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Charismatic Leadership
by: Rob Vollman (read profile)
Added: Nov 23, 2005
What does it take to change a government? What makes a charismatic leader?

Since John Diefenbaker in 1963 there have been only 4 changes to the Canadian government:

  • In 1979 Tories (Clark) replaced the Liberals (Trudeau)
  • In 1980 Liberals replaced the Tories right back.
  • In 1984 Tories (Mulroney) replaced the Liberals (Turner)
  • In 1993 Liberals (Chretien) replaced the Tories (Campbell)
With the exception of what I will call a "blip" in 1979/80, the government has only substantially changed twice in over 40 years.

What does it take for a government to change? I say one of two things:

  1. A very charismatic leader comes along who sweeps the country, or
  2. A major calamity strikes the nation, governing party, or its leader
Let's take a look at the 2 modern day examples of government changes.

Look at the way Brian Mulroney swept into power. The Tories jumped 17.5% in popular support from 1980 to 1984. 17.5%! The next two best jumps since Diefenbaker combined don't equal that, and there have been only 1 other jump of over 5%. This jump was credited to his enormous natural charisma at the time.

Biggest Jumps in Popular Support since 1963
+17.5% 1980-1984 PC Joe Clark -> Brian Mulroney
+9.3% 1988-1993 LIB John Turner -> Jean Chretien
+6.9% 2000-2004 NDP Alexa McDonough -> Jack Layton
+6.1% 1997-2000 Ref/All Preston Manning -> Stockwell Day

Major calamities can be blamed for the government change in 1993. Despite the GST, Free Trade and Meech Lake/Charlottetown Accords, it was ultimately the recession that did Mulroney's party in. The public accepted his arrogance, corruption and croneyism until the economy went bad.

Despite how well the economy is doing, you could say that the current government is enduring a major scandal with AdScam and the Gomery Inquiry. Nevertheless, they only dropped about 4% from 2000 to 2004, and all drops below that have proven temporary. That is not enough for a government change.

According to Ipsos-Reid, the latest polls (Nov 15, 2004) are pretty similar to the last election's (2004) results:
Liberals 36% Poll, 37% 2004
Conservatives 27% Poll 30% 2004
NDP 16% Poll 16% 2004

Look at how the numbers would look if either party had access to a charismatic leader capable of swinging popular vote by an additional 12%. The Liberals would go from 37% to 49%, almost matching Brian Mulroney's sweep in 1984. The Conservatives would go from 30% to 42%, the best total for any party since Mulroney's second term in 1988.

Is there a charismatic leader on the horizon? Somewhere amongst the back bench of the Liberal party, is there another Pierre Trudeau? Hidden in the Conservative caucus, is there another John A. MacDonald? Somewhere across this land, is there another Wilfrid Laurier?

Don't look here for the answer, I don't have one. I don't see one. But I can tell you what to look for.

What are the ingredient to a charismatic leader? Here are the similarities I see between Mulroney, Trudeau, Laurier and MacDonald (with just a little bit of Levesque, Broadbent, Douglas and others thrown in).

  1. "Larger than life" Self-Image. Modesty is not a trait found in charismatic leaders. This attitude often comes across as arrogance, but such individuals never have trouble creating a reaction with the public, or getting press.
  2. A passionate vision for Canada. Whether you agreed with it or not, they all had a bold, clear vision for this country and what it should be.
  3. Youth, Strength and Energy. They were all leaders people wanted to be around, brimming with ideas and ready for a battle.
  4. Flexibility/Compromise. Despite the strength of their convictions, all these men are known for knowing just when and how to make deals.
  5. Good oration skills. Good leaders can give inspiring speeches. Ideally in both languages.
I believe a truly charismatic leader must be strong in at least 4 of the 5.

In summary, I believe a major scandal/calamity is not always enough for a government change. For the Canadian government to significantly change, either now or at any time, a charismatic leader must come along. A leader with a vision who can make the Canadian public believe that things can change, and get excited about politics again.

Keep your eyes peeled for such a leader.

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