Who wants to be a Premier? Anyone? Anyone?

Five months have passed since the Oct. 4, 2011 Manitoba provincial election — the night on which Progressive Conservative leader Hugh McFadyen announced that he would step down after fighting two election campaigns at the party’s helm.

The chances of whoever succeeds McFadyen becoming Premier in 2015 are not too shabby. The best predictor of whether or not a government will get re-elected is its age. By the next provincial election, the NDP government will be, after 16 years, the second longest serving administration in Manitoba history.

The longest serving administration was the United Farmers-turned-Liberal Progressive dynasty which governed Manitoba (thanks to a gerrymandered electoral map) from 1922 to 1958 under premiers John Bracken, Stuart Garson and Douglas Campbell.

Though governments occasionally win one more election after celebrating their 10th anniversaries in office, no provincial government outside of the Alberta political aberration has survived 10 years in government and then gone on to win two more elections since the Newfoundland Progressive Conservatives won a fifth and final term in 1985.

Thus, you would think that any Progressive Conservative with ambitions for the premiership would view this as a golden opportunity.

Not so. Five months after Hugh McFadyen gave PC MLAs and party insiders the official blessing to begin campaigning for the leadership, no one has taken the plunge.

Nor is there much interest in the leadership of the provincial Liberal Party, which has also been up for grabs for five months. This, at least, is understandable. The only redeeming feature of the 2011 campaign, which saw the Liberals finish with one seat and slightly less than eight percent of the vote, was that it wasn’t “1981 all over again”, when the party won just seven percent of the vote and lost its only seat in the Legislature.

What is stopping people from reaching for the province’s top political job?

Part of it could be a sincere conclusion by would-be candidates that they lack the ruthlessness to go the distance. When genuinely nice people do make it to the top in politics, they generally end up regretting having taken the job (as Walter Weir publicly admitted after his 1967-69 stint as Premier of Manitoba) or have difficulty asserting authority over wayward MLAs (as Howard Pawley had at times during his 1981-88 premiership).

Or as former U.S. Federal Reserve chair Alan Greenspan described his dealings with various presidents over the decades: “Jerry Ford was as close to normal as you get in a president . . . There’s a constitutional amendment that I’ve been pushing for years without success. It says, ‘Anyone willing to do what is required to become president of the United States is thereby barred from taking that office.’ I’m only half joking.”

Much the same could be said of anyone wanting to be a Mayor, Premier or Prime Minister. Being a head of government is not for those prone to losing sleep at night because a decision they made will cause someone to lose their home or their reputation.

Another factor that could be inhibiting people from throwing their hats into the ring: the desire for a family life.

Being a party leader or head of government means putting one’s spouse and children second for years on end. Its impact was well summed up by Ros Hawke Dillon, whose father, Bob Hawke, was Australia’s prime minister from 1983 to 1991. In 2003, she explained to an interviewer why she always bought a father’s day card not for her father, but for her mother.

“Dad was there for the fun times but he wasn’t a hands-on dad,” she said, describing the years her father spent on his trajectory toward the premiership while the rest of the family tried to live a normal suburban lifestyle.

“She mowed the lawns, she fixed tap washers, she did everything.”

Politics leaves little time for mowing lawns and fixing tap washers. Even the Parliament of Canada web site cautions would-be MPs that they can expect to have “very little personal time” due to the demands of the job.

The demands are even worse for premiers and party leaders, who are never truly “off duty”.

Such a lifestyle has little appeal to newer generations who often witnessed their own parents’ marriages fail — the so-called “Generation X” born roughly between 1965 and 1980, and the “Millennials” or “Generation Y”, born between 1980 and 1995.

“Generation X’ers are seeking a greater sense of family and are less likely to put jobs before family, friends or other interests,” a 2005 article noted in response to concerns that it was becoming increasingly difficult to fill vacancies in universities’ medicine faculties.

“[Their] first loyalty tends to be to themselves than to any institution. While they may be deeply committed to their work, they are less willing to sacrifice than their parents were, less fixated on titles and the corner office, and less likely to ‘delay gratification'”.

Case in point: former WestJet CEO Sean Durfy. The first “Generation X” CEO of a major Canadian airline, Durfy stunned the industry when he unexpectedly resigned in 2010 at age 43, saying he wanted to have more of a family life.

“I realized quality time with my family was not there,” Durfy told Canadian Business magazine in 2011. “My young fellah didn’t really even know who I was. I stepped back and said, ‘All this stuff is not good. This is not a good place to be.'”.

“In most cases, it’s not the corner office or a large paycheck that drives Generation Y,” a 2006 article for a U.S. defense industry trade publication noted, “but rather, the opportunity to work for a company that fosters strong workplace relationships and inspires a sense of balance and/or purpose.”

“[Millennials] expect a work-life balance unlike what we have seen before,” IEEE Engineering Management Review observed in 2011. “Their teamwork and creative energy is typically not organized well. This generation has the potential to refresh the thinking and core passions that drive just about everything society does in a similar way that large demographic groups like the Baby Boomers continue to do as they now retire and leave the workplace.”

If academia, corporations, the U.S. defence industry and the engineering profession are feeling a pinch because a younger generation wants to make family more important in their lives, then why should it come as any surprise that it’s getting difficult for political parties to attract leadership candidates?

Times and values have changed. The growing number of people taking a pass on the possibility of governing the province suggests that our sclerotic political parties and tradition-bound parliamentary institutions are having difficulty keeping up. That will only make it more difficult to attract good people to public office in the years ahead.


About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

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