Too much charisma is starting to become a political liability in Canada

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      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.


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      Stephen Rees

      May 14, 2013 at 8:02am

      Charisma without substance - like Kim Campbell herself, and Justin Trudeau too. We may pick plodders provincially - but our Mainstream Media still look for "star quality". And that is always superficial.

      As for "ruthlessness, pathological lying, and a lack of conscience" they seem to be the key qualities not just of politicians but far too many corporate types. Most of us think we can spot charisma when we see it. Identifying psychopaths seems to be a bit trickier.

      Back in 1970 I was sitting my final exams for a BA in Politics. I had the greatest trouble with the essay question. "Assess the heuristic value of charisma". Charlie gets a B-.


      May 14, 2013 at 8:07am

      When the federal NDP had Jack Layton, all I ever heard about was the need for charismatic leadership. Now that everyone is saying Mulcair suffers from a "charisma deficit", expect to hear variations on this article for the next 2 years.


      May 14, 2013 at 8:48am

      In the last 20 years or so, we seem to have produced a species of politician who relies on "charisma" but has nothing else underneath - people who are great at getting power but who have no idea what to do once they have it.


      May 14, 2013 at 10:40am

      Are we suppose to think there is something wrong with members of a party who actively lobby to get rid of a leader that is a liability to continuing to win pretty much every election in the last sixty years?

      Neither charisma or substance was a factor with Skelly or James? Why did they lose? What party would think that the best replacement for a leader, chased from office from the RCMP, would be the very guy that assisted RCMP?

      Dix will win an election based entirely on voter fatigue, an unpopular incumbency and their own '801' role to ensure one of your two choices will never change....not because he has substance, Mr. Smith.

      ...and the 801 types are MORE THAN HAPPY to ensure the NDP will always be the Loyal and Predictable Opposition.

      (...and I do wonder what a fellow like Gregor Robertson might say on this issue of charisma and substance and a party that seemed MORE THAN HAPPY to run a stubborn school teacher for a third lost because no one in the party wanted to cross a powerful trade union?)


      May 14, 2013 at 11:17am

      I have heard CBC host Rick Cluff twice questioning Adrian Dix about appearing nervous and somewhat lacking confidence-and then asking if this makes him suited for the job of Premier- but I don't think some nervousness and some lack of confidence necessarily reflects badly on someone. To the extent it applies to Mr Dix I believe it shows he is human, not arrogant, not complacent and that he takes his role very seriously. One could further use this measure of nervousness in other fields; for example Paul McCartney said he usually feels some nervousness when about to perform and that he thought it might be somewhat worrisome if he no longer did.I would prefer some nervousness in a leader which shows they know the job is a serious endeavor rather than an over-confident arrogance of charm-aka a charismatic con- as shown by the likes of Christy Clark breezing through a red light and altering her voting ballot-both brazenly done in front of reporters. These latter characteristics are what the Rick Cluffs on the campaign trail should be basing their question 'are you suited to be Premier' upon.

      I disagree

      May 14, 2013 at 12:43pm

      ... with the conclusion that voters are penalizing charisma as much as they are looking for substance, honesty and truth (I hope); very little of which will be provided (I expect). The entire system is founded on irony. We ask for behaviour that is the antithesis to political success. "Excessive charisma is sometimes associated with ruthlessness, pathological lying, and a lack of conscience" but it gets you elected. And the former is not always requisite if you have enough of the latter. Am I cynical or a dispassionate realist with years of examples to draw from? bingo gate, CN rail, fast ferries, HST... and on and on and on it goes


      May 14, 2013 at 12:45pm

      Comparing Kim Campbell and Justin Trudeau? Other than the differences in education, political experience, employement history. Yeah, I guess they are the same. LOLZ


      May 14, 2013 at 2:46pm

      Adrian Dix is also diabetic which he states gives him tremors that cna sometimes make him appear nervous. I would prefer a little nervousness over the smile while I stab you in the back & pay off friends route the Liberals go.


      May 14, 2013 at 3:32pm

      regardless of personal charisma, there quite simply is no future for the right wing in Canada. it's nothing personal, it's purely politics. the voters of today and tomorrow are voting for fair policy, it's no longer as simple as a popularity contest. (natch, Justin)

      Media Bias

      May 14, 2013 at 4:55pm

      The mainstream media has a business bias. When Trudeau is damned as having too much charisma and no substance, it is simply because he actually does offer an alternative to the fascists in federal power today. When Layton was damned as having no charisma, it is simply because he actually did offer an alternative to the fascists in federal power today.

      The mainstream media lies every day to fulfill their corporate executive agenda. Many people are too lazy or stupid too notice, and those who do are relegated to the wilderness.