I welcomed Kathleen Wynne‘s victory in the leadership race for the ruling Ontario Liberal Party this past Saturday, even though I live in faraway British Columbia. And I do mean far away — seriously, the International Space Station is ten times closer to the surface of the earth, than Vancouver is to Toronto. (Though that probably says more about how not-so-far-away the International Space Station is to us.)
Wynne is of course lesbian, and her ascent to the Premiership of Ontario — Canada’s most populous province — is a matter of minor national pride, whatever her policies may be, and however effective historians judge her tenure. Someone’s always got to be first. [For our dear American readers, a provincial Premier is analogous to a state Governor.]
Internecine Rivalries from the House of Britain
Like so many fellow Canadians, I feel lightly-competitive with our southern cousins. From this Canadian perspective, Americans are like the big brother who ran away from home, finding fame, fortune, power and influence, leaving us to stay and sort things out with mom and dad. :) And while there’s a Canadian drive to prove ourselves better than Americans (at something – anything!) I’m sure our American friends busy themselves with bigger things than measuring themselves against their northern neighbours. :)
I imagine this kind of one-way cultural rivalry of smaller countries to bigger neighbours, is commonplace — presumably the Danes feel the same way about Germans, the Portugese feel the same way about Spaniards, and so forth. It’s a phenomenon perfectly captured by the Kiwi T-shirt slogan to the effect of “my favourite rugby team is New Zealand, and whoever is playing Australia”.
When it comes to openly gay provincial/state leaders, our southern cousins got there first, as Jim McGreevey served as the openly-gay governor of New Jersey for a few months in 2004. But it’s hard to call his achievement a triumph for equality, as he’d served for the prior two years as the married-but-secretly-gay governor, and only came out when caught having an affair with a (male) political appointee.
While Wynne hasn’t won a general election — she was chosen to be the new leader of Ontario’s ruling Liberal Party — hers is a more uplifting story, because she’s been open about her identity all along. Heck, she’s even married! It should also be noted that the Liberal Party isn’t on one side of the political spectrum, either: it’s in the middle, between the left-wing NDP and the right-wing Progressive Conservatives.
Yes, non-Canadians, you read that right — the right wing party in Ontario is called the Progressive Conservatives. :) It’s a quirk of Canadian history dating to the 1940’s. Young members of the Conservative Party, fearing that their party had moved too far to the right to be electable (hmm… sound familiar?) proposed adding some social programs to the Conservative agenda… including government-funded healthcare. To reflect their new-found social concerns, the national party re-branded itself as the Progressive Conservatives, and the provincial parties soon followed.
The fate of most Canadian mid-term leaders
If there’s a fly in the ointment of Wynne’s anointment, it’s that she’s the person her party chose as leader after the elected Premier resigned, partway through his term. As readers can probably imagine, things have to get pretty dire — Dante’s eighth circle of hell dire (see Bolgia 5) — for politicians to resign before their terms end.
The effect is that mid-term leaders like Kathleen Wynne often take the fall for their unpopular predecessors. Reasonably recent examples from Canadian national politics include:
- John Turner (Prime Minister for 79 days in 1984): he took power after Pierre Trudeau resigned, to avoid certain defeat in the next election. And Turner certainly went down in defeat, in the next election.
- Kim Campbell (Prime Minister for 132 days in 1993): she took power after Brian Mulroney resigned, also to avoid certain defeat in the next election. And wow, did she ever get defeated; the party went from 156 seats, to 2 seats. Most of the blame should go to Mulroney, though: his 11% approval rating in 1992 was the lowest ever recorded for a sitting Prime Minister in the history of the British Parliamentary system. Admittedly, that sounds more impressive than it actually is, since accurate public polling didn’t come on-scene until the telephone became ubiquitous. ;)
But is Ontario ready for a gay Premier? Obviously yes.
In the Ontario leadership race, the question kept getting asked, “is Ontario ready for a gay Premier?” — it was still being discussed on public radio this morning! Clearly the answer is yes. End of discussion.
The best take I’ve seen on this type of questioning, was this article in Jezebel last year, on whether the US was finally ready for another white male Secretary of State, which was so awesome I’m compelled to excerpt part of it:
“The Secretary of State job requires both tenacity and restraint, both of which may be difficult for a man’s unique chemical constitution. The male hormone testosterone, while responsible for such wondrous miracles as back hair and upper body strength, is also responsible for an increase in male aggression, anger, and even violence. Diplomacy is a difficult enough task without having to temper a man’s natural tendency to throw chairs through windows when angered by gridlock.
Further, it’s a well-known fact that men’s lack of intuition and emotional intelligence has translated into a troubling inability to cry under appropriate circumstances. War, death, and destruction are horrifying realities that Secretaries of State from Madeleine Albright to Condoleezza Rice have had to face, and an insufficient emotional response to tragedy will reflect poorly on our country. Do we want our allies to think we’re a bunch of callous jerks who are totally unmoved by the death of innocents?”
Phew! That’s pretty persuasive! I’m no longer sure John Kerry is up to the task! ;)
But is America ready for another white male President? Hmm…
Indeed, instead of asking whether [Canadians / Americans] are ready for a [female / gay / insert-name-of-religious-minority-here] political leader, I think the bigger question as our southern cousins look to 2016, is whether Americans can afford to take a chance on another white male President.
The Siena College Research Survey of scholars, historians and political scientists (which has been doing this periodically for the past thirty years) ranked George W. Bush as the fifth-worst President in US history, beaten out only by four other… white men! ;) Two of them (Pierce and Buchanan) failed to prevent the Civil War, one bobbled the reconstruction (Johnson), and the other guy was a caricature of corruption (Harding).
Seriously, Bush ranked worse than Richard Milhous Nixon! (Worse than Nixon!!) He ranked worse than William Harrison, who died after a month in office!
With that kind of a track record, you’ve really got to wonder whether Americans are ready to risk taking another chance on another white male President. ;) And not just in politics — as Bill Maher pointed out in his awesome monologue Ebony and Irony [starts at about 1:50 in the link] the same could be said for the world of business, too. ;)