Saturday, September 20, 2008

Decisiveness isn't always a virtue

This essay by Professor Mendes so reminds me of when I was interviewed by the CBC’s Don Newman on the income trust matter in January, 2007 and Don Newman said to me, as if to suggest that I should back down, “Mr Flaherty is very decisive about his position”. To which I responded: “Yes, decisively wrong.”


Errol Mendes . Decisiveness isn't always a virtue

Errol Mendes, Ottawa Citizen Special
Published: Friday, September 19, 2008

Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former national security adviser to president Jimmy Carter coined the term "catastrophic decisiveness" to describe the leadership of George W. Bush. In the book Second Chance, Mr. Brzezinski asserts that one of the best pointers to the Bush presidency's style of leadership is summed up in that famous G.W.B. line "If you are not with us, you are against us."

The decisiveness that followed included a simplistic and hubristic call for the military might of the superpower to engage in a global war of good against evil. The catastrophic decisiveness that followed included the debacle in Iraq that was so decisively, but so prematurely pronounced as "mission accomplished."

Likewise such decisiveness led to the neglect of the real battle against terror in Afghanistan and the destruction of the U.S. as a global human rights champion after the establishment of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp and the outsourcing and legitimization of torture. The impact of this style of leadership resulted in a plunge in the global solidarity that was felt for the U.S. after 9/11.

The style of leadership that can be characterized as "decisive" is often very attractive initially to an electorate as was the case in the U.S., with George W. Bush, especially in times of crisis on the scale of the terrorist attacks on 9/11. However, it is often only a question of time before what is perceived to be strong leadership results in catastrophic consequences to the country and its people.

Some may well argue that Conservative leader Stephen Harper is also in the same mould of catastrophic decisiveness as a character trait. He demonstrated early on the appealing show of strong leadership with a focused, five-point legislative agenda on taking office that he claims he achieved even if others vehemently disagree. However, the catastrophic version soon started to appear.

The appointment of David Emerson to cabinet who had just been elected as a Liberal vowing to be Mr. Harper's worst nightmare, and the appointment of Michael Fortier to cabinet via the ranks of his formerly much despised unelected Senate were early examples.

Later examples include the income trust tax that decimated an estimated $25 billion of savings of Canadians, the attacks on several independent officers of Parliament and the head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

To the list can be added the inexplicable decision to put a six-hour limit on parliamentary debate on the first extension of the Afghanistan mission, to 2009, after stating that if it did not pass he would extend the mission by a year in any case.

Then there is the decision to break his own cherished fixed elections law and call a snap election thereby thumbing his nose at the rule of law in Canada and calling into question the utility of provincial fixed elections laws across the country.

Finally, perhaps the worst and perhaps the most unforgivable example is, suddenly in the middle of an election campaign, to declare that all combat troops in Afghanistan will definitely leave by 2011, in order to win a few more votes.

This is not an announcement a responsible, strong leader makes public and known to the Taliban, who may plan their operations against our brave soldiers according to the timetable. If there are sound military and resource reasons to do so, it should be made known in the utmost secrecy to our NATO allies who can plan to fill any gaps without alerting the enemy. These are all examples, not of strong leadership, but of catastrophic decisiveness that are dangerous for Canadian democracy and sadly to our soldiers who are risking their lives in Afghanistan.

History may well judge such catastrophic decisiveness to be the catalyst of many ills that this country could face for many years. For example, against the advice of almost all the country's economists and the advice from his own bureaucrats in the department of finance, Mr. Harper has decimated the federal revenue base by cutting the GST by two percentage points. As an economist himself, Mr. Harper is aware that the most effective form of tax reduction is through personal income taxes rather than through consumption tax reduction. The Canadian federal state will lose approximately $60 billion over five years, raising the possibility of unintended deficits and providing little adjustment relief for the loss of manufacturing and forestry jobs due to the economic downturn in Central Canada.

So while early election polls show that Mr. Harper may be well ahead of the other opposition leaders in terms of strong leadership and decisiveness, the electorate may soon realize that this is morphing into the Canadian version of catastrophic decisiveness that is so similar to George W. Bush's attitude that "if you are not with us, you are against us."

What could be even more worrying is that in the case of Prime Minister Harper, he combines this form of catastrophic decisiveness with the instinct to control all the levers of government. That could make the decisiveness even more catastrophic.

Errol Mendes is a professor of constitutional, international and human rights law at the University of Ottawa.

© The Ottawa Citizen 2008


Robert Gibbs said...

That also reminds me of an article in the Toronto Star some time back, where this thought was discussed in the context of the fear that some politicians have of being labeled a 'Flip Flopper.'

Yet, it was rightly pointed out that an argument, policy, decision, practice, scientific examination, etc should adapt, change, be revised or thrown out, etc based on new or updated information.

But not with Harpo and his CLOWNservatives. He's 'decisive', or so we've been brainwashed to believe, as so many such assertions have been made like a repeating, never-ending sound recording. And as if that's supposed to define leadership.

Damn the torpedoes, come what may! Who gives a s**t about the consequences or the future; I've got an election to win and power-grab to hold on to, and I'll say and do anything to make that happen.

And the rubes, especially those who don't follow the machinations and buggery of politics, or who do so only passively, continue to lap it up.

Hail King Harpo.

Dr Mike said...

I think I will go out & shoot my foot off today.

It`s the same foot I had yesterday--looks like the same foot --feels like the same foot---- but someone told me that the "foot" conditions have changed & I need to do something about it

I must be decisive.

Dr Mike.

Anonymous said...

Harponomics and Flathead Flaherty dove into an empty tank without first checking if it contained enough water. Okay, they made a decision; so, this I suppose made them DECISIVE.

Paul Sirois

Robert Gibbs said...

Canada: A Conservative Police-State?

Perhaps someone could explain when it became acceptable, or indeed lawful, to hold people (reporters) against their will, and prevent them (reporters) from free association with others (protestors), all with the assistance of police.

When did Canada become a police-state at the behest of the governing political party?

Yes, Canadians, this is Stephen Harper and his Conservative thugs, Mugabe-style.


From CTV News

"After a one and a half hour roadtrip, the press corps traveling with Conservative Leader Stephen Harper was blocked from getting off the bus by Harper's campaign team without explanation. Reporters soon noticed a protest taking place outside the bus and demanded to be let off. When they were denied, reporters turned on their cameras and soon after were let off the bus."

"Later, police on site attempted to stop reporters from speaking with protesters, telling them to go talk to the prime minister's office about where they could stand."