OVER A LUNCH with the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Shawn Atleo, I had a conversation last week in North Bay about Idle No More and social media. A thread which ran throughout our discussion was anger — in particular the anger of native people, much of which is directed toward the federal government of Canada.
Well, I couldn’t leave it there, could I. Not without drawing out the observation that the First Nations leaders hadn’t gone uncriticized by the grassroots, and that only months earlier I’d listened to another contender for National Chief, Terry Nelson, as he made the case for an Indian non-aligned movement. To put the matter plainly, many appear to have abandoned the idea that anything of practical utility may be had through the politicians. Furthermore, this seems now to be a growth industry.
Nor is the frustration limited in Canada to native people. Angus Reid reports this week that Saskatchewan is the only province where “a majority of respondents (64%) are satisfied” with the performance of their provincial leaders. The approval pageant’s second place is held by New Brunswick’s David Alward, who has recently soared to 41 per cent. From here it is a heady tumbling downward into the pit where most of Canada’s premiers reside — from Manitoba’s Greg Selinger (38%) and Ontario’s Kathleen Wynne (36%) to Christy Clark and Kathy Dunderdale (25% approval).
Quebec’s Pauline Marois is in the middle of the herd, at thirty-three per cent, but the trend in this instance is emphatically southward with the Premiere to all appearances keen on the seeing of the plunge through. Likewise, in Alberta and British Columbia, the governing parties self-destruct before our eyes, in slow but certain motion. The only chance of survival for Ontario’s Liberals — and a slim chance at that — reposed in Premier Dalton McGuinty’s departure, and he himself took advantage of it by tossing himself out of office.
Before turning to politics himself, the prolific Calgarian satirist R. C. Edwards knocked about the “fourth rate intellects applied to first rate problems.” But neither then nor now are the chief irritants intellectual in character. We don’t merely mock or look down upon our politicians, we loathe them for their easy corruption and contemptful hypocrisy. An entry from Edwards’ many political jottings perfectly captures the tone of disgust: “I know what a statesman is. He is a dead politician. We need more statesmen.”
The prospect may be adumbrated from the approval ratings of the folks lingering at the curtain. Less than half of those surveyed by Angus Reid approve of the performance of their opposition leaders in British Columbia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. In Newfoundland and Labrador, the seven-year leader of the NDP, Lorraine Michael, enjoys the approval of sixty-one per cent. The leader of Alberta’s Wildrose Party, Danielle Smith, excels at fifty-three per cent. Regarding the leftovers, their numbers would pass only as at-bat statistics — from Victor Lau and John Cummins, at .150 and .200 respectively, to the heavy-hitters Adrian Dix and Andrea Horwath (.490!).
The politicians, who live and die by the polls, know at all times to what degree they are disapproved of, and on this subject have a ready theory. Within sixteen months of his 1921 election to office, R.C. (or Bob, as he was known) Edwards went from being a politician to a statesman, dying at age sixty-two with not quite enough time in the business to master it from the inside. But in my conversation with Shawn Atleo I discerned the mind of a politician who truly is grappling with a challenge of no small proportion — a nation of restless people who won’t suffer indefinitely the perceived underperformance of their leaders.