A strongman or Tom Hanks?

THE LEAD ACTORS on Alberta’s political stage have been typecast. It’s kind of like watching the summer movie trailers for coming attractions. Two different film franchises. Two different actors in a starring role.

rachel_orangeRACHEL OF GREEN GABLES  (the sequel)

Several years into her mandate, we find Rachel courting the boys-next-door in the Green Gables oil patch.

After a knockout speech and standing ovation in Calgary, she smiles that terrific smile and says, “They love me. They really, really love me.”  But, do they really?

A screwball comedy.

jason_yellow balloon

JASON & THE ARGONAUTS  (the remake)

One man.  [thump, thump]

In a NDP world. [thump, thump, thump]

Thrill! As Jason slays socialists with new & improved political effects!  [big explosions]

Winter is coming…spring 2019!


I’m having a bit of fun; however, the scenarios I’ve outlined are not completely out of step with the political theatre playing around the world.

Think of the ‘strongman’ characters finding favour with audiences everywhere. Putin, Trump, Rodrigo Duterte in the Phillipines, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, the recently elected governments in Italy and Cambodia, and the growing list of countries flirting with authoritarian rule.

Now think of Tom Hanks as a womanizing liar and reprobate. Doesn’t work does it? We like this guy. You can’t help but like him. But can he go nuclear if need be?

In Alberta, you will have two choices in the 2019 provincial election:

1.  someone likeable, a charismatic leader who smiles a lot; someone you’d enjoy having a beer or coffee with, or…

2.   a strongman ( Margaret ‘iron lady’ Thatcher also fits the profile); someone formidable who can ferociously defend Alberta’s interests in a scrap with tough, mean-spirited bastards.



President Trump just got the European Union to bend on free trade. Renegotiating NAFTA, meantime, has been a nightmare. We’re in a fight we didn’t expect to be in. Ontario’s auto sector and parts supply chain is on the ropes, and getting a pipeline from Alberta to tidewater is anything but a slam dunk; protestors are going to do everything they can to block construction. Our economic way of life is at risk.

Of the two identifiable trends in political leadership, what’s the best script to deal with social justice warriors ignoring the rule of law, blocking pipeline construction?

[strongman leader]: You will go to jail, if you stand in our way.

[likeable leader]:  I hear your concerns…and over a period of time, we can negotiate…

What should be the peoples’ choice in 2019?

Just because a leader is likeable and smiles a lot, doesn’t mean he or she is going to be good in street fight. These are wild times. Nice doesn’t cut it anymore.

And if it’s going to be a battle with Ottawa and Washington, a warrior chief would make the most sense–a strongman. Ontario just elected one. Some ‘progressive’ writers worry this is a sign that fascism is on the rise.

Can you choose a leader with the capacity to be likeable and charismatic AND yet not hesitate to press hard and formidably when needed, even to the point of not being liked?

Yes you can.

Albertans have done it before.

Don Hill and I are preparing PETER’S PRINCIPLES, a series of podcasts profiling a leader who never backed down in a fight, yet was compassionate to a fault. It’s a ‘case study’ of the leadership of Peter Lougheed, the province’s premier between 1971-1985.

Lougheed is frequently described as charismatic. People were drawn to him. He was thoughtful–remembered names, birthdays, told jokes (but often didn’t get them)–quick to smile. Rarely did he raise his voice. He was eminently likeable. And come to think of it, he had that kind of Tom Hanks groove. Yet Lougheed was willing to take bold action when needed, making choices that risked compromising his likability. He could be very, very tough.

And he was quick on the draw. The provincial government in a special ‘energy session’ in 1973, granted itself extraordinary power to set royalty rates, essentially voiding existing contracts with oil companies. Likewise, in response to the National Energy Program in 1980, Lougheed cut oil production from Alberta flowing east, a sharp rebuke to the government of Prime Minister Trudeau (the elder).

From my vantage point, Lougheed wasn’t any of the characters you currently see on the political stage in Alberta. He was a big tent politician. Went out of his way to include all Albertans, no matter their politics.


Lougheed knew he had to play the part of a modern leader. He took lessons to present himself well on television, the equivalent of mastering the art of social media in our time. But he wasn’t really acting. He was the real deal (maybe Trump on twitter isn’t acting either, although I’m not convinced; I’ll leave it to you to judge the character of his tweets).

Don and I think Alberta voters made the right choice in 1971–a leader that exemplified both the strength of a strongman and a very likeable, personable man that led the province into the modern era. We wonder if it’s possible to tease out the same amalgam of qualities in one leader to serve the province in 2019.

We also wonder what might happen if the next premier of our province decides to brush up on PETER’S PRINCIPLES before taking office.

Donna Kennedy-Glans, July 30th 2018

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2 thoughts on “A strongman or Tom Hanks?

  1. i think your characterization of Notley is unfair. yes, she is charismatic–which is a good thing–but she’s also shown that she can be hard-nosed and decisive when needed. witness her banning the importing of BC wines and passing legislation allowing the AB govt to throttle back the exporting of oil and byproducts via the current TMX pipeline

    in my books, politicians should maintain a positive, friendly and firm position publicly, while being tougher and steeled in behind-the-scenes discussions, where the real work gets done. and to show toughness publicly only when needed

    the opposite (i.e. to go nuclear in the early stages of a disagreement) may excite and thrill the followers but is a terrible way to get things done. it’s Trump’s style and sadly, Kenney emulates it


    1. Oh, have a little fun Steve. We’re exaggerating both Notley and Kenney. The real issue is how do we encourage our leaders to be nice, and formidable, without ‘acting’ a part? It’s feasible. it might be useful to say out loud what we expect. Did Ford go too far with Toronto’s council? Some people think the idea of change was okay, but not the approach – could he have done something as formidable as reducing the number of councillors by half in a nicer way? By giving more notice perhaps. We’re pitting against some tough characters on the world stage; nice, alone, isn’t going to cut it. Nor is fierce, alone. We need both. What does that look like, to people in Alberta? That’s what we’re asking.

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