Scott Gilmore: You can’t be an effective national leader during a time of crises working from home over Zoom. It’s time to get organized, get down to work and get angry.
Trudeau appears at Question Period virtually during a sitting of the House of Commons on Feb. 3, 2021 (CP/Adrian Wyld)
I’m sending this memo to suggest a change in how you are managing the pandemic. Specifically, you need to stop telecommuting from your study and, like the rest of your G7 colleagues, return to work in the Prime Minister’s Office.
I recognize that most of us are still working from home, but you are what we consider an “essential worker.” Why essential? Well, you’re the national leader. And we have a few crises we need you to be focused on right now.
There’s COVID-19—a once-in-a-century pandemic that has killed over 20,000 Canadians. While we are making progress on the second wave, several new and more contagious variants are now spreading at an exponential rate. And, worse yet, some of these may not respond to our existing vaccines.
Speaking of vaccines, this may be your most pressing crisis. Canada is not doing very well on vaccination rates. In fact, compared to most peer countries, our performance to date has been abysmal. I realize there are lots of reasons for this. And many of your partisan supporters have been able to twist together tortured explanations for why none of these are your fault. But, and I am repeating myself here, you’re the national leader. The buck stops with you. You wanted to be Prime Minister, now you are, and whether you like it or not you are the single person in the country who is ultimately responsible for making sure we all get vaccinated.
These issues alone are reason enough for you to return to the office. Unfortunately, however, you also have to deal with the economic downturn, which has gutted our retail sector and led to hundreds of thousands of layoffs. Then, there is the accelerating climate change crisis. I know this has been going on for years now, but it’s getting really dire. Ask one of your scientists. They will explain. And there are several ongoing Canadian-specific crises, such as the fact that 27 communities still don’t have drinking water, six years after you were elected on the promise of fixing that urgent problem.
So, as you can see, there’s a lot on your plate. This is the moment you need to be the most effective leader you can possibly be. And we all know home is not the most effective place to work. Like you, we are all dealing with homeschooling, lack of space and lack of facilities. Unlike you we can afford a few distractions or disruptions. You can’t. You need to take advantage of all the resources available to you as Prime Minister. And most of these are not easily accessible as you work from home at Rideau Cottage.
Go back to the office, where you can interact with your team more effectively and more efficiently. Zoom can only take you so far. You need to focus. You need to lead. You need to light a fire under some arses, and face to face is the best way to accomplish that.
Set up a crisis room in PMO. Put some monitors on the walls tracking the spread of new variants and vaccination distribution in real time. Staff it 24/7. Right now, vaccination rates are actually going down on weekends—the virus doesn’t work a 40-hour week, and so why are we? Make sure this crisis room is within shouting distance from your office. (Yes, you’re allowed to shout. 20,000 Canadians have died. Thousands more will follow. You can get angry and demand results. In fact, we want you to.)
Give senior liaisons from every province a seat in that crisis room, so we can finally start treating this as a national crisis, and not a series of regional ones.
Stand up a small army to man a national test & trace system. If the premiers balk at it, go on live TV and tell them to “Go to hell—this is an emergency, not the time to moan about provincial jurisdictions.” Seriously. Use those exact words. Even your most ardent critics will smile with approval.
Your decision to work from home was a nice gesture, a year ago. Now it’s bordering on the absurd. You do get top marks for demonstrating solidarity and for modelling good behaviour. With a few unfortunate exceptions that’s something you’re very good at. Show, don’t tell, right? But, and I feel like I shouldn’t have to remind you of this, “do” is better than show.
If you’re worried that returning to work will spread the virus, then quarantine your staff and top government leadership in a hotel. You could even emulate Winston Churchill and put cots in offices. Administer rapid COVID tests daily. Set up whatever protocols you need to bring Canada’s leadership team together to work from the office.
You’re an actor at heart. Think of this as your big West Wing moment, the performance of your life. Roll up those sleeves, muss up your hair. Rush into the office. Gather your team around you. Set up a war room. Act like you’re a world leader faced with a massive crisis and responsible for the lives of millions of citizens. Because, Prime Minister, you are.