David McConkey - Columnist, Consultant, Citizen
Columnist. Consultant. Citizen.

Prime Minister Obama?

Brandon Sun, August 22, 2009 - David McConkey

Ever since Barack Obama burst onto the American political scene, a question has been: Could we have a leader like that in Canada – a Prime Minster Barack Obama?

Obama is exciting for a number of reasons. He is smart and capable. He identifies with the younger generation and their Internet-inspired communication and openness.

He tackles big questions and issues, such as health care reform and global warming. He challenges citizens to become involved with their community and government.

Obama inspires with his message of personal responsibility. This is especially appropriate for young black men, who grow up in a society that is still prejudicial.

One stereotype: about the only way for blacks to escape the ghetto is to become an entertainment or sports superstar. Obama’s life, however, reminds everyone that for most people success starts by going to college and obtaining a regular job.

The marriage of Barack and Michelle Obama also sets a powerful example. An important factor contributing to people’s success is growing up with two parents. African-Americans are at a disadvantage in that many grow up in single-parent homes – partly a legacy of slavery with its disruption of families.      

Of course, there is his racial background. Ideally, race should not be a factor in electing someone. But that is just what has happened in the past. Politics has been dominated by older white men, who have perpetuated themselves by selecting more of the same.

Not that there is anything wrong with boring old white men. I’m one myself! But we are losing out on the talents and perspectives of women, visible minorities, and aboriginal people – who together actually make up the majority of the population. 

By showing that an African-American can become President, Obama has opened the doors to everyone else. By electing him, the United States has said yes to the future.

Wouldn’t it be great to have that kind of leader in Canada? Especially an aboriginal Prime Minister who could be as inspiring here as Obama has been in the U.S.

For aboriginals here have suffered from similar problems as blacks in the States. This includes government-sponsored disruption of family life; in our case with residential schools. 
 
But we won’t get a Barack Obama in Canada anytime soon. So says Globe and Mail journalist John Ibbitson in his new book Open and Shut: Why America Has Barack Obama, and Canada Has Stephen Harper.

Ibbitson argues that while the U.S. is an open society, Canada is closed. We are not as ready to experiment. As well, our political system does not have mechanisms like their primaries that let new people in.

Only one Canadian province (P.E.I.), for example, has ever elected a woman as premier. Eight U.S. states currently have female governors.

Ibbitson paints a bleak picture of Canadian federal politics. We have uninspiring leaders and both the Conservative and Liberal parties are in bad shape. Because the Bloc Quebecois gets 50 seats from the get-go, minority governments are almost a given.

Ibbitson details a number of sorry examples: “ineffectiveness” of the Stephen Harper cabinet, “dysfunctional” departments like Foreign Affairs, “bungled” programs like the gun registry, “catastrophic mismanagement” of First Nations issues.

Transformation could happen in Canada, Ibbitson says. But it will take generational change, political parties opening themselves up, and enough people ready to “create a political storm that sweeps away the wreckage of the old politics.”

Obama showed that millions, especially young people, can be mobilized on the Internet: to register to vote, volunteer time, give money, and spread the word. Obama raised more money than anyone else ever had. He received the overwhelmingly support of new voters.

Obama demonstrated the importance of the youth vote. He won two-thirds of the under-30 age group, but got only half of those aged 30 to 65, and lost the over-65 crowd.

So Canadians should be able to get an Obama-type leader at some point. Our laws encourage many, small, political contributions.

Young people are receptive to racial and gender diversity, are wired to the Internet, and are disenchanted with today’s politics. 

Canada’s Barack Obama? Yes, Ibbitson says, “she’s out there, though she may be busy right now, studying for exams . . .”  
 
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See also:  

Citizenship Redefined

Campaigns of Contrast

Future of Politics on Display

Other Reviews

Citizen Active

 



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David McConkey,
Brandon, Manitoba
204-726-9440
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