So, it turns out that being Prime Minister or President is not all hugging babies and cutting ribbons. I doubt that any leader in the free world would have asked for a world crisis (let alone two world crises) on their watch. But that is exactly what they have had to deal with in the COVID epidemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, both of which have rocked the world as we know it. And they need our help.
COVID and the Ukraine crisis have really got me thinking not just about the role of governments, especially Canada's government, but also about our role as citizens. I wonder if we had become somewhat complacent? In Canada, relatively speaking, maybe we have not faced a lot of hardships for decades, we have not seen ourselves as having a major voice on the world stage, we tend to elect a party (and people) with little thought for big, really big, issues and consequences (such as world wars), and we tend to vote as we ‘always do’. Maybe we have lost sight of the role of our elected officials. Maybe we have come to downplay the seriousness of what they have to do and what they might have to do and have come to see it as easier than it is. Maybe we are too quick to admonish them when we are not happy. More importantly, maybe we have forgotten that we have a responsibility, too.
I wonder if the sheer physical size of Canada makes it harder to govern? We could probably fit most, or all, of the western European countries into it. (Look at this map from reddit.com, posted by u/aerospacemonkey; I am not sure how accurate it is, but the point stands.)
I had the great fortune of standing on both of Canada’s eastern and western shores in the past six months. I have also visited every province in between. It is strikingly clear that this is one colossal country made up of 13 (10 provinces, three territories) different economies and cultures and viewpoints – it’s like 13 smaller countries in Europe. The prairie towns are not like the cities and not like the northern territories and not like the ocean provinces. Add on the fact that Canada was formed by Indigenous peoples and immigrants. And it is one beautiful, diverse country, physically and humanly, that we don’t want to lose. All factors combined, the government has one great juggling act to address, or try to balance, all of the territorial, financial, health, social, ethnic, and cultural needs of this great space. Consider that Canada (as every democracy in the world) has been thrown onto the world stage in ways that none of us wanted, and our prime minister is in a very difficult spot, indeed.
So, a leader has hard decisions to make at the best of times. Now, some of these decisions will play a part in the future of freedom, of democracy, in the world.
What stands out for me is that we, as citizens, need to do our part, to be smarter in our decisions and our actions. It starts with our perspective.
We need to recognize the mammoth job facing elected politicians at the top. It is one big juggling act. We cannot expect our government to be perfect, and we do not have to always agree with them. We do need to be able to voice our thoughts, but we need to do so “quietly and clearly”and we need to “listen to others” (as the wise old Desiderata says). And we need to realize that if we lean too far to the right or too far to the left, we definitely won’t get what we want anyway (sure, politicians promise the world, but when they get into power, they absolutely cannot produce - that’s the way it works). You can’t please everyone all of the time; there are too many competing interests. And in the middle of world emergencies, despite our views of the existing ruling party at the time, maybe we need to be more supportive because what is at stake is society and life itself. (This might simply mean voicing our concerns in a way that does not distract the government from doing the work of the pressing issues.) This is the time for solidarity, not for division. Remember, no one in the world had experience dealing with a world health crisis to the extent of COVID, and very few democratic countries had experience dealing with a world peace crisis. They are in uncharted territory. Leaders (and their teams) are all human, and they will make mistakes. And there will be more crises to face in the future.
Andrew Coyne, in a great Globe and Mail article "A message to Conservatives: Smarten up - serious times need serious leaders" identifies the need for candidates who are "grownups", who "can lead the country through the dark days that might lie ahead". Yes, we need to do our homework. It’s not enough to just vote for someone because we like them or like their looks or because we have always voted ‘that way’. We need to consider the major task they face in juggling the diversity of Canada while also being able to step up when world peace is at stake. But once we have made that decision, we need to be more understanding of the gargantuan decisions facing our government and act in a way that is helpful - for the good of our country.
So, it's tough being at the top. It's one big balancing act to manage all the issues of our country while, now, handling world crises. I'm not sure many of us would be up to the task. But we can help. Adopt a greater perspective of what our government has to do (it's hard work!). Accept that, as the song says, “you can’t always get what you want” when the greater good is at stake. Nothing says that we have to have good times always. Hold governments accountable but give them space to do the pressing work of government. Speak your issues smartly and calmly. In crises (whether it is COVID or war), be supportive because the crisis has to be the focus - or we have no society. And, at election times, be big enough to vote with your head, even if it is sometimes not consistent with your heart.
We have too much to lose in this beautiful, grand, diverse space.