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The ‘otherness’ of Jacinda Ardern – by doing politics differently she changed the game and saved her party



This week marks the beginning of Jacinda Ardern’s life outside parliament, since she officially ceased to be an electorate MP at midnight last Saturday. Her legacy as prime minister will be discussed and disputed, but there’s no doubt her influence will continue to be felt, both in Aotearoa New Zealand and internationally.

When Ardern delivered her valedictory statement earlier this month, I was in Canada as a visiting speaker at the University of Alberta. My lectures and workshops included sessions on gender politics and the pandemic, media representations of women leaders, and the possibilities for leading with kindness. Invariably, audiences wanted to know more about Jacinda Ardern.

People questioned why New Zealanders appeared to have forgotten their country’s internationally recognised success in the fight against COVID-19. They were curious about why New Zealanders were reportedly feeling antipathy towards a prime minister whose commitment to tolerance and multilateralism was praised overseas.

As citizens of a country that is home to three constitutionally recognised Aboriginal groups and numerous treaties, Canadians asked why the Ardern-led government’s Indigenous policy initiatives seemed so “unsettling for settlers”.


And they wondered whether it was inevitable that Ardern would face hostility from a noisy minority that disliked being governed by a young woman, who became a mother while in office and who used the language of kindness.

There was also some bemusement. The coverage they had seen of Ardern’s leadership experience sat at odds with their perception of New Zealand as an egalitarian and liberal society where women prime ministers and party leaders were almost commonplace.

More in common than gender: Finnish leader Sanna Marin with Jacinda Ardern in November 2022.
Getty Images

Gender politics

In response, I drew on evidence demonstrating how the media often view women as a novelty in the upper echelons of politics. For example, in her study of news coverage of four women prime ministers from New Zealand, Australia and Canada, Linda Trimble reveals that gender is explicitly referenced.

As she notes, we seldom see men asked about the challenges of being a male leader, and this informs assessments of female leaders’ performance. The research also shows this use of gender references is most common when a country experiences its first female political leader.

Yet when Ardern became Labour leader, throughout her tenure and on her departure from politics, it seemed her gender continued to have news value: we first read about “Jacindamania” just two hours after she became leader, followed by questions from talk show hosts about her motherhood intentions.

The following year, a BBC interviewer asked about Ardern’s feminist credentials in light of her intention to marry her partner, and whether she felt guilt about being a working mother.

Even in late 2022, Ardern had to respond to a journalist’s suggestion that her meeting with then Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin was about them both being young female leaders. Needless to say, both women rejected this outright, with Ardern pointing out the same question hadn’t been directed at John Key and Barrack Obama.

Ardern’s ‘otherness’

The combination of being both a woman and the youngest prime minister in 161 years may have led to this personalised coverage. Certainly, having a baby while in office accentuated her as novel and newsworthy, nationally and internationally.

In her valedictory statement, Ardern implicitly addressed this “otherness”:

I leave knowing I was the best mother I could be. You can be that person and be here […] I do hope I have demonstrated something else entirely. That you can be anxious, sensitive, kind, and wear your heart on your sleeve. You can be a mother, or not, an ex-Mormon or not, a nerd, a crier, a hugger – you can be all of these things, and not only can you be here, you can lead.

New Zealanders will recall that Ardern did not seek the party leadership ahead of the 2017 election. Furthermore, when all votes were counted, Labour was a distant second to the centre-right National Party in both votes and seats.

But by navigating Labour into an unlikely coalition with New Zealand First, Ardern positioned Labour to win at least two terms in office. Had National formed a government in 2017, it may have gone on to win again in 2020. After all, that party’s leadership had considerable experience in managing crises.

Great expectations

That said, Ardern’s version of an ethics of care and her emphasis on kindness were new to New Zealand politics and important to pandemic management. This eventually became intolerable to those who opposed vaccine mandates and managed isolation, and those disturbed by policies and programs aimed at realising the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

But Ardern’s non-adversarial, inclusive communication style, and her demonstrable competence, helped Labour win back a large number of women voters who had steadily abandoned the party during its time in opposition under a series of male leaders.

Not long after Ardern became party leader in 2017, one political columnist wrote
that she did not “have to become Labour’s Joan of Arc to succeed”. Those “expecting her to be the party’s salvation and deliver them the government benches”, the columnist went on, “have set their expectations too high”.

Perhaps by promising policy “transformation”, Ardern set her own expectations too high. And by being a relentlessly positive young woman leader, perhaps the gendered media coverage was inevitable.

But ultimately she succeeded in saving Labour from ongoing opposition, becoming the legend it was suggested she could be. And, as I witnessed in Canada, there are young people elsewhere who Jacinda Ardern has inspired to lead with kindness.



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Populist or not, Danielle Smith is another challenge to Liberal climate policy –



As the newly re-elected premier of Alberta, Danielle Smith sits at the nexus of the two most powerful forces shaping contemporary politics: populism and climate change.

While the former may have carried Smith to the leadership of the United Conservative Party, her campaign in the general election was aimed at convincing enough Albertans that she was not the scary figure her opponents accused her of being. As my colleague Jason Markusoff wrote, Smith “turned her back on a lifetime of libertarian populism” and “largely jettisoned most of the ideas she’d campaigned on to win the UCP leadership.”

But the worried voices are still hard to ignore.


Jared Wesley, a professor of political science at the University of Alberta, wrote in April that democracy was on the ballot. On Monday, Politico quoted Thomas Lukaszuk, a former Progressive Conservative MLA, warning that Smith would be “unbridled” if the UCP emerged victorious.

“If we thought she was radical now, and dismissive of any democratic norms, wait until she wins,” Lukaszuk told Politico.

Naheed Nenshi, the former mayor of Calgary, endorsed NDP Leader Rachel Notley and described Smith as an “existential threat” to the province.

“I did think that the NDP platform had a slight edge. However, I think there’s something deeper here. And I think a lot of Albertans are feeling the way I’m feeling, which is that this is no ordinary election. That the stakes are different, that the stakes seem higher,” Nenshi told CBC Radio’s Sunday Magazine this weekend.

“And what we’re seeing is Danielle Smith really pushing the boundaries of acceptable political behaviour … And I realize that when we look at what’s happened in places around the world, from Hungary to the United States, that silence is complicity.”

Smith did not make it hard for observers to draw those comparisons. Her first act as premier was to table the Alberta Sovereignty Act. At different points during this campaign, it was determined that she had violated ethics laws in her dealings with the justice minister, She also compared people who got vaccinated to the people who followed Hitler.

WATCH | Danielle Smith on what her win means for Alberta — and its relationship with Ottawa: 

Danielle Smith wins Alberta, but not without some battle scars

18 hours ago

Duration 11:30

The United Conservative Party has won its second straight majority in the closest election race in Alberta’s history. Premier Danielle Smith sits down with Power & Politics’ David Cochrane in the wake of her election victory to discuss her diminished caucus and what she plans to do with it.

But enough Albertans were willing to look past such things.

It’s possible to overstate how well Smith did on Monday night. Four years ago, Jason Kenney led the UCP to 63 seats. Smith’s UCP won 49 seats. Smith very likely acted as a drag on her party’s support — much as Doug Ford did when he ran as an arch-populist while leading the Progressive Conservatives to government in Ontario in 2018.

But a narrow win is still a win — and Smith did it with Conservative stalwarts such as former prime minister Stephen Harper and federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre publicly lined up behind her.

It’s hard to know what direction Smith might take next — and Poilievre might eventually have cause to regret his endorsement. But whether Smith now reverts to her populist roots or sticks with the more moderate approach, there is at least one thing Albertans and other Canadians can count on: Smith will find reasons to fight with the federal government, likely over policies related to oil development and climate change.

Some things never change

To some extent, that would have been the case under Rachel Notley as well. Fighting with “Ottawa” is the easiest thing for any Alberta premier to do. It gets much easier to do whenever questions arise about how that premier is handling his or her own job.

But with Notley as premier, the fights might have been at least fewer in number — and would not be conducted in the shadow of the Alberta Sovereignty Act.

Of the climate policies promised or implemented by the Trudeau government, Smith’s government officially objects to at least three: a proposed cap on emissions from the oil and gas sector, clean electricity standards and methane regulations. She also opposes the federal carbon tax and has criticized the Liberal government’s plans to assist those who work in emissions-intensive industries. (She isn’t refusing to accept the federal government’s large subsidies for carbon capture, utilization and storage technologies.)

On Monday night, Smith devoted nearly a quarter of her 12-minute victory speech to the federal government.

“And finally, my fellow Albertans, we need to come together no matter how we have voted, to stand shoulder to shoulder against soon-to-be announced Ottawa policies that would significantly harm our provincial economy,” she said.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith looks down at the hand of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as he extends his hand for a handshake.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with Alberta Premier Danielle Smith as Canada’s premiers meet in Ottawa on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Trudeau might take solace from the suggestion that he could be such a unifying force for Albertans — a prime minister has no higher duty, after all, than bringing Canadians together. But Smith argues Liberal policies would increase household costs, endanger Alberta’s electricity supply, eliminate jobs and lead to economic ruin.

“As premier, I cannot under any circumstances allow these contemplated federal policies to be inflicted upon Albertans,” Smith said. “I simply can’t and I won’t.” 

The immediate response from Ottawa was conciliatory. “I think she’s going to see a lot of good faith on our part,” Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc told reporters.

Populism can’t beat climate change

The math here is not new — but it is inescapable

While national emissions were lower in 2021 than in 2005 — the baseline year for Canada’s current emissions target — emissions from oil were 12.5 per cent higher in 2021 and the industry now accounts for 28 per cent of Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Largely because of oil and gas development, Alberta is also the highest-emitting province in Canada.

There is no longer any real debate about the fact that those emissions have to be reduced substantially over the next 27 years — Smith’s own government is now nominally committed to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. The only thing unclear is exactly how she would have Alberta reach that target — especially after she has ruled out so many of the federal proposals.

It would be expecting too much to imagine that a discussion about getting to that goal would be perfectly sublime. But it’s a necessary discussion and the stakes are high — not least for the people of Alberta.

That discussion will benefit most from facts and reason and logic. It will gain nothing from populist appeals to anger and contrarianism.

AT ISSUE | Should Ottawa be worried about Danielle Smith’s win in Alberta? 

Should Ottawa be worried about Danielle Smith’s win in Alberta?

14 hours ago

Duration 9:53

In her victory speech, newly re-elected Premier Danielle Smith vowed to stand up against federal policies that she says undermined Alberta, including ambitious green energy plans. Should the Trudeau government be worried?

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Auschwitz museum criticizes use of death camp in politics after ruling party uses it in political ad – ABC News



WARSAW, Poland — The Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial museum has denounced a political spot by Poland’s ruling party that uses the theme of the Nazi German extermination camp to discourage participation in an upcoming anti-government march.

The state-run museum attacked “instrumentalization of the tragedy” of the 1.1 million people who were murdered at the site during World War II, arguing that it is an insult to their memory.

“It is a sad, painful and unacceptable manifestation of the moral and intellectual corruption of the public debate,” the state museum said.


The 14-second video published Wednesday by the Law and Justice party shows images of the former death camp, including the notorious “Arbeit Macht Frei” gate, and the words: “Do you really want to walk under this slogan?”

The reference is to a now-deleted tweet from journalist Tomasz Lis, who claimed that President Andrzej Duda and ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski deserve to go to prison. He published the tweet amid a heated debate over a law passed by the party lawmakers and signed by Duda that is viewed by the U.S., the European Union and many Polish critics as anti-democratic.

“There will be a chamber for Duda and Kaczor,” the tweet said, using a nickname for Kaczynski.

He used the Polish word ”komora,” which can be simply a dark cell or chamber but which many in Poland associate with the gas chambers used by Germans in mass murder during the war.

Lis has since deleted the tweet and apologized.

“It is obvious that I was thinking of a cell, but I should have foreseen that people of ill will would adopt an absurd interpretation. I hope that Mr. Duda and Mr. Kaczynski will pay for their crimes against democracy, but on a human level I wish them health and long life,” Lis said. “I never wished death on anyone.”

President Duda weighed in with a tweet that implied criticism of the party that supports him. “The memory of the victims of German crimes in Auschwitz is sacred and inviolable; the tragedy of millions of victims cannot be used in political struggle; this is an unworthy act,” he said.

The purported aim of the new law is to create a commission to investigate Russian influences in Poland. But critics fear that it will be misused ahead of fall elections to target opponents, in particular opposition leader Donald Tusk. They say the commission could be used by the ruling party to eliminate its opponents from public life for a decade.

The law was approved this week by Duda, to widespread criticism in Poland and by the EU and the United States.

Critics in Poland have informally dubbed it “Lex Tusk,” and its passage has energized the political opposition. Tusk plans to lead a large anti-government march on Sunday in Warsaw, the capital.

The march is to be held on the 34th anniversary of the first partly free elections in Poland after decades of communism, on June 4, 1989.

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Colby Cosh: Following Alberta election, Prairie politics now firmly anti-Ottawa



=The new Prairie party system, pathologically disconnected from the political authority of Ottawa, may be as significant a development as Danielle Smith’s win

EDMONTON — Alberta’s 2023 election provides the setup for some good tricky trivia questions. Lemme play Alex Trebek for you: what party finished third in the election? Congratulations to the Alberta Green Party, which got all of 14,085 votes among the 1.7-million-plus cast; some reporter will be along any minute now to try to turn it into Cinderella. But it goes without saying that if you’re finishing behind the Green party in an Alberta election, you’ve got problems.

So which party finished fourth? That would be our old friends from the centrist-vapourware Alberta Party (AP), whose support declined from about 172,000 to 12,715. Yikes. You may have noticed that the Alberta New Democrats’ vote count rose by 157,000 from 2019, and the party made the best of a disappointing night by talking excitedly about all the people who voted NDP for the first time. The mathematical coincidence here suggests that many or most of these dewy virgins weren’t disillusioned Jason Kenney voters, but just cranky Red Tories who were never on board with the United Conservative Party project in the first place and who had dallied with the AP in ’19.

(The high-profile “ex-Conservatives” who rallied noisily behind the NDP and Rachel Notley in the late days of the campaign were people who almost certainly voted AP last time, and who wouldn’t brake for Jason Kenney in a crosswalk if he was pushing a stroller with twins.)

Which party finished fifth, you ask with bated breath. That would be the separatist Independence Party of Alberta, which demonstrated the enduring strength of Canadian federalism by collecting a measly 5,181 votes. Sixth place, whatever crummy metal you make that medallion from, went to Artur Pawlowski’s Solidarity Movement of Alberta (4,812 votes). Anybody further down the list than this is getting outpolled by a wacko street preacher, which means seventh place must have gone to, you guessed it, the ancient and dignified Alberta Liberals (4,282 votes). The party that created Alberta was lucky to hold onto seventh ahead of the die-hard Wildrose Loyalty Coalition (4,256 votes, with some recounts assuredly pending).

That’s all an annoyingly elliptical way of saying that Monday night’s Alberta election might have been the purest, clearest two-party choice to have come about anywhere in Canada in 100 years. (Even in Saskatchewan in 2020, there were minor parties that collected not one but two per cent of the vote share.) The development of politics on the Prairies has reached its full westernized form: elections are to be contested for the foreseeable future out here between the descendants of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (founded in Regina in 1933) and the descendants of the Reform party (founded in Winnipeg in 1987).

Foreign organs such as “Progressive Conservatives” and “Liberals” need not seek friends west of the lakehead. We’re informed that there is a national party called the “New Democrats,” but if you ask Rachel Notley about it, she’ll say they have nothing to do with the Alberta version and that she doesn’t even, like, talk to those weirdos. And who can blame her?

This new Prairie party system, pathologically disconnected from the political authority of Ottawa, may be as significant a development as the headline outcome of the election (by the way, the Conservatives won). Even in British Columbia, the provincial Liberals finally ditched their awkward branding this spring, becoming “B.C. United” (and possibly turning into a soccer team — editor, please check). The Saskatchewan Liberals did the same thing, with the new name still TBA, and their morbid New Democrats are openly hostile to Jagmeet Singh’s federal NDP. Only pride and dim memories of St. Tommy Douglas keep them from reinventing themselves as Saskatchewan Now or some such.

There is now a large section of the country whose citizens, even the ones strongly oriented toward Liberal political ideals, look to the federal government and recoil in sick horror at its managerial abilities. That’s a new thing in Canada, a passive accomplishment of the federal Liberals. You might enter a hospital out West with some trepidation, but you know it’s not going to be run as poorly as our military procurement or Aboriginal governance or the RCMP or passports and aviation.

Grotesque economic atavisms that would obviously benefit from liberalization (telecom policy, food-supply management) don’t get liberalized by Liberals; they’re too busy raging against “assault rifles” and putting the CRTC in charge of the internet. National sentiment remains very strong in the West, but everything federal carries a stench of incompetence, swindling and hipster moralizing, and the political scene now reflects this distinction.

National Post



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