The Leadership Lesson of Eglinton-Lawrence

It isn’t often that a political party’s grassroots manage to save its leadership from the consequences of its own actions. Such, however, is the case of the riding of Eglinton-Lawrence and the local Liberal riding association’s rejection of Justin Trudeau’s preferred candidate, the erstwhile Tory Eve Adams.

Of course, there’ll be the usual punditing and partisan patter about Trudeau’s leadership suffering a blow, but I’d argue the opposite — because, if you examine the issue quite closely, the actual process of candidate selection has nothing whatsoever to do with political leadership.

Justin wanted candidate X on his team, and said so. Is that leadership? Or is it, rather, like a carpenter selecting a tool from Home Depot for a particular job? I would argue that it’s the latter — because actually selecting a candidate isn’t the job of the party leader, it’s the job of the riding association. And while the leader may express a preference, that has no real force in the political party structure.

Party leadership isn’t really tested when a leader takes charge of a group of people he’s chosen, on his own, for his own purposes. It is, however, tested when he’s presented with a slate of people he’s never worked with before and given the task of turning them into an effective legislative force, whether in government or opposition. These people may not be who he wanted, but they’re who he’s got, and it’s up to him to pull out the best they can give to the political process they’ve joined.

The well-known Liberal Scott Reid has argued that Ms. Adams’ rejection would be seen as rebuff to Justin, and partisans would agree. But he also argues that

… Occasionally voting for something or someone you dislike because the leader wants it comes with the territory. Such discipline is vital in politics. It enables the reliable functioning of our big-tent, brokerage party system. And that system has served Canada well by forging stability in spite of pronounced regional, linguistic and cultural tensions.

Actually, this is the sentiment that Mr. Trudeau was elected to question — he’s on record as saying he wanted to reform the way the Liberal Party did politics, if you’ll recall. It’s why he fired senators from his caucus; it’s why he made that oh-that-we-could-really-really-do-it promise to make candidate nominations “open.” The rejection of Ms. Adams should be (and, if the Liberals are smart, will be) portrayed as the party grassroots holding Justin to that promise.

About phantomobserver

I'm a professional librarian currently working in Ottawa, Ontario.
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