Losing his seat in the 2015 federal election inspired lawyer and former B.C. MP John Weston to write a book about leadership.
He ended up publishing On! Achieving Excellence in Leadership as the B.C. government was grappling with its own leadership crisis, and so I asked him how its advice about basic principles of leadership apply to the delicate minority situation at the B.C. legislature.
“The time to consider your long-term direction is not when you’re under fire or when a crisis looms,” Weston said of the struggle facing B.C.’s provincial party leaders in a fragile minority. “It’s leaders who have thought long and hard about integrity and responsibility, courage and compassion who are prepared for such things.”
Those terms serve as his chapter headings: integrity, responsibility, compassion, courage, freedom, equality, fitness and resolve.
With a forward by Senator Nancy Green Raine and diverse endorsements from Preston Manning, Green Party leader Elizabeth May and others, Weston draws from his experiences in politics and beyond.
He graduated from Harvard and Osgoode Hall Law School, and as a student worked for the B.C. government during the patriation of the Canadian Constitution in the 1980s. Weston went on to practice in Asia, speaking Mandarin as well as English and French. Since his West Vancouver seat was swept up in the Justin Trudeau wave of 2015, Weston has returned to practising law at McMillan LLP.
On integrity, Weston writes that Trudeau attracted new support with “friendly demeanour and youthful vigour.
“However, he disappointed even his followers by breaking promises concerning deficit financing and electoral reform.”
Weston notes the first law enacted by Stephen Harper as prime minister, the Accountability Act of 2006 that prohibited companies and unions from donating to political parties. Individual donations were capped at $1,000 a year, a limit since increased to $1,550.
In the 2010 Olympics at Vancouver and Whistler, Conservative MPs were told to pay for their own event tickets. Weston recounts a reception hosted by West Vancouver Mayor Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, where Weston’s wife won a pair of tickets to the gold medal men’s hockey game.
He insisted they decline the tickets, and things “seemed rather icy at the Weston residence that night.”
Goldsmith-Jones went on to be the Liberal candidate who defeated the Conservative Weston in 2015, ending a political career that started in 2008.
Weston is no cheerleader for his former government. He criticizes Harper’s promise not to tax income trusts, which caused large companies to shift to them and avoid federal tax. He recounts the Conservative government’s decision to close the Kitsilano Coast Guard base in Vancouver, which overshadowed investments in a few fisheries laboratory in Weston’s riding, and a joint operations centre for the Royal Canadian Navy and the Canadian Coast Guard.
In the chapter On! Responsibility, Weston brings to mind the libertarian theme of Quebec MP Maxime Bernier, who narrowly lost the Conservative Party leadership to Saskatchewan rival Andrew Scheer. An advocate for fitness as an MP, Weston stresses personal responsibility for fitness and health.
Weston praises another leadership candidate, Ontario MP Michael Chong, who quit the Harper cabinet because he wouldn’t support a motion to declare Quebec “a nation within a united Canada.” Chong argued that any “nations” within the country would only divide it.
Chong is best known for campaigning to make federal party leaders subject to support from a majority of their elected MPs. This is after decades of increasingly centralized control by prime ministers, beginning with Pierre Trudeau’s famous quip that MPs are “nobodies” as soon as they leave Parliament Hill. The younger Trudeau shows no more interest in relinquishing that iron control than Harper did.
Individual rights are a theme with Weston and his book. He is also founder of the Canadian Constitution Foundation, a charity set up to defend individual rights.
• On! Achieving Excellence in Leadership is available at Amazon.ca for $19.95, and as a Kindle e-book edition for a limited-time price of $2.99.