The Networked Headwaiter

Trudeau meant it as an insult; Paul Martin turned it into his job description; is Iggy bringing it back?

One of the least-encouraging things to come out of the Liberal party’s Canada 150 conference is Michael Ignatieff’s assertion that what is needed is some sort of “new” form of federal leadership. Instead of the old “command and control” model, the federal government should work towards a form of “networked governance”. Or as he wrote in a piece for the Sun, federal leadership should be about “convening”; “Ottawa needs to bring the country together in common purpose, and build networks of responsibilities that are focused on outcomes.”


In his piece on the conference, colleague Geddes poked some fun at this, and suggested that the idea was pretty vacuous. I disagree. The problem with this idea is not that it’s vacuous, it’s that it is all-too-well defined. Call it “convening”, call it “networked leadership”, it was never given a more accurate description than when Pierre Trudeau mocked Joe Clark for acting like a headwaiter to the provinces.

Trudeau meant it as an insult, but Paul Martin turned it into his job description. Remember that awesome meeting he convened when they fixed health care for a generation? Or if that was too long ago, check out how much headway Harper’s network leadership is making in getting us a national securities regulator.

The provinces have their little talking shop, it’s the grandly named and more grandly useless Council of the Federation. The only reason to have a federal government is to have a body that can get things done in the face of objections from provinces and other purported stakeholders. Command and control isn’t a perversion of the federal government’s role, it is its bloody mandate.

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