Ontario Premier Doug Ford answers questions at a COVID-19 briefing at Queen’s Park in Toronto on Saturday, May 2, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rick Madonik - POOL

COLUMN: Calming voices of leadership

During a time of crisis, leaders set the tone for the public

It would be hard to find two present Canadian leaders with less in common than Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford.

The two represent different political parties and different —sometimes opposing — ideologies. And when it comes to presenting themselves, the two are nothing alike.

But now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, both have demonstrated an important leadership quality.

They have each stepped forward and delivered calming messages, time and again. And by doing so, they have both provided a sense of reassurance.

Their COVID-19 briefings have not been defined by political positioning, but rather by updates and announcements, presented in a way to give hope and reassurance to the public.

READ ALSO: Trudeau says COVID-19 curve is beginning to flatten; more PPE on the way for provinces

READ ALSO: Canada to do millionth COVID-19 test but numbers still falling short

Watching these briefings and updates, I’ve gained a new respect and admiration for both.

This level of respect is not about their party affiliations or platforms. Instead, it’s the result of seeing and appreciating two examples of grace under pressure, from two leaders who have little in common.

In British Columbia, the province’s messages have tended to come from health minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Bonnie Henry.

Their messages, delivered almost daily, are calm and factual, never panicked.

Similarly, I have been watching as Summerland Mayor Toni Boot has presented regular updates to the community during this time, speaking calmly even though there is still much uncertainty about the pandemic.

And Spencer Coyne, the mayor of Princeton, has worked to bring messages of reassurance to his community.

Boot and Coyne have different styles and approaches, but both of have been working to present a calm tone during a difficult time.

There are similar stories from around our province, across the country and around the world.

Leaders at all levels are delivering some important messages to the people.

This is the mark of leadership in a time of crisis.

It is worth noting that neither Trudeau nor Ford has been universally supported.

In the last federal election, Trudeau’s Liberals received the support of just one-third of those who voted. And in Ontario, Ford’s conservatives received the support of two out of five voters.

But this is a time of crisis, and when responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, party platforms become meaningless.

This is the time when people need to know what will happen to them, in the short term and in the long term.

This is the time when they need to know the decision-makers are listening to them and are acting in their best interests.

And this is the time when the public needs to know there is competent leadership at the helm, providing reasoned and sensible solutions.

READ ALSO: Compared to U.S., Canada’s COVID-19 response a case study in political civility

Without a calm and consistent message, it would be easy for the country to slip into chaos during this time. The consistent messages, from leaders at all levels, could be part of the reason the Canadian statistics from the COVID-19 pandemic are far less tragic than in some other parts of the world.

The vast majority of Canadians are working to follow the directives during this pandemic, and the occasional rallies to end the restrictions have been poorly attended.

Watching these examples of leadership has had me think once again about some the people we elect.

Traditionally, election campaigns have been ideological battles, where platforms are presented and considered.

British Columbia voters will not go to the polls this year, but we have a provincial election scheduled for October 2021, a municipal election in October 2022 and a federal election in 2023.

During those elections, one of my considerations will be which candidate can deliver calm leadership in a time of crisis.

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.

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