Too much charisma is starting to become a political liability in Canada
In 1986, Social Credit leadership candidate Kim Campbell uttered a few lines that could prove prophetic on the morning of a provincial election.
"It is fashionable to speak of political leaders in terms of their charisma," she said. "But charisma without substance is a dangerous thing. It creates expectations that cannot be satisfied. Then come bitterness and disillusionment that destroy not only the leader but the party."
Most people in the audience believed that Campbell was referring to the front runner, Bill Vander Zalm, who went on to win the leadership. That led to the demise of the Social Credit party, which dominated the province, with one three-year exception, from 1952 to 1991.
This morning, the B.C. Liberals are at a crossroads with rumours of an "801 Club" ready to push for the ouster of the leader, Christy Clark, should she be defeated in today's election.
As this is written, there is still more than hour before polls open and more than 13 hours before polls close.
But it's hard to ignore the divisions among the B.C. Liberals' traditional supporters. Just reading commentaries on the website of the right-wing Fraser Institute indicates dissatisfaction with the premier's less-than-gushing support for the Northern Gateway pipeline and her introduction of Family Day.
Clark also lifted much of the NDP platform when she raised the minimum wage, increased taxes on high-income earners, and slightly boosted corporate taxes—all of which will likely rile the libertarian purists who form a key part of the B.C. Liberal base.
Then there are those damning commentaries about Clark's government by Martyn Brown, the former chief of staff to Gordon Campbell.
This morning at an NDP campaign event at the Naam restaurant in Kitsilano, these articles were a topic of conversation among some in the media.
Why would a former chief of staff to a B.C. Liberal premier be so eager to express such withering observations about his boss's successor?
Some have speculated that Brown, who comes from the old Reform B.C. wing of the party, has an ideological issue with a former federal Liberal running the government.
Others have questioned if Brown is merely trying to score points with an incoming NDP government so that he might be in line for a job.
I suspect the answer goes deeper than that and concerns Clark's personality.
Charisma without substance is a dangerous thing, as Kim Campbell so aptly pointed out.
And research by a fleet of psychologists in recent years has left no doubt that under certain circumstances, excessive charisma is sometimes associated with ruthlessness, pathological lying, and a lack of conscience.
Charisma used to be a necessary calling card for success in politics. But now, it has a tendency to breed greater suspicion among some voters, who've felt betrayed by magnetic politicians like Vander Zalm, former premier Glen Clark, former prime minister Brian Mulroney, Bill Clinton, and B.C. Liberal leader Christy Clark.
Increasingly in Canadian provincial elections, voters are choosing more plodding types—such as Alison Redford in Alberta, Dalton McGuinty in Ontario, Pauline Marois in Quebec, Greg Sellinger in Manitoba, and quite likely, Adrian Dix in B.C.
They're not particularly charismatic, but the public obviously feels that they have sufficient substance for the job.