Sorry is a worn out word in today’s Canada. For decades Canadians have been known abroad for our ready apologies, and quick contrition even for the most minor infractions. We wear this kind of northern humility with a badge of honour and a smile. Today this kind of cultural banter has become devoid of meaning by Justin Trudeau who, for the hundredth time, has offered a focus-group-tested Canadian ‘sorry.’ This time for yet another ethics scandal. This one involves a mere 900 million dollar single source contract and his wealthy family. Too many members of the media ate it up and gave him a pass. With apologies out of the way, we can all move along. Nothing to see here.

Canadians are beginning to see the threadbare sorry for what it is, a vapid non-apology by an unethical Prime Minister. When words and actions do not align, the cracks begin to show. Today our world is more divided than ever. Pandemics, racism, political tribalism, and economic challenges demonstrate the vast chasm between our words and action.

In this context we are discovering another important but forgotten word: Leadership. While it may be easy to view past leaders through the rose-coloured glasses of time, certainly Canada has had a good run for leaders from both Conservative for Liberal parties. Leaders who have left the country without deficit, paid off debts, built highways and railways, engaged in peace keeping, maintained unity, established trade, stood with allies, navigated complexities, and governed ethically. Whether we voted for our leader or not, Canadians found a way to stand with their Prime Ministers and Premiers.

My how far we have come since the great $16 Conservative Orange Juice Scandal of 2012. If only failed Canadian leadership came with such a delicious price tag today. Today the cost of failure is captured on the nightly news as talking heads seek to undermine their opponent, not with cogent arguments and clear reasoning. Today leaders play to their base, blast each other on social media, make their decisions based on polls rather than principle, and slice up the topics of the day with weak aim to score a few points.

On one hand, you can hardly blame them. The ticket to power in today’s Canada seems to be through divide and conquer tactics. In Ottawa our Prime Minister rarely misses an opportunity to strike a blow from one side of his mouth, even after feigning some kind of apology out the other. In the U.S. the blood sport takes on a whole new level. You are either with or against the police, an anarchist or a freedom loving American. There is no middle ground because leaders will never allow it.

The media are the grand conductors of this failure of leadership, their role is no longer to simply report the who, what, why, when, and where of the news. From CBC to Fox to CNN, and even the more left wing and right wing fringe outlets, they are all interested in finding ways to demean, blast, and shore up support for their point of view. Stories and narratives are cooked up around the assignment editors table long before the journalist is on the scene or at the event. More often than not objectivity seems a layover from a bygone era.

The result of this toxic mix is the emergence of unprincipled, shallow, un-nuanced leaders who act the part, but never live up to the calling to lead. Puppets on a string are not leaders, repetitive talking points are not a speech, and non-answers are never a form of accountability. Leadership in Canada today is largely orchestrated to sell a narrative that aims at delivering a message. Leadership is so much more than a series of tweets and verbal jabs to get our attention. We need it to be so much more.

Canada, at all levels of government, is going to require a new kind of leadership. The kind that stands in the middle of the fray and tells both sides that their tactics are wrong. We need leaders who are ok to hear a countering viewpoint and even to be persuaded to alter their viewpoint without being tarred and feathered for being reasonable. It’s ok to talk about the most polarizing and sensitive issues without picking a side. Nepotism should never be a factor we need to worry about.

It is time we stand up with a renewed conviction that leadership matters and demand that the games many of our leaders play should be left in the dust bin where they deserve to stay. It is time for leaders who speak from a place of depth, and if they cannot go deep and find what they need, then they, not the Canadian people, should sit to one side while a leader with the wisdom, clarity, fortitude and attentiveness can step up. Canada deserves better.

We must begin the great Canadian hunt for leaders of character and depth, experience and loyalty. Instead of waiting for opportunists who view Canadian leadership as some kind of birthright, we need to find those outstanding Canadians who have served faithfully in the small things, to lead us through these daunting times. Canada has the leaders we need. Here’s hoping a few of them come forward.

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Bruce McAllister
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