Posts Tagged ‘leadership’

Do Canada’s Leaders Have the ‘Nads?

May 10, 2008

The stink being raised in Quebec over Governor General Michaele Jean talking up Quebec City’s 400th anniversary celebrations this year highlights Canadian politicians’ lack of vision and leadership.  There are two objections that Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe and others raise.  I disagree with one but agree with the other.

Separatists are offended by the idea that Ms Jean and the federal government are calling the celebration a Canadian celebration.  They say it is a Quebec celebration.  This is the one I disagree with.  Quebec is part of Canada and Quebec’s history is part of Canada’s history.  I studied it in school, too.  Jacques Cartier and Samuel de Champlain made Canada possible.  They discovered and founded a French colony, not an independent country.  So, it is every bit as much Canada’s history as Quebec’s.

Where I agree with the separatists is their complaint that the Governor General represents the British queen.  This is a national embarassment that I wish the rest of the country would want to remedy as much as some Quebecers do.  As the queen’s representative, she is a reminder that we don’t even have our own head of state.  Separatists see the link to the British crown as a constant reminder of the capture of New France by the British about 250 years ago.  This is one of the biggest problems they have with the rest of Canada.  They think of the rest of us as the British conquerors and colonizers.  Why can’t we feel that humiliation and decide to do something about it?  I mean, really, borrowing someone else’s head of state?  Are we an independent country or not?  The separatists know they want to be one.  Maybe if the rest of the country felt the same way, we could get on the same page and move forward as one.  As one joke goes, Quebec can go as long as it takes the rest of us with it.

They aren’t the only ones who are offended and think we should have our own head of state.  When I was living overseas in London, I was asked several times why we didn’t “go with the Yanks”.  They don’t understand why we would maintain a link with them.  They were often offended to hear that the queen has the title Queen of Canada.  “What?  Now their taking our queen?”, they would say.  They don’t want to share her with us.  She’s their head of state.  Every country should have its own head of state.  They think like a country.

By contrast, a lot of people in Canada still want to share their head of state rather than have one of our own.  They think like colonials.  Many of these people are British immigrants or recent descendants of them who don’t want to let go.  Some may be descendants of United Empire Loyalists who cling to British roots partly out of bitterness over what their ancestors endured at the hands of their former neighbours.

This attitude is holding us back as a country.  Not only does it give separatists something to complain about, it permeates our political and business leadership.  Colonial style thinking is still widespread.  Fitting into others’ plans is the easier option than conceiving and executing our own.  Sending raw materials to bolder countries that know what they want to do with them is easier than making and marketing products.  Arguably, we’ve even been lazy about that.  I don’t agree with everything in it, but, as Andrew Cohen wrote in ‘While Canada Slept’, we don’t export to others so much as allow them to import from us.  If we still cling politically to our colonial connection to Britain, economically we look a lot like an American colony.

Letting go of mummy’s apron strings would go a long way towards alleviating the resentment felt by many separatists.  It would be a good investment in national unity.  It could also result in a new attitude and outlook among our political and business leaders – one that puts us first.  Maybe then, if we stop clinging to the past, we will start thinking about and planning for the future.  Maybe we could see leaders emerge with a vision of the future that extends beyond the next election.  Maybe we would see some forward planning, with short, medium, and long term goals.  They might even think about where this country could be at the end of this century, for example – long after they’re gone.

Vision.  Goals.  Planning.  Going your own way.  Takes balls.  Do we have ’em or not?

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Star Shaped Pegs in Maple Leaf Shaped Holes

April 22, 2008

I find it embarrassing that many Canadians know more about the American political system and landscape than their own.  Even worse, and what makes me mad, is that many – maybe most – Canadians apply American politics to their own country.  They associate certain Canadian parties or candidates with American parties or candidates they like or dislike and, based on a perceived similarity, choose who or what to support accordingly.  They don’t think in terms of Canada, and what’s good for it.  They don’t think about what we are or what we need.  They assume a direct correlation and don’t stop to think that we are a completely different country with different political problems to solve, different priorities, and a different outlook.

This is influenced by, among other things, the fact that we are at different stages of development, or political and economic maturity.  The U.S. is at its zenith.  They are the only superpower in the world, at the moment.  Canada is still in its ascendancy, or adolescence.  Obviously, a superpower at its zenith and an up and comer have different needs, outlooks, and priorities.  For one thing, when you’re on top it can seem that the only way is down, so you act to prevent or delay the inevitable downfall.  You tend to look at the world in terms of perceived threats.  You look over your shoulder.  Right now, China’s ascendancy is looking like a threat to American dominance.  By contrast, when you’re growing and developing you tend to look to the future, and new goals and opportunities.  This outlook could be seen by a superpower as not being in line with their interests, especially if you happen to share a continent with them.  By assuming and applying American views, we often work against our own ambitions.

The U.S. became independent about ninety years before us and in a completely different manner.  They fought a revolution, striking out on their own immediately.  Canadian independence came in stages, starting with Confederation in 1867, then our first independent declaration of war in WW1, then the Statute of Westminster in 1931, the first Canadian passports in the 1940s, and repatriation of the Constitution in the 1980s.  The final step of letting go of the apron strings and ending the symbolic relationship with the British monarchy to establish a Canadian republic – specifically, a secular republic – is one I’m looking forward to.

Here again, however, perceptions of American parallels interfere with true perceptions of Canadian realities.  Historically, any movement in Canada for full independence has been called a republican movement because the result will be a Canadian republic.  Unfortunately, when most Canadians hear the word ‘republican’, they think they hear ‘Republican’.  They apply American politics to Canadian politics and think a movement for a fully independent Canada would lead to Prime Minister George W. Bush – or something like that.  Most Canadians tend to dislike the American Republican party and its policies.  That probably explains why the American right wing media often portrays us negatively.  Those same Canadians tend to associate the Conservative party with American Republicans.  However, it is the Conservatives who are most commited to maintaining the links with the monarchy.  So, Canadians’ perceptions of the possibilities for their own country, and desirability of them, are skewed by inappropriate and inaccurate application of American models to Canada.

Canada is not at its zenith.  At times, though, it seems like we’re not even trying to get there.  We aren’t planning for our own future success.  No one seems to have a vision for the future beyond selling raw materials to the Americans and, now, the Chinese.  If we’re going to think like Americans, why don’t we think about building our own successful nation?  Why don’t we become a powerhouse?  If, as a certain book store chain said, the world needs more Canada, shouldn’t we let it know we’re here?  To do that, shouldn’t we be a bit more proactive?  Wouldn’t we then stand a better chance of having a positive influence in the world?

How’s this for a start – if the world needs more Canada, doesn’t it need more Canadians?  Then we’ll be a bigger market.  Bigger markets can produce bigger companies.  Bigger companies are more visible and have a better chance of expanding to other countries rather than being acquired by foreign companies.  They can become global players, creating wealth at home and spreading Canadian values abroad.

We need leaders who are bold enough to move us forward.  That may mean choosing a more difficult path.  It may mean standing up to those who may think our own path is not in their interest.  Unfortunately, our political leaders follow public opinion and tell people what they think they want to hear, regardless of whether the public’s opinion is an informed one or not.  I haven’t heard of a really fresh idea in Ottawa in about forty years.  And, where do the public get their opinions?  Very often from American media.  Just as unfortunate is the fact that our business leaders tend to be market followers rather than market makers.  The easy money is in exporting logs and oil and metals – let the Americans do the hard part.  Leaders are supposed to lead.

American socio-political models just don’t apply to Canada.  They debate whether to have a national healthcare system.  We’ve had one for decades.  Yet, many Canadians vote for the Canadian party they associate with the American struggle to get what we already have, when what we really need is a few of those big companies that keep buying us up.

We won’t realize our full potential until we stop applying current American views to current Canadian situations and Canadian goals.  We have to start thinking of, for, and about ourselves.

Post-Season Affective Disorder

April 16, 2008

OK, let’s talk some hockey.  I’ve avoided it so far because I’ve been sick, dealing with the littany of mistakes that various organizations have made at my financial expense, and adjusting to new nocturnal hours.  The disappointment of the Canucks’ late season collapse and failure to make the playoffs was just too much to deal with on top of all that.  Now, I think I can write about it.

On Monday, Canucks general manager Dave Nonis was “relieved of his duties”.  That’s fired, to you and me.  The team had missed the playoffs for the second time in three years.  Last year they made it to the second round, only to be eliminated by the eventual Stanley Cup champions, the Anaheim Ducks.  Everyone expected this year to be a step forward from that, even though there wasn’t much change last summer.  It didn’t work out that way.

The Canucks suffered a neverending string of injuries throughout the season.  Their solid defence – some said the best starting six in the league – never played a single game as a complete unit.  Key forwards also suffered injuries.  Some players had multiple injuries.  To their credit, the players never used injuries as an excuse.  They said they should find a way to win, anyway.  They have to say that and keep trying.  Now that their season is over, however, Hockey Night In Canada’s Kelly Hrudey seems to be saying it is part of the explanation.

To make matters worse, star goalie Roberto Luongo wasn’t his usual spectacular self, mainly because his pregnant wife was thousands of miles away in Florida so that she could stay near her doctor.  There was the potential for complications.  I guess that could make you lose focus, occasionally.

So, why fire the GM?  Because, in this case, two out of three IS bad.  On paper, this team was good enough to be in the playoffs.  People in Vancouver want a winner.  This team has threatened greatness for about seven years, now.  But, it’s always something.  Former goalie Dan Cloutier let’s in a bad one.  The next two years, he’s injured at playoff time.  Director – sorry – referee Kerry Fraser and video goal officials in Toronto make bad calls that cost them games in a first round series they lose in seven games.  Then, the lockout writes off a season.  Then, the Bertuzzi incident and they miss the playoffs.  They bounce back the next year, but now – this.

Francesco Aquilini, the team owner, said the word “leadership” repeatedly at a press conference announcing the change.  Does that mean the coaching staff are next?  What about leadership on the ice?  It was widely believed that captain Markus Naslund, and possibly Brendan Morrison, would not have been re-signed under Nonis.  Will that still be the case?  Will there be a complete clearout of the old leadership on the ice, behind the bench, and in the head office?  That might be the easiest way to deal with the problem because, you see, nobody really knows what is wrong with this team.  Everybody has their favourite target to blame.

Me – I just don’t know.  Maybe it’s just the injuries and Luongo’s temporary distraction.  Maybe the problem would have fixed itself by next year.  Maybe the coach didn’t make the best use of the players he had.  Some people think the owners overreacted, in an emotional manner, because they are also fans.  Maybe.

Now, the talk is about who will be his replacement.  There is speculation that Brian Burke will come back.  Not likely.  He has a year left on his contract with Anaheim.  I seriously doubt the owners there would let him out of it early, considering they just won the Stanley Cup last year.  Pat Quinn’s name has been mentioned.  Then there’s current assistant manager Steve Tambellini, who has also worked with Team Canada.  Trevor Linden’s name has been mentioned as a possible member of the management team, if not the GM.  His experience with the NHL Players Association could help him.

Whoever they hire, and whatever they do, I hope it gets results.  It’s bad enough that I watch the Stanley Cup final every year without really caring who wins – but the entire playoffs?

Does Canada Lack Ambition?

January 30, 2008

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post about the pending takeover of MDA’s space division by an American company and the threat to national security it represented.  I asked readers to write their MPs, cabinet ministers, and the prime minister.  I don’t know if anybody did, but I did and it seems to have been noticed. 

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty recently announced plans to begin examining foreign takeovers for national security threats in the near future.  See this article: http://www.mytelus.com/money/news/article.do?pageID=ex_business/home&articleID=2860914.  The article also discusses something else I’ve noticed:  the lack of leadership in this country has not only been at the political level, it’s also in the boardroom.

Many of our biggest and best companies are being bought up by foreign companies that aspire to be the global leaders in their sectors.  You may not realize it, but Tim Horton’s isn’t even Canadian owned anymore.  It was bought years ago by Wendy’s.  If you’ve wondered why they’ve started sharing premises, now you know.

Why don’t Canadian companies aspire to be the global leader and start buying others?  It seems that even our companies lack ambition.  They just don’t think big, or big enough.  Or maybe they’re just lazy.  Why make all that effort to make the market, when there’s a huge market on your doorstep?  Let the Americans do the hard part, we’ll just sell them the materials they need to build their vision of the world.

Why don’t we build our own vision of the world?  We’re sitting on three and a half million square miles of everything you need to build an economic monster, an empire, and what do we have?  One of the most underpopulated countries in the world, where governments typically rely on primary industries to drive the economy, sometimes at the expense of other industries.

This happened recently when government regulators dragged their feet while two Canadian electric car companies waited for approval of their vehicles.  It finally came for one after the story was featured on the news, but it was too late for the other.  The Richmond, BC based company had already decided to move overseas.  A Canadian car company lost because the government relies on oil revenue.

We need visionary leaders, in government and business, to build the kind of country we are capable of being.  But right now, they’re not there.  I hope they come along soon because if this keeps up, before long none of us will work for a Canadian company.