I am tantalized when I consider the potential good that can be accomplished through political engagement. Increasingly it seems the problems and solutions associated with my day job (in medicine) and with the broader field of politics are almost indistinguishable. This is no surprise. It’s been more than a century since Dr. Rudolf Virchow noted that “Medicine is a social science and politics is nothing else but medicine on a large scale. Medicine as a social science, as the science of human beings, has the obligation to point out problems and to attempt their theoretical solution; the politician, the practical anthropologist, must find the means for their actual solution”.
Actual solutions to social problems – that’s the end to which politicians are mandated to find the means. A public life should be a high calling, a solemn privilege and a daunting charge. I am grateful for those citizens who offer their time and talent in public service.
In recent weeks I’ve been observing some individuals who are willing to take their public commitment to an extreme – that is, those who aspire to lead a political party. I’m paying close attention to the race to be leader of the Liberal Party of Canada (LPC).
In mid-November, I was invited to co-lead the effort in our local riding (Oak Ridges – Markham) to raise support for Justin Trudeau. I recognized this invitation as both an opportunity and a responsibility. The selection of the right leader is arguably the most crucial decision facing the LPC in 2013. If I commit myself to a role in this process, I want to be completely certain I am urging people in the right direction. So I have done some serious thinking about whether Justin Trudeau is the best candidate for leadership. Here’s what I’ve concluded.
I am convinced that Justin Trudeau is the best choice. I come to this conviction, not on the basis of his résumé, not his lineage, nor his charm. I have made my decision on the basis of character. In the words of a Hausa proverb, Mun gaji da kyau; hali muke nema – meaning: We are tired of beauty, we are looking for people of good character. Justin Trudeau has three specific character traits that impress me. He is inspiring, empowering and understanding.
Justin inspires Canadians of all ages. Even in parts of the country, where Liberal support has been weak, hundreds of supporters now attend political events to meet Justin and learn about his vision for Canada. Clearly, we need of a leader who stimulates this kind of hopefulness. It reminds me of the way people responded to a great Canadian from another era and another federal party – that is, Tommy Douglas, who has been described as someone who “sought to communicate a rare and powerful magic: the infectious substance of practical dreams. He believed that if he and his fellow citizens could envision a better society, commit to that ideal and work for it, it could become real” (from Vincent Lam). At a time when many Canadians appear to be stifled by apathy and despair, I am convinced the leadership of Justin Trudeau can re-engage citizens from all sectors of society to work toward a healthy and prosperous future.
I have written previously about the importance of having leaders who empower. Strong leaders are not afraid to surround themselves with smart people and to give those people the freedom, encouragement and resources necessary to succeed in their tasks. I believe Justin Trudeau will do that. In my brief interactions with him, I have found him to be humble and sincere. He treats individuals with respect and dignity. I have every reason to believe his leadership style will be generous and he will motivate others to contribute to public welfare.
There has been surprisingly little public commentary about some personal life circumstances which I suspect have formed Justin into the kind of person who can lead us well. Many have discussed the influence that his father has had on Justin’s life. Few have commented on the role of other members of his immediate family. I imagine Justin Trudeau’s character has been built through personal pain. Consider, for example, the fact that Justin’s brother was killed in a tragic death at a young age. Having experienced the loss of my own brother as well as our first-born child, I know the grief family members bear after such personal loss. Yet suffering can build character, empathy and compassion. In a similar way, I believe Justin has been shaped by his mother and her advocacy for mental health. Last summer I read her poignant memoir “Changing My Mind” and was impressed with the open description of her personal journey. I have little doubt these experiences have enhanced Justin’s ability to understand.
Endorsing Justin is a big deal for me. I am normally the compulsive conciliator – not wanting to pick sides for fear of offending anyone. This time I am taking a stand. With all due respect to the other leadership candidates, I hereby affirm two things I know for sure. Canada needs a leader who is inspiring, empowering and understanding. My choice is Justin Trudeau.
Please consider a simple but significant political act today. Sign up to vote in the LPC leadership race. The LPC has established a new democratic process whereby any Canadian can sign up for free as a supporter. This April every member or supporter will be able to cast a vote for their leadership candidate of choice. Sign up now by clicking here – it will take about a minute. But it is an important step to a future where we can find actual solutions to the challenges we face together.