Hudson on the Hill

From the Tower: Search for Leadership
HUDSON ON THE HILL  |  Jul 15, 2010

The reason some people in government may have been uneasy with the public profile of former Chief of the Defence Staff General Rick Hillier is that he was a daily reminder of real leadership. The bad news is, they continue to see Hillier’s leadership style as something of an aberration. The good news is that the Canadian Forces continue to produce top leaders of world-class quality that will provide Canada and her politicians with models to emulate.

Those attending the Army change of command ceremony at the Canadian War Museum on 21 June 2010, were treated to a polished and articulate performance by three of Canada’s most operationally experienced soldiers.
General Walter Natynczyk, the current Chief of the Defence Staff, served with U.S. forces in Iraq in 2004, first as the Deputy Director of Strategy, Policy and Plans, and subsequently as the Deputy Commanding General of the Multinational Corps.
Lieutenant-General Andrew Leslie, the outgoing Chief of the Land Staff, has been decorated for action under fire in Croatia and subsequently served as Deputy Commander ISAF in Kabul in 2003-2004. As Army Commander, Leslie oversaw significant personnel growth and the most extensive re-equipping of the land forces in decades, all while sustaining land force units in a counter-insurgency campaign in Afghanistan. He becomes the new Canadian Forces Chief of Transformation, a position in which he will study the future organization of the Canadian Forces for the next year. He will then likely be appointed Chief of the Defence Staff. (You heard it here first.)
Lieutenant-General Peter Devlin, the new Chief of the Land Staff, might well have more operational experience than anyone in the Canadian Forces. Devlin commanded an infantry company as part of the Canadian battle group that re-opened Sarajevo airport under Major-General Lewis Mackenzie. Devlin also led a Canadian infantry battle group in Bosnia. As a Brigadier-General he commanded the multinational brigade in Kabul in 2003-2004. Then, as a Major- General, Devlin spent almost a year and a half in Iraq as part of the US forces, acting as Deputy Commanding General of the Multinational Corps. He will undoubtedly be a candidate for the post of Chief of the Defence Staff after Leslie. (You heard it here first.)
All three Generals delivered eloquent speeches with a style that separates them from today’s politicians. They talk with and inspire their audience. They are articulate, energized and humble, in short, true leaders – traits decidedly scarce in parliament.
In the acutely partisan atmosphere of recent parliamentary sessions, Prime Minister Harper has been reduced to simply criticizing the Opposition. He never speaks to Canadians, and certainly never with them. Look at the recent events surrounding the G8 meetings in Huntsville and G20 meetings in Toronto. In his preferred element of economic policy, Mr Harper plays the role of Mr. Big among leaders of the world’s largest and most influential economies. He does well in that crowd, at the expense of true leadership.
Stephen Harper is not a leader. He is an Imperial Manager who likes things neat, ordered and under absolute control. In his world, boats are not rocked, spanners are not found in the works, practices remain unchallenged and, most of all, no idea is better than his.
His obsession with “control” has strangled the media and, along with a near total lack of access, has all but eliminated transparency.
As long as things go his way, the Prime Minister is happy. When they do not, he sulks. When challenged, his default defence is to attack and criticize those who disagree with him. He ignores the substance of arguments and kills the messenger.
This style suffocates true leadership in government – not that there are many true leaders in government right now anyway.
How else to explain the total absence of open discussion on the Canadian mission in Afghanistan, where, Canadians are reminded, the counter-insurgency battle is getting nastier by the day? The PM has refused to discuss the mission in any positive way – reiterating, whenever asked, that the military mission will end, as stated in a parliamentary motion, in July 2011. Both Mr Harper and parliament have been unconscionably obtuse and opaque on this issue. Canadian troops continue to fight and Canadian civilians continue to pursue development assistance in risky areas in Afghanistan. You don’t tell your opponent that you are going to quit at the end of round seven in a ten round fight.
As the bodies of our soldiers continue to trickle home, Prime Minister Harper still cannot find it in himself to speak with Canadians, to inspire greater effort and support from the nation in support of our troops and their mission on the battlefield. He prefers ‘photo ops’ with Her Majesty, President Obama and Chancellor Merkel. The violent disturbances in Toronto provide another clear example. In response to extreme disruption faced by that city during the G20, Mr Harper has not taken the time to talk with the people of Toronto – either before the event to explain why all this was necessary, or afterward to express regret that this conference so grossly inconvenienced thousands of Torontonians.
Peter MacKay, the current Minister of National Defence, also spoke with Canadians at the Army change of command ceremony in June. MacKay, during his time as Defence Minister, has seen leadership up-close-and-personal, both in Ottawa and on the battlefield. He understands that leaders seek to motivate people, to inspire extraordinary effort and set the example for others to follow.
Canadians will never trust Mr Harper with a majority; he hasn’t earned it. It is time he was replaced. Peter MacKay is looking good. (You heard it here first.)
Hudson on The Hill
© FrontLine Defence 2010