Monday, March 9, 2009

"I must follow him through thick and thin."

So says conventional (pun intended) political party leader wisdom. Or does it? I simply can't believe I missed this: Advice for Michael Ignatieff. And that seemingly so did every other Liberal, Con, progressive blogger or pundit in Canada. Other than the comments at, I can't find anyone that has commented on this. Sort of speaks to what Bourque (J. C. not the Bourque you're thinking of!) (and Dalton Camp posthumously) is trying to tell us eh?

What this online article (and from Quixotique's POV, from a non-partisan, more academic POV) is talking about is the the relationship between Leader and Party; what it is, what it was meant to be and just how far parties, in this instance the Liberal Party, have moved away from the sense of parties as associations of "like-mindeds", who work collaboratively for the betterment of the Party and one would hope the country. Bourque, who obviously stems from the old Progressive Conservative tradition, provides not his advice to ILMI, but that of Dalton Camp, political organizer, strategist and ad man extradordinaire from the days when partisan politics, seemed well somehow less partisan and more gentlemanly than what we see today, at minimum when most had a better sense of "party" than I would venture we do now. Bourque's piece uses excerpts from a speech by Camp in 1966, who was PC Party President at the time, and who in challenging the leadership of (former Prime Minister) John Diefenbaker while championing the interests of the party, was said by many
to have forced a situation where for the first time in Canada's history a party leader was held accountable by the grassroots, bringing democracy one step further
. Camp's interventions on behalf of his party brought about the first, and since entrenched concept of "Leadership Review". Bourque uses this famous incident to "remind Mr. Ignatieff of his role, responsibilities and purpose, and the hues of legitimacy he has".

I think it is wise reading, particularly for a newly minted leader of a Canadian political party, especially one who by all accounts, likes to listen, and learn. I hope ILMI and his peeps read this. I really, really do. Not that the IL deserves bashing - it's simply too early to tell - but advice in the form of warnings: Stay on your toes! Remember who got you here (oops that one doesn't quite work, oh well)! The Party is paramount - it is what will get you there, not the other way around!

I love the headers that that Bourque has interspersed with (very) key messages from Camp's speech. My favourites are: The party should not be coerced, but led; The leader is responsible to the party; and, especially, Leaders have a responsibility to represent the party's ideals more so than winning at all costs. Heck I pretty much like them all.

Reprinting that part of the article below. Which ones do you like?

1. The leader is responsible to the party

"Leaders are fond of reminding followers of their responsibilities and duties to leadership...What is seldom heard, however, is a statement on the responsibilities of the leader to those he leads. Leaders are fond of saying how arduous their labour, how complex the circumstances and how unfair the press criticism, as though they have been called to their high office by some supreme power rather than those they are addressing."

2. The party must be prepared to guide the leader

"A party willingly submits to the leader's power. In the relationship between the leader and the led, there is a mutuality of interest and, as well, a continuing common experience of discovery, learning and revelation. Where the leader does not know the limits to his power, he must be taught, and when he is indifferent to the interest of his party, he must be reminded."

3. The party is permanent

"The party is not the embodiment of the leader, but rather the other way round; the leader is transient, the Party permanent."

4. The party should not be coerced, but led

"Mackenzie King once said the Canadian nation was built upon the spirit of reconciliation, meaning, of course, the reconciling of diverse interest, race, and outlook. A Canadian political party can be no different. Men who lead cannot demand adherence, they may only be given it, and this is the gift of those who are reconciled in some greater and more impersonal cause, which is the party's role and place in the nation."

5. A good leader allows for internal debate

"The argument is made that to question at any time, or in any matter, the acts of leaders will invoke a grave question of non-confidence. This is an argument for sheep, not for men. Men are not required to act in perfect harmony and concert, or to dwell in docile agreement, in order to belong to political parties... since silence is always taken for consent, why then should those who do not consent be silenced by the irrelevant question of non-confidence?"

6. Leaders have a responsibility to represent the party's ideals more so than winning at all cost

"It is assumed by some that leaders have a responsibility to win elections, or at least command a good portion of public opinion and the matter ends there. If this were true, then the party system is a deadly waste of time and enterprise and we would do better to recruit leaders through the classified pages or by public opinion polls. But, of course we do not; leaders are chosen by their parties, through the admittedly imperfect system of the convention, a process which produces a willing leader and a party's willingness to support him. It is not, as every politician knows, a lifetime contract."

7. Toadyism should not be mistaken for loyalty to the party

"Again, the leader should be given as much loyalty to his followers as he demands from them. This is not a personal loyalty, but rather loyalty to the party, to its continuing strength, best interest and well-being. This must be shared by leader and followers alike, if unity and harmony are to be enjoyed by both. While it is natural that a leader will gather about him a number of like-minded men and women, if their like-mindedness is chiefly that of loyalty to the leader then the party system ceases to function and politics becomes a matter of subservience rather than service, and of personality rather than purpose."

8. The limits to leadership

"The limits of the powers of leadership cannot be precisely determined, but they are far short of absolute, less than arbitrary, and subject to the reasoned second thoughts of others of responsibility and influence in the Party. The powers appear total only to those who confuse subservience with loyalty."

9. The responsibility of speaking truth to power

"There is a political fable regarding a supporter who tells his leader he supports his policy because he agrees it is right. And the leader remarks that he does not need his support when right, but requires it when he is wrong. Such a philosophy, in practice, reduces politics to an absurdity, converts supporters into hacks, and leaders into tyrants."

Up next in this vein: incumbency protection.


  1. Interesting and timely post. Good advice for party members as well as the leader.

  2. You are so right Anon@1:42...members need to be cognizant and vigilant upholding their role in the relationship too.