Some leaders rise to the occasion of their times, others, like Prime Minister Stephen Harper, are more focused on dampening expectations, catering to the lowest common denominator.
It is the antithesis of leadership.
And now Canada's anti-leader has struck a particularly low note by refusing to meet with the leaders of the provinces and territories on the very important issue of the economy. Who cares that Europe is ready to implode? That China is revising its projected growth, that banks are gone mad again (if they ever stopped) and that Ontario, Canada's biggest province, has had an anemic recovery since the last recession?
To be fair, the prime minister says he has no problem meeting with premiers one-on-one. He just isn't interested in having a collective discussion about the economy. (Although as far we know, he still has not agreed to meet with Premier Kathy Dunderdale, despite her request of many weeks back.)
Perhaps Mr. Harper can get away with such disdain for the premiers during this blistering summer we have been having.
But how much longer can a prime minister show such open contempt for his provincial and territorial colleagues and not pay a price?
It is stating the obvious, but federal-provincial relations are at an extremely low point.
Last December, you may recall that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty derailed discussions with his provincial and territorial colleagues by laying down the law on health care funding.
The labour market is for the most part a provincial jurisdiction. Yet the Harper government, with no consultation with provinces and territories, has set in motion a number of major policy decisions that will radically change the country's labour market, including new rules for Employment Insurance and the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
The Conservative government's new crime legislation will download massive costs to provincial coffers. Ottawa pushed ahead despite real concerns from the provinces.
These are but a few examples of Mr. Harper's "my way or the highway" attitude when dealing with the premiers and provincial and territorial governments.
Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter mused that he could not understand why a prime minister would not want to meet to talk about "something that is fundamental to the best interests of the Canadian public - a strong economy."
That perhaps was mistake No. 1. Canada does not have a prime minister that is concerned with what is in the best interests of the Canadian public. He is interested in ultimate power, acting unilaterally and changing the face of the country. None of these is necessarily in the best interests of Canadians.
In the face of a rigid prime minister, will the premiers continue to act collectively?
Certainly the premiers worked hard at putting forward a united front during their recent Council of the Federation meetings in Halifax, with the exception of B.C.'s Christy Clark.
They supported each other on a variety of public policy issues. For example, Alberta's Alison Redford picked up for her Atlantic counterparts on the matter of employment insurance, noting that she understood their concerns.
For the first time in a long time, it appeared that the premiers made some good first steps towards working together. Working together! Now there's a foreign concept for Mr. Harper.
But he is an expert at the politics of division and fear. More and more Canadians, though, are tiring of his political machinations. His first year in power has been disastrous.
Scandal after scandal. Electoral fraud woes. A mobilized public. Ticked off doctors, scientists and lawyers. A budget that slashed services, laid off thousands, raised the age of eligibility for OAS to 67, and gutted environmental review protections. Expensive orange juice. Entitled and smug limo-driven cabinet ministers.
And he is paying a price in the polls. Step up premiers.
It is an ideal time for the premiers to get their act together.
John Kenneth Galbraith, a Canadian economist who went on to advise U.S. Presidents, once said that "all great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership."
Rising to sub-par expectations is not leadership or confronting the major anxiety of our times.
Perhaps working with premiers is too much to ask of this prime minister. Working with anyone, building consensus, is totally out of his comfort zone.
After all, this is a prime minister who had shown over and over again that he is not occupied with the state of the nation, merely with keeping his political base happy and charged up.
The rest of us, the majority, are left with this anti-leader. We are left desperate for a real leader to step forward, recognize the anxiety of our nation and rise to the occasion by speaking to the best in all of us.
Lana Payne is president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. She can be reached by email at email@example.com. Her column returns Aug. 25.