the person is free to withdraw from the role, or free to challenge the role and face the civil consequences.

Leech, Hunsperger, and Byfield — Let’s Focus on Local Accountability

April 21, 2012

In this provincial general election, Albertans are caught with one foot in the political past while the other foot is searching for the firm ground of the political future. Our scrutiny of nominated candidates, and our evaluation of the Leaders provide two good example of this.

Wild Rose Leader Danielle Smith faces controversy about her party’s candidates in some constituencies. The suggestion has been made that she should disavow — and perhaps disallow — some of the Wild Rose candidates. She has done the right thing by refusing to do either.

Ms. Smith didn’t nominate Ron Leech to be the Party’s candidate in Calgary Greenway, or Allan Hunsperger in Edmonton Southwest, or Link Byfield in Barrhead-Morinville-Wetlock. Wild Rose party members in each of these three constituencies — in all 87 constituencies — nominated the respective candidates. It was Wild Rose Party members, living locally, who nominated candidates they thought best reflected the values of the Wild Rose Party in the constituency. They nominated the whole PERSON that they thought would be the face, voice, heart, and mind best able to reflect their Wild Rose values to the rest of the constituency.

Of course the candidate’s religious convictions, character, and attitudes toward issues like human rights and the rule of law will determine how that candidate will view and vote on all kinds of matters that will arise in the future. Party members (should) consider all of these things when they choose a candidate, because they know the candidate won’t be back to ask for direction before voting on all kinds of matters in the future. Voters should be asking questions about all of this as well, and assessing what they learn, before they vote.

Frankly, I don’t want Ms. Smith to “fire” nominated candidates she disagrees with, no matter what the nature of the disagreement. I don’t believe any party leader should adopt the role of “paramount Leader”. Ms. Smith’s appropriate role should have been played out before nominating meetings started, when she (presumably) communicated to Party members the range of beliefs and values and directions she would be comfortable working with. Since she clearly did not signal anything to indicate that recent statements by some of her candidates would be problematic, voters in each constituency should express their own views about the decision made by the local association of the Wild Rose Party Wild Rose Party members nominated their candidate in each constituency across the province, just as Liberals, N.D.s, and Alberta Party members did the same thing for their respective parties.

If Albertans are tired of the “paramount Leader” model of politics, if Albertans want to re-assert the role of the locally elected M.L.A. as a moral representative of the constituency, then it is not for Danielle Smith to judge candidates: that judgement is the role of electors. Party constituency associations must accept responsibility for their nominee. Accountability for their nominee, accountability to the electorate, will be experienced on election day.

Monday’s election is not a referendum on Danielle Smith’s leadership (so far we have only seen the audition tapes): it is a referendum on the sensibilities of the Wild Rose Party — and the P.C. Party, and all other parties, from constituency to constituency across Alberta. The Wild Rose Party in Calgary Greenway thinks that Ron Leech is the best possible face and voice, and heart and mind to represent all the constituents in the Legislative Assembly. The Wild Rose Party in Edmonton Southwest thinks the same of Allan Hunspurger. The Wild Rose Party in Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock thinks the same thing of Link Byfield. These men are not proxies for Danielle Smith. If each or all of them win, they will be Members of the Legislative Assembly. They may be Cabinet Ministers. They will each have a vote on every issue that comes before the Assembly. They will each have some influence on narrowing or broadening the vision of their leader and their colleagues. Maybe their Leader will rein them in; maybe they will rein in their Leader. In either case, they will each be the face and voice and heart and mind of their constituency.

It should be the voters of the constituencies who judge the candidates on the ballot. The same could be said for every candidate nominated by each party’s members in every constituency across the province.

Through the process of party nomination, some citizens (party members) have felt that each nominated candidate was the best possible representative of their political perspective. It is not for the party leader to say ‘yay’, or ‘nay”. It is for fellow citizens to say “yes, you sure understand us and we want your candidate to be our voice in the Legislature”, or “no, you — and your nominated candidate — are not really representative of the values and dreams and priorities we hold dear.

On election day, the voters in each constituency will decide which face, voice, mind, and spirit is going to be their agent in the Legislative Assembly for the next four years.

As an aside, while Party Leaders should not be able to disallow locally nominated candidates, caucus (not the Leader), can always decide who is a member of caucus and who is not.

A conscience is a costly freedom, worth nothing if it is free

April 9, 2012

The concept of “conscience rights” has burst upon the Alberta election campaign in the past few days. This is not the same thing as having freedom of conscience. Freedom of conscience is already guaranteed by the much maligned Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In fact, “freedom of conscience and religion” is the first right guaranteed by the Charter.

As “conscience rights” are being promoted, they would apparently entail a legislated assurance that individual citizens could follow their own conscience to the extent of refusing to provide public services that are at odds with their own conscience. Doctors, it is suggested, should be able to refuse to provide abortions or birth control information or prescriptions, if the doctor, in good conscience, objects to abortion or birth control practices. A Marriage Commissioner, it is suggested, should be able to refuse to marry a gay couple, or an inter-racial couple if, in good conscience, the Commissioner believes that homosexual or inter-racial unions are wrong. A high school teacher, it is suggested, should be able to exclude an unveiled teen-aged girl from his/her classroom if the teacher believes, in good conscience, that post-pubescent girls should not be seen unveiled in public.

Given that we have freedom of conscience in Canada, the doctor, the Marriage Commissioner, and the teacher, and every other citizen, already have three options available to them if their conscience runs up against public policy and law. First, they can arrange their affairs to avoid the issue: For example, the doctor can practice outside the public health care system, or engage in a practice that doesn’t touch on the conscience issue; the Marriage Commissioner can decline the appointment; the teacher can seek work in an all-boys school. Second, they can practice civil disobedience, disobey the law, and publicly accept the consequences as a means of engaging a public debate about right laws. Civil disobedience is not disobedience in secret, with the intent of avoid the consequences. Civil disobedience is disobedience in public, with the intent of bringing bad law into disrepute, or ridicule, or dis-function. Third, they can obey in the meantime, and seek to have the law changed. The course of action any citizen would follow would depend upon how strongly s/he feels about the issue in the circumstances.

What, then, might be gained by instituting conscience rights? Any why haven’t we seen more of this before now? The concept is ill-formed and problematic.

It is not clear whether the concept is intended to be unconditional, or conditional. An unconditional conscience right would mean anyone could act freely in any situation on the simple declaration that they are exercising a “conscience right”.

There is an ancient east Indian sect, known as thuggees, who performed ritual murder. An unrestricted conscience rights would presumably allow a thuggee to express his conscientious belief that ritual murder is the right thing to do (freedom of conscience), and then commit ritual murder in compliance with his conscience (a conscience right).A conditional conscience right would entail the government deciding that conscience should trump public policy and the law in only some situations, and the government would be the arbiter of conscience rights.

The reference may seem ludicrous, for the simple reason that, while both church and secular society believe in conscience, both church and society also believe that the individual conscience is not, by itself, a constantly reliable determinant of action in the public sphere. The Judeo-Christian tradition does not believe that everyone’s conscience is equally “good”. So, in the Christian tradition, a framework is constructed by which the to judge if conscience is good or bad. (The framework is sometimes built on Scripture and sometimes on Church dogma, but it is there for every Church.) Since no organized society or theocracy recognizes unrestricted conscience, the introduction of conscience rights in Alberta would almost certainly depend upon the government (assume for a moment that it is Wild Rose) deciding on some limited number of situations in which conscience should trump public policy and law. Making the list would be an interesting political exercise. When a society, such as Alberta, includes faiths other than Christianity, including people who have no ‘faith’, then the construct might have to be built to respect a wider range of beliefs. But perhaps the list would not be more general. Perhaps Christian but not Muslim, perhaps Protestant but not Roman Catholic, perhaps evangelical but not liberal, perhaps citizens certified by government approved clergy, but not others. Perhaps the list would recognize conscience in some fields, such as medicine, but not others, such as housing.

For example, evangelical Christians have a strong sense of what constitutes good conscience or bad conscience. They also seem to have a strong sense of judgement — a strong sense that s/he who acts wrongly should be judged. It is hard to imagine that such citizens would want an unrestricted conscience right, although they may well want a conscience right that reflects their own views about which issues are important and what is right action in the context of the issue. But, of course, other citizens would say that if the conscience right is not unrestricted it should reflect their view of what issues are important, and what is right to do.

As the earlier reference to thuggees suggests, there is a reason why freedom of conscience (and freedom of speech) does not carry with it the unreseved right to follow our personal conscience or act on our speech. An unrestricted “conscience right” would convey rights to people of no conscience as well as those of very sensitive conscience. It would convey rights to those with a culturally developed conscience very much in accord with common experience in Alberta as well as those that might be very different from what is common in Alberta.

There would likely be considerable tension between conscience rights and human rights. Does the human right to housing trump the conscience right to deny housing to unmarried couples, or inter-racial couples, or vice versa? Does a father’s conscience right to keep his adult unmarried daughter isolated from the world trump the daughter’s right to freedom, or vice versa.

The only real value of a conscience is when exercising it is such a fragile experience that we must pay close attention. When the government explicitly allows citizens to act as they wish in any or all circumstances, without regard for the consequences, simply on the basis that the citizen claims a conscience right, society will be in deep trouble.

I support the right of any citizen to try to persuade me that birth control (for example) should be delisted. I applaud the citizen who will engage in civil disobedience to call attention to a law or public policy /she believes is wrong, and accept the consequences. I do not believe in giving anybody’s conscience a “get out of jail free” card. As human beings, we deserve better.

Perhaps there is more to democracy than a paramount Leader

April 2, 2012

One of the issues that is developing in the Alberta provincial election campaign is about the role of individual M.L.A.s, and the Party Leader. The issue emerges most clearly with media reports about the P.C. Party, but we can see similar evidence from Wild Rose, Liberals, and N.D.s

Alison Redford, Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta, said last week that the outgoing Party caucus (including many who are up for re-election) had made a mistake in its handling of M.L.A. pay for the so-called “no-meet committee”, and she announced that all Tory M.L.A.s would return all the pay (since the committee last met) or be excluded from the Tory caucus. Media coverage and public conversation has focused on whether Ms. Redford should have admitted the mistake and changed tack, as she did, or should have done it sooner. Was the admission/correction a smart move? Would it have been brilliant if done two weeks earlier?

For me, the problem with this focus is that it further entrenches the idea of the “paramount Leader”, it further marginalizes collaborative decision-making – in caucus – and it excuses individual members of the Tory caucus from responsibility for fixing what was broken.

In a strong democracy, I don’t think Ms. Redford would have presumed to impose the Leader’s will on caucus: I think she would have canvassed the caucus, made the argument that the public expected a different outcome, and persuaded the caucus – perhaps with the help of some caucus members themselves — that they should collectively admit the mistake, correct it as best they could, and sanction anyone who broke from the consensus.

As it is, we may never know if any member of the caucus agreed with her. Perhaps no member of caucus has his/her own moral compass; perhaps they are all relying on the Leader’s moral compass. Perhaps every member of caucus is simply too cowed by the authority of the Leader to stand up and be counted. Perhaps we can expect a Tory caucus to follow the lead of the Leader on every issue. Perhaps Albertans don’t care about the moral compass, or strength of character of individual M.L.A.s. Perhaps we don’t need M.L.A.s, but only a Party Leader.

Or perhaps many (most, all?) members of the Tory caucus agreed with Ms. Redford’s expressed position. It would have been great to see – or hear – a chorus of them agreeing with her position, and saying they had come to the same realization at about the same time.

In the absence of such a chorus, Albertans may want candidates to make a clear public statement – before election day — expressing agreement or disagreement with Ms. Redford’s solution, and a commitment to making it happen after the election.

This issue – I’ll call it the paramount Leader problem – arose for me just after Ms. Redford was elected Leader of the Tory Party. As a candidate, she had made a commitment that, if elected Leader, she would restore approximately $100 Million of funding for K – 12 education in Alberta. I’m a former Minister of Education who believes that education has been seriously underfunded since 1994. I applauded the idea of restoring $100M of funding. And the money was restored. The problem is, it wasn’t restored because caucus had seen the error of its ways. It wasn’t restored at the end of a heartfelt debate. It wasn’t restored because a majority of the government caucus voted in favour of the restoration.

The problem, for me, is that I believe we are wrong to entrust such decisions to one person. The wrong doesn’t haunt us when we approve of the direct outcome. (I completely approved of the $100M for k-12 education in the example cited.) But what do I say when the paramount Leader unilaterally makes a decision I disagree with profoundly? How can I oppose unilateralism on one issue, when yesterday I approved of it on another issue?

In the same vein, I wonder why we need individual M.L.A.s if one person can make a unilateral decision without reference to M.L.A.s. Why are we going to vote for 87 M.L.A.s on election day if we only need – and value – one decision-maker? Personally, I prefer the wisdom of crowds: I prefer strong democracy.

Do we want to maintain the party culture built on the Paramount Leader and the subservient caucus? Do we want to maintain the party culture in which one person’s moral compass is sufficient for everyone? Do we want to maintain a party culture in which no one else needs to have a moral compass because everyone can rely on the Leader’s?

In summary, I don’t believe that the end justifies the means. Democracy depends upon many people contributing to, contesting about, and collaborating over public policy issues and questions of right and wrong. We are not well served – even when we like the decision — by the hoary political culture that makes a paramount Leader the focus, and belittles the role of M.L.A.s. We are not well served when the decision of one Leader absolves every other politician from their responsibility for not having seen the wrongness of what they were doing.

Politics in Alberta has taken an exciting turn for the better

October 3, 2011

Politics in Alberta has taken an exciting turn for the better.  The turn didn’t happen on Saturday, October 1st, when the P.C. Party chose a new Leader – and I congratulate Alison Redford on her campaign.

The change began much earlier, but yesterday’s election was a happy confirmation that the turn is substantially complete.

The majority of Albertans have confirmed themselves as centrists, pragmatists, and uncomfortable with ideological positions and ‘the cult of leadership”.  Arguably, the particular conservative mindset represented by the Wild Rose Party has been relegated to marginal status.

The decision Albertans made through the P.C. process follows similar decisions Albertans made, within the past 5 months, through the Liberal and Alberta Party processes.  All these parties have followed through on the initiative demonstrated by the Reboot Alberta events, the Democratic Renewal Project, and Renew Alberta.

It may be true that the P.C. Party was dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century, but they did allow themselves to be dragged.  And 75,000 Albertans – most of whom are not P.C. Party stalwarts – were prepared to drag them into the 21st century.  Clearly, Albertans want the next election to be fought in the centre of the political spectrum, not on the left or right fringe.

I wouldn’t minimize the significance of Ms. Redford’s victory, not in the least, but she has accomplished the easiest of three tasks she set herself this spring.

Next, she must dramatically change the culture of the Party she leads.  She must change the value system, and the characteristics of the organization.  Many of the people occupying many of the positions within the party must be changed.  Yet the incumbents are entrenched, convinced that the old way of doing things is the best way of doing things, and determined not to lose their grip on “power”.  Today and tomorrow, although Ms. Redford is the Leader, these people retain considerable capacity to slow her, stop her, distract her, or derail her.

At the same time, she must be a leader of leaders, so she must encourage many people who have been passive and submissive followers to become leaders with her.  She must encourage, and accept, moral strength from colleagues, when more than 20 years of experience has promoted acquiescence to the decision of the paramount leader.  She must persuade people who have viewed leadership as privilege to start understanding it as service.

Her challenge is compounded by the fact that, at the moment, she has a very small and shallow pool of talent to fish in.  Although this is not the sole determinant of election timing, her current caucus is not a hotbed of enthusiasm, imagination, energy, or conviction about the emerging political realities.  She needs a new caucus.

This leads into the 3rd challenge, to win the next election.

Ms. Redford — with the help of many Albertans who are not P.C.s — has dragged the P.C. Party to the hall where the next dance will be held – the centrist hall.  It is not yet clear that the Party will learn the new dances or behave in keeping with the expectations of everyone else in the hall.  But at least they are moving in the direction of the popular hall:  they are not insisting that anyone who wants to dance must come to their decrepit hall, where obsolete and unpopular music has been the staple.

The next election will be interesting because Ms. Redford wants it to be fought in the centre.  She is trying to bring the P.C. Party to turf that the Party will share with current occupants – especially the Alberta Party, the Liberal Party, and others.  Her victory provides an important validation for what the Alberta Party and others have been saying and doing.  Her victory is an acknowledgement that these parties should not be going to the turf currently/formerly occupied by the P.C. Party.

In other words, her victory both confirms the initiative of the Alberta Party and makes the work of the Alberta Party more challenging.  Albertans should welcome both outcomes.


On Leadership – Peter Lougheed and Luis Urzua (Part 2)

April 4, 2011

Luis Urzua is the 54 year old shift commander who was trapped underground in Chile, with 32 co-workers, for 69 days.  What does it mean to be a “leader” in such circumstances?  Urzua and his co-workers and their circumstances have been described extensively, if not in depth.

First of all, cut off from the world, and as hope dimmed (before contact was reestablished) the title of “shift commander” meant nothing.  Urzua was leader because his co-workers trusted him in the first moment of crisis.  They trusted him on the basis of a close working relationship that was authentic.  The trust was maintained because he had experience, skill, and a prudent outlook that wasn’t daunted by the unknown.  He knew enough to know that he didn’t know enough, and he explored, but carefully.

Second, he knew that everyone had to be respected, everyone had to play a leadership role, and hope had to be maintained, not simply with words or body language, but with a commitment to the future.  For example, he limited 48 hours worth of rations so that they lasted more than two weeks.  He had an informal title for many of the men, with the expectation that they would play a corresponding role – spiritual guide, medical monitor, communications co-ordinator, and so on.  Leadership was distributed.

Urzua is credited with being level-headed, with a gentle sense of humour.  A co-worker who was not among the trapped described Urzua in this way:  “He is very protective of his people and obviously loves them.”  He was not going to leave the weak and wounded behind.  He was going to bring every worker home.  Leadership was not only competent.  It was not only selfless; it was very mindful of others.  As Urzua said of his colleagues:  “This is a group with different personalities and manners of being.  They’re different characters.”  He knew them as persons.  He could draw out their strengths and protect against their weaknesses.  As he said, “All the workers fulfilled their roles.”

It is likely the case that Urzua was responsible, more than any other single miner, for the success of the rescue.  He maintained a sense of order, primarily by promoting self-discipline.  He maintained group unity and, for everyone, a sense of individual purpose.  Yet, when he arrived at the surface, he credited majority decision-making for their survival.  Every important decision was put to a vote, after a discussion that listened to every voice.  Said Urzua, “you just have to speak the truth and believe in democracy.”

That’s leadership!

On Leadership — Peter Lougheed and Luis Urzua

April 4, 2011

I am at home, after a great weekend with Alberta Party people from across the province.  I’ve spent the weekend among leaders, and I am thinking about leadership – servant leadership.

Two names and stories come quickly to mind:  Peter Lougheed and Luis Urzua.  When the story is behind us, we remember Peter as a great leader and Premier of Alberta.  We remember Luis as the shift commander who was one of 33 miners trapped for 69 days in a Chilean mine.  I worked with Peter Lougheed, and the learning, character building experience was incredible.  I wish I could say that I know Luis Urzua personally.

We have important lessons to learn about leadership, and about ourselves, from Peter’s story and from Luis’s.

When Peter Lougheed was elected Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta in March, 1965, there were very few Albertans who would have called him charismatic.  He wasn’t an extrovert, he wasn’t a polished public speaker, and “working the crowd” didn’t come naturally to him.  It is fair to say that, two years later, when he and five other Progressive Conservative candidates were elected as Members of the Legislative Assembly, not one of the other five was elected because Peter Lougheed was Leader of the Party.  Dr. Hugh Horner, Lou Hyndman, Don Getty, Len Werry, and David Russell were all elected because they were well-known, active, solid, respected leaders in the local community.  They had enthusiastic local supporters and great local organization.  When voters in these five constituencies looked past their local P.C. candidate at the new Leader, they weren’t looking for a reason to vote P.C.; they were looking for confirmation that the provincial Leader wouldn’t be a drag on the local candidate they respected.

In the spirit of the old model of politics, the problem with wanting the next leader (of any party) to be charismatic is that ‘charisma’ is a superficial reference to the kind of character that is revealed in building strong teams, dealing with wicked problems, enduring losses and savouring significant accomplishments.  Peter had charisma in 1965, but I don’t think it was apparent to the public at that time.  I suspect that most of the people who might have been looking for a charismatic leader of the Progressive Conservative Party in 1965 might have chosen another candidate, if one was available.  What seems so obvious about Peter’s leadership, after the fact, was not at all clear, except to a small group of people, at the beginning of the story.

To understand this more, we should consider the story of Luis Urzua.

What does it mean “to lead”? What is leadership?

January 31, 2011

This is one of the big questions facing members of the Alberta Party, and the Progressive Conservative Party, right now.  In fact, it is a question that every Albertan should be thinking about.

“To lead” is often thought to be the work of “the leader”, and we tend to think of “the leader” as one person — man or woman — with ego, charisma, and other strengths and virtues so notable that the leader can carry the entire project, party, company, community on his/her shoulders.  The big recurring problem is that, when the project, party, company or community stumbles or fails, it is the leader’s fault, and the perceived solution is to remove the flawed leader and find the next charismatic leader – the one who has no flaws, until performance under pressure reveals flaws once again.

The perfect paramount leader is not a solution to the challenge of leadership.  On the contrary, the search for the perfect paramount leader is dis-utopian, for two reasons.  First, there ain’t no such animal.  Second, in the search, we project our hope in the wrong direction.  We weaken our community and our democracy.  Personally, I don’t believe that we are better off for having had almost 15 years of ‘strong’ leadership in the person of Premier Klein.  The comment is not directed at the man:  it is directed at what Albertans accepted – and live with — as the consequence of being deferential to a ‘strong’ leader.

An American political scientist, MacGegor Burns wrote a great book – Leadership –that made some very important points about leadership, and what it means. “to lead”.  (The book won the Pulitzer prize for non-fiction, years ago.)

Burns made two arguments that are worth considering carefully.

First, he said that “leadership” is often a label applied to the characteristics or person of someone who is said to be “a leader”.  Burns argued that “leadership” is actually a label for the relationship that exists between the leader of the moment and the followers of the moment.  If the trajectory of the “leader” is one rail line leading upward, the trajectory of the community is a parallel rail line leading upward, and “leadership” is the description of the relationship between the leader and the community.  Burns described “progress” as a sort of projectile ricocheting back and forth, first off one rail and then off the other.  He quoted Gandhi, to the effect that Gandhi felt himself sometimes the leader of his community and sometimes the follower of his community.

Leadership is a description of the relationship that exists between the leader of the moment and the community.

It seems to me that, what follows from Burns argument is unsettling for all of us.  As a community, we cannot look to others “to lead” us.  There are occasions when each and every one of us – even the most humble — must be prepared to lead.  There are occasions when each and every one of us – even the most prominent – must be prepared to follow.  Whether as leaders or as followers, we must be discerning in the way we fulfill the role.  I would argue that we should not be studying “leadership”.  We should be studying “citizenship”, because citizenship embodies both leadership in the right moment and followership in the right moment.  I have been in schools where the custodian was the moral leader of the community, and rightly so.  I have been in the Cabinet room when the Premier deferred to the most junior Minister in the room, and rightly so.

The second argument Burns made about leadership was that we have experience with three kinds of leadership, and we should prefer/expect/demand one of the three instead of two others.

Burns described leadership as being:

1.     Transmissional – “I am paramount:  do as I say or you will be punished.” Or,

2.     Transactional – “Let’s make a deal:  do what I ask and I will do what you want.” – lobbying, and backroom exchanges without an enduring relationship.  Or,

3.     Transformational – “Let’s commit to an enduring relationship, and work together, and change ourselves, and improve our circumstances and the circumstances of our community.”

For Burns, and for me, transformational leadership is the highest rung we have yet attained.  And we don’t spend enough time on that high rung.

For all Albertans, particularly for those active in the Alberta Party and the Progressive Conservative Party, the challenge of the next few months (and years) will be to:

1.     avoid, discourage, and reduce the role of the paramount leader;

2.     seek leadership that is selfless and works off the leadership capacities of the entire party/province;

3.     create and maintain a party environment in which every party member is encouraged to develop and display imagination, self-discipline, moral courage, energy, a commitment to posterity;

4.     develop a strong sense, within the party as a whole, of shared responsibility for leadership; and,

5.     develop a strong sense, within the party as a whole, of servant leadership for the province.

The citizen who is truly loyal to the community will not submit to, or advise, or condone arbitrary, or unjust, or mediocre measures. (paraphrasing an ancient Roman)  The citizen who is truly loyal to the community will sometimes lead, and sometimes follow, and rarely accept a paramount leader.