The real emergency: a lack of leadership - The Orca

The real emergency: a lack of leadership

Geoff Costeloe

Geoff Costeloe on the difference between bold ideas and chasing polls.

A great mentor of mine once vented to me about his organization’s directors: “They refer to themselves as the organization’s ‘leadership’. But actually ‘leading’ is the least of their priorities.”

That conversation feels prescient when looking at the current crop of politicians in Canada, the US and Europe. Speeches are given about putting forward bold and new ideas for the environment, business growth, debt reduction, crime reduction and poverty reduction, but when push comes to shove, they refuse to drop the hammer and aggressively pursue any of these options.

No Canadian politician encapsulates this phenomenon better than Justin Trudeau, whose approach to policy is as hollow as the straws he is banning. In 2013 at the Calgary Petroleum Club, he proclaimed that the environment and the economy go hand in hand: “We do not see these goals as irreconcilable. We see them as complementary.”

Any rational thinker knows that this isn’t true. Limiting the environmental impact from business necessitates restrictions on businesses that limit or reduce their profitability. But that reality doesn’t poll for well #TeamTrudeau, so instead they promise everything to everyone.

These chickens came home to roost with the federal approval of the Trans Mountain Expansion. Within a 10-day period, Trudeau announced a nationwide ban on single use plastics, declared a national climate emergency, then approved the contentious pipeline.

Catherine McKenna, Trudeau’s Environment and Climate Change Minister, said during the vote on the national climate emergency that “[w]e don’t believe in symbolism; we believe in action.” This was five days after the Liberals announced that Trudeau would apologize to Italian-Canadians for mistreatment during WWII – a gesture made by Brian Mulroney in 1990, then again by Paul Martin in 2005.

I want to be clear: each of these policies may be justifiable on its own merits. It’s their simultaneous coexistence that crystalizes the hypocrisy. No objective person could observe the continuing contradictions and not suffer from crippling cognitive dissonance.

A local example is the BC NDP approach to ridesharing, although it can be equally applied to their BC Liberal predecessors. There may be valid concerns about public safety and accessibility with unregulated ride sharing – but most states or provinces in North America have managed to overcome these. The NDP’s delay speaks to the tenuous political situation the issue puts them in. They refuse to cave to public pressure to put working ride-share legislation in place based on the models used elsewhere – and simultaneously refuse to come out to denounce such a plan and explain why it isn’t a solution for BC.

The new reality for hopeful politicians: placate and please everyone you can in the hopes of winning and holding on to votes. Delay, postpone, and downplay difficult and contentious decisions in order to minimize the political fallout. This is the new Politics 101.

If anything, this helps to explain the Donald Trump phenomenon. Here is an individual who appears motivated only by his own narcissism and isn’t consumed with justifying himself to the entire electorate.

Perhaps that’s the secret to his surprising popularity: his approach to politics is the antithesis of this newly emergent strategy. Like a wrecking ball, he moves from extreme position to extreme position without feeling the need to justify his words, actions (or tweets) to anyone.

Leadership isn’t conflict avoidance, it isn’t placation, it isn’t concern for one’s self or one’s continued employment. It’s about boldly putting forward ideas that can be supported on a good faith, fact-based argument and convincing people to follow you.

Too many politicians have it the other way around, bending principles, facts, narratives and ethics to follow the largest number of voters that they can. Politicos of all political stripes need to have a deep look inside their parties and ask themselves if they want put forward bold ideas – or if they’re simply in the business of politics-as-usual.


Geoff Costeloe is a lawyer and entrepreneur located in Vancouver. The above article is not be taken as legal advice. You can engage with him (civilly) on Twitter @gcosteloe.