The Plague-Ground – A New Kind of Political Leader

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.

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9 thoughts on “The Plague-Ground – A New Kind of Political Leader”

  1. Too bad the borders are closed! I would support their tourism in a heart beat. Maybe we will take that motorcycle trip after all…
    Great leaders are direct and empathetic and trustworthy because they speak TO us not AT us. Way back in March Winston Churchill, as written in The splendid and the Vile, was praised for his leadership skills. Perhaps Ardern had already read the book.

  2. In fairness, it’s hard to compare NZ vs GTA record re COVID response and results. GTA is stuck in the middle of a vast land and has no control over borders, visitors, etc. But I’m in full agreement re the record of NZ-PM Ardern. She’s a rock star and living proof of what I’ve been saying for some time – it’s time the old men got off the political stage and let the women take over. We’d all be better for their empathy and brains.

  3. Unlike our poor excuse for a Prime Minister, at least when Ms.Ardern speaks she says something worthwhile.

    1. Diane Napier-Andrews

      Rod Liddle in the Spectator opines that Canada holds the title of the ‘worlds most batshit crazy nation’ which Canada and that simpering idiot Justin Trudeau currently have in their grasp. Followed by Sweden – the world leader in uterine transplants.

      What’s the saying again-Born on third base and thinks he hit a triple!.

  4. Jamie Laidlaw

    I agree that this is a puff piece. We all love Jacinda and admire her enormously since the tragic shootings. However, in Canada, we are a federal state with the provinces and territories being the arbiters of health. Mr. Trudeau cannot act directly on the people of each province so he has done an admirable job of offering support like the military, the military for our founding and the two largest provinces to deal with a provincial jurisdiction tragedy. Jacinda has had no such locus of death in this crisis to attend to. As someone who Bob knows is compromised by cancer and chemo longing talk for motorcycle trips does not offer much comfort.

    I think we are in this for the rest of our lives as we are in the climate emergency.

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