CALGARY, Alta./ Troy Media/ – A recent poll suggests that a majority of Montreal-area residents prefer pipelines over all other means of shipping oil. Politicians like to talk a lot about leadership but, as with all things politicians say, the bombast doesn’t always ring true.
The late Ralph Klein, former premier of Alberta, had an interesting view. He said leaders should find out which way the parade was going and then get out in front. It was a witty reflection of his populist tendencies but it hardly conjured the sense of nobility we get when we think about history’s great leaders.
Taking a firm stance on unpopular issues, on the other hand, may tick off the nobility box but also get you booted out of office. Ask Joe Clark, who enjoyed only a brief stint as prime minister, before losing the confidence of the House (and subsequently voters) in 1980 over his insistence on bringing in a principled four-cent-per-litre tax on gasoline.
The sweet spot is showing leadership on the things that most people can agree on. Winston Churchill, for example, was a successful leader in the Second World War because most people in the U.K. agreed gutsy defiance was the right response to the Nazi juggernaut. That same personality trait that served Churchill so well during the war, however, contributed to his downfall once he brought his iron fist to peace time.
The trick, then, is to be a little bit like Churchill and a little bit like Klein. Like Churchill, a leader should be prepared to take an uncompromising stand on a real and pressing issue and, like Klein, that leader should position himself at the front of the parade.
Which bring us, oddly enough, to Denis Coderre.
Like many politicians, Coderre, now mayor of Montreal, has a good sense of what people get excited about. In his case, he is right that a lot of people in Quebec get revved up about those “Saudi Albertans” presuming they can just ship oil through their province via the Energy East pipeline. That is why he spoke out a few weeks ago against the pipeline, drawing a line in the sand on a matter over which his level of government actually doesn’t have jurisdiction.
It turns out, however, that while Coderre was right that emotions run high he might be wrong about the direction of the parade.
The first evidence that Coderre may be at the wrong end of the line is a recent poll by Leger widely reported this week. The poll of more than 1,000 respondents suggests that a majority of Montreal-area residents prefer pipelines over all other means of shipping oil (40 per cent versus nine per cent for rail) – perhaps not a surprise. What might raise eyebrows is the fact that a large majority of those polled also prefer that their oil come from western Canada.
In fact, six in 10 respondents preferred western Canadian oil over Mexico (five per cent), Saudi Arabia (three per cent) and Algeria (two per cent). Nearly one-third didn’t state a preference.
Interestingly, the poll found that people who said they voted for the Bloc Quebecois supported Saudi Arabian crude more (13 per cent) although western Canada crude was still the favourite.
As someone who has read, reported on and digested hundreds of polls over the years, I know that no single poll should be taken as the last word. Much will be made of the fact that this research was commissioned by the “right wing” Institut économique de Montréal, a distinctly pro-business counterpoint to Coderre.
Even with that caveat, however, it seems clear that common-sense Quebecers are savvy enough to understand they should not bite the hand of Alberta, the hand that has contributed billions of dollars yearly in equalization payments to other parts of the country. One even hopes a little patriotism might be at play.
It also demonstrates clearly that while Coderre, a one-time federal Liberal cabinet minister, may be able to court his cabal of nearby mayors that in no way demonstrates he has his finger on the pulse of non-elite club of just plain voters.
The right thing for him to do is to adopt some common sense himself. If Quebecers can see the value of shipping oil through a pipeline, it would be helpful if Montreal-area mayors stopped playing cynical politics, show some grace and let the pipeline review process play out.
Who knows? If he can get back in front of parade, it might even help him get re-elected.
Doug Firby is Editor-in-Chief and National Affairs columnist for Troy Media.