By Charles E. Pascal
Professor, University of Toronto
Former Ontario Deputy Minister
Nothing like a big juicy crisis like the G20 fallout to test the mettle of public figures with various and sundry leadership responsibilities. It’s this crucible of crisis that unmasks what’s “inside”, what leaders under fire really believe, those core values and the behaviors that give us more than a casual clue to one’s courage or cowardice under fire.
So what about the cast of characters in and around the G20 crisis?
Obviously Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair’s behavior has placed himself front and center. So what have we learned about his leadership? A good deal for sure, as he moves from hyper-testosterone rhetoric to trying to double-talk his way up a steep hill of redemption that will likely prove to be too tough a climb, not because others have lost confidence in him but because he seems to have lost confidence in himself. Are we witnessing the crumbling of a school-yard bully unaccustomed to the confrontation of the truthful conviction of evidence? Blair doesn’t do the contrition thing very well. Real leaders feel the wrong from within. They do not wait five days to issue a lawyered non-apology that says "I regret the impression my comments may have created.”
His biggest fault, like so many military and para-military people who show distain for directions given by those not donning a uniform, is the annoyance with governance and accountability he projects.
Last month, when the Chief was his more media savvy self, he took to CBC Radio's Metro Morning to lobby for purchasing and retaining key surveillance equipment left over from the G-20. In the interview, he noted as a sidebar comment “I plan to take this request to the Police Services Board’s next meeting.” How does he get away with doing a public dance on this before he presents to his board? It reveals a lack of respect for governance. More important, it was likely a public act of lobbying the incoming Mayor and others because the next meeting of the board will take place after Mr. Ford makes his assignments to the board. And eureka, the Mayor has just appointed three cronies to the board. But I will await their behavior on the board…with hope for something new and good.
Which brings me to the current chair of the Police Services Board, Alok Mukherjee. So while Blair doesn’t respect proper governance, sure would be nice if the Toronto Police Services Board acted as a strong and effective oversight for our police services. Would be nice if it was arms-length effective but let’s review the “short-arm” impression of the recent post G-20 period. A few things stick out for me.
First, the day after the G-20, when anecdotal evidence was sky high, more than enough to suggest valid inferences that the police might have made some huge mistakes---no identification on too many cops, the strategically abandoned police car, the lack of focus on the rogue group of protesters, Mukherjee’s immediate remarks were to the effect that “ our men and women of the force did a great job in difficult circumstances." He should have said, “it was a tough situation our men and women were in, but we will have to take a close look at what we did, learn from mistakes that might have happened and learn from what we did right.” Or say nothing. His first instinct was to protect the police rather than take a step back.
Then last week, he was asked on Metro Morning, “given that the chief’s behavior and comments regarding completely unfounded and damaging comments, followed by his non-apology, do you have full confidence in the Chief’s ability to lead?” The chair’s response? “Absolutely," he said. Again, a knee jerk protection of the Chief. I don’t think it helps the perception of independence when Mukherjee and Blair take business trips to places like India together, the kind of long journeys that bond.
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I don’t think the force's motto, To Serve and Protect is supposed to be about serving and unconditionally protecting the police and its Chief.
For the sake of a safer city and in service of protecting the reputation of the remarkable performance of most of our police officers, it is time for a much more effective and tougher civilian oversight! Blair needs it and should be given the chance to see how he works with an effective board to either regain the people's confidence or be given an opportunity to do some gardening or run for political office. Will the Mayor’s appointees and the Province’s ensure the continuation of a feckless and cozy short arm approach or the kind of independent longer arm approach that will mean the short leash that Blair or his successor needs.
And other players on the scene? Well, seems Andre Marin, our provincial ombuddy, who hasn’t met a microphone he hasn’t embraced, went over the top with a bit of grandstanding as he diminished by omission the internment of Japanese Canadians, the Chinese Head Tax and the War Measures Act, in his remarks regarding egregious human rights violations. So he will not on my leader of the year short list….or long.
And although our new Mayor hasn’t figured out a way to give Blair the ultimate Christmas gift of Don Cherry has new head of the Police Services Board, I want to note as an aside that I have no grief with Mr. Cherry’s remarks at the Mayor’s investiture. I am all for free speech and even more gung ho about transparency and the Mayor’s pick of Mr. Cherry for the occasion made clear the kind of values that informs His Worship’ choices.
As an aside, I do wonder about the choices before the brass at the CBC. Does the CBC’s policy book allow Mr. Mansbridge or other Corp luminaries to express political opinion in their non-CBC work? If not, is there a double standard when it comes to Cherry? If so, is it because he is popular? Does it matter that preaching uber-toughness and disrespect is something that youthful hormones find appealing? I look forward to CBC’s display of courage or lack thereof regarding Mr. Cherry.
Finally, regarding the media, it is hard to ignore the remarkable work of two of our finest.
No one would ever accuse Rosie DiManno of the Star of being anti-cop; quite the opposite. And she has done the work that a genuinely committed Chief of Police should have done weeks ago. How is it that a molecule discovered under the fingernail of the tragically murdered young Holly Jones a few years ago led to the apprehension of the perpetrator but Blair has been unable to determine, without Rosie’s help, the identity of the bad cops that sully the reps of all of the good ones. Because until Rosie and the Star created the furor, Blair was unwilling, not unable.
And how about Matt Galloway of Metro Morning. Always liked this guy. Likeable almost to a fault….but not quite. Galloway’s firm persistence a few weeks back, was responsible for Blair’s remarkable and incriminating on the record bravado. That interview was key to much of what has followed. Galloway also showed his journalistic firmness in an interview with Mr Mukherjee that further called attention to the accountability problem. And his latest interview with Blair revealed the Chief’s increasing loss of confidence. Galloway’s polite but pointed cross-examination yielded more contradictions as the chief dug the hole of his own making a bit deeper, and making that hill of redemption even higher.
All in all, a crisis like this give us a chance to ponder who the real leaders are and who are the great pretenders.