As a complement to its June-July issue ranking Canadian prime ministers over the past half century, Policy Options decided to open the dialogue to its Internet audience via a voluntary survey posted on its Web site from June to September 2003. The questions were identical to those circulated to a panel of 30 leading historians, political scientists, economists, former mandarins and top journalists working independently of one another. In total, 64 Web visitors responded to the questionnaire. It is important to bear in mind that the survey was voluntary, and hence the results cannot be generalized to all visitors to IRPP’s Web site. Nevertheless, it provides an interesting window on Canadians’ views on prime ministers’ performance.
Table 1 shows the results from the Web questionnaire, organized in the same way as the results of the experts’ analysis published in the June-July 2003 issue. The first section shows ratings on a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high) of prime ministers in four different areas of responsibility. For each area the average, standard deviation, and mode are shown. The average is the arithmetical mean of all responses, while the standard deviation shows how much individual responses varied from the average. It is thus a crude measure of ”œdisagreement among survey participants. The mode is the response most frequently chosen, and thus is not affected by unusually high or low responses. In this way, it can be interpreted as the ”œconsensus view” of respondents.
The second section of the table shows respondents’ opinions on leadership styles, tabulated by absolute number of responses.
Finally, the third section of the table ranks the prime ministers from 1 (best) to 6 (worst). Survey respondents were asked to do such a ranking, and the total overall rankings reflect the number of votes. Thus, the first place went to the prime minister who received the most first-place votes, second place went to the remaining prime minister who had the most first-and second-place votes, and so on. Interestingly, the overall rakings do not entirely agree with the four areas of governance responsibility, implying that leadership style plays an important role in their opinions.
By the numbers, Lester B. Pearson is the clear winner among Policy Options‘ Web audience. He is the top-ranked PM in three of the four areas of policy responsibility, was widely regarded as a transformational leader, and received a total of 20 first-place votes. His most dominant strength was improving Canada’s role in the world”” undoubtedly related to Canada’s critical involvement in the 1956 Suezcris is and the fact that, in that earlier role as foreign minister, he won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Pierre Elliott Trudeau holds the number 2 spot, which arguably could have gone to Brian Mulroney instead. Mulroney received more first-place votes than Trudeau, but Trudeau received more first- and second-place votes combined. Trudeau receives high marks in the area of social policy, reflecting the fact that many of Canada’s social programs matured and grew under his reign. However the costs of these programs ultimately manifested themselves in slower economic growth and growing budget deficits, and survey respondents tend to fault Trudeau for mismanagement of public finances and the economy. In the other two areas, he was near the middle of the pack. This is perhaps surprising with respect to management of the federation, because he over saw the repatriation of the constitution and the establishment of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Though Trudeau finished four thin management scores among readers in the Web survey, his strong marks as a transformational leader allowed him to edge out Mulroney, who was second in the category scores, for second place overall. The reponses reflect not only a measurement of Trudeau’s leadership qualities, but also his style. Fully 54respondents (84 percent of the total)identify his leadership style as trans-formational.
Respondents had strongly-held views about Brian Mulroney’s position in the rankings ”” though they rarely agreed with one another. As noted earlier, Mulroney had the second-highest number of first-place votes, but he also had the second-highest number of last-place votes. This is undoubtedly due to the fact that he took many political decisions that alienated a significant pro-portion of voters ”” most notably the vigorous attempt to scale back the generous social programs of the Trudeau era and the negotiation of the Canada-US free trade agreement. However, respondents generally laud him for improving Canada’s role in the world, which was due in part to trade liberalization. He also gets relatively high marks for managing the economy and the federation. The lat-ter is due to his unsuccessful efforts to bring the provinces to agreement on the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords, although readers were as divided as our panel on the value of those two failed constitutional initiatives.
In the only deviation from the rankings of the expert panel, Jean Chrétien (rather than John Diefenbaker) was ranked last by Policy Options‘ Web visitors. He received more last-place votes (19) than any other prime minister and received only one first-place vote. In addition, his average score for the four areas of political management was substantial-ly lower than all others, though high marks were given for management of the economy. Canada enjoyed a long uninterrupted economic expansion during Chrétien’s first two mandates, which helped him (via Paul Martin) to eliminate the federal deficit, and respondents clearly grant him partial cred it for these positive developments.
Chrétien’s leadership style was widely seen as transactional, which may partly explain his position at the bottom of the list. Voters tend to be impressed with visionary leaders who boldly set out an ambitious agenda and see it through. Jean Chrétien is perceived by survey respondents as an incrementalist who is unwilling to take politically risky decisions.