One million fewer people live in New Zealand than in the Greater Toronto Area.
Yet as of last night, New Zealand has 1,504 cases of COVID-19 and 22 deaths. The GTA meanwhile has 10,726 cases and 801 deaths.
Just as New Zealand’s success in fighting the pandemic is far greater than most any other country, so is its political leadership gaspingly different from any other. Here’s their Prime Minister speaking to the nation in March.
Last month, The Atlantic called Jacinda Ardern “the most effective leader on the planet,” attributing her success to massive doses of empathy. A recent poll had 90% of New Zealanders backing her government’s response. But it took more than empathy to keep those death tolls so low. It took fast action. Way back in early February, before there was a single case of COVID-19 in New Zealand, she banned all travelers from China. By mid-March, New Zealand’s borders were closed to all non-residents, followed quickly by a program of mass testing and contact tracing.
Ardern, at 39 and the third woman Prime Minister in New Zealand’s history, is being hailed as a new leader for a new world. As one hyper commentator wrote: “She’s not just the anti-Donald. She’s the anti-Bolsonaro, the anti-Boris-Johnson, the anti-Nigel, the anti-Putin, anti-Modi. She’s the literal antithesis in every way of the strongman politics that have swept across the globe like a volcanic eruption of mass idiocy.”
She’s also ahead of other leaders in thinking about the post-COVID world in real and practical terms. On May 21, she suggested (from the back seat of her car) that New Zealand should move to a four-day workweek. This isn’t just because there are fewer jobs per available citizen. It was part of a strategy to kickstart the country’s tourism industry which is in a self-induced coma. Since people from outside New Zealand can’t travel there, its future depends entirely on domestic travel.
Hamish Sexton, who heads tourism in the Hawke’s Bay region, puts it this way in one of his Instagram post: “They’ll be targeting a tough crowd – the kiwi (now truly flightless), and attempting to appeal to that part of the brain which has probably parked a New Zealand holiday somewhere in the back of its mind, for a rainy day. And now we have that rainy day, but we’re not yet able to leave our front door.”
Ardern’s point is that if every weekend is a long one, chances are you’ll leave your front door and do something that your previous busyness prevented you from doing: you’ll visit your home and native land.
Yesterday, that idea was taken up by Justin Trudeau.
Or rather picked up and tossed away in a single sentence.
“Right now we’re very much focused on getting through this particular crisis, and we’ll have plenty of time to talk about particularly creative ideas on moving forward, but I’m not going to speculate on what any of them might be,” he said at his daily briefing.
I guess that’s another defining difference of Jacinda Ardern: she can speak about both the present and the future in very specific and empathic ways… at….the…same….time.
What’s that great F. Scott Fitzgerald quote about the test of a first-rate intelligence being the ability to hold two opposed ideas in your mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function?
A different kind of leader, for sure.