On the Hill – Mirror, Mirror

Long before the jubilant frenzy surrounding President Barack Obama peaked at his inauguration, the world was watching US events unfold with growing fascination.

Canadians watched with especially sharp interest. The US is our largest trading partner, and a new administration That’s such a clear break from the old will undoubtedly affect everything from trade agreements to how long our transport drivers have to sit idling at border crossings.

Good reasons to pay attention, but there’s another interesting Obama effect That’s started to play out, and it may cause an even greater shift for Canadians?one that could change the face of leadership in Ottawa.

With such a unifying leader as president (a rarity in any age, and especially so following the Bush years), the bar has suddenly been set much higher. Whether Obama can live up to the expectations remains to be seen, but comparisons will be inevitable and other world leaders are already trying on their mantles of transparency and tolerance.

Michael Ignatieff, the interim Liberal leader, has been quick off the mark. In a move that echoes President Obama’s willingness to work alongside former rivals Hilary Clinton and John McCain, Ignatieff is reported to be giving senior portfolios to Bob Rae and Dominic LeBlanc, his recent rivals for the party leadership. He’s also been talking about the virtues of ?hard work,? the kind of grassroots attitude people love about Obama.

It may be nothing but political hot air, but it clearly reflects the current overwhelming tide of public sentiment. People have glimpsed the possibility of honest, effective leadership, and they’re hungry for more.

In stark contrast to the atmosphere of building bridges is Harper’s recent move to load 18 empty Senate seats with Conservatives. In the middle of a prorogation, some see it as a desperate rush to increase Conservative power in case the minority government falls later this month. And although the Senate is heavy with Liberals, It’s yet another example of backpedalling after Harper campaigned on a pledge to replace the unelected body with elected Senators.

In the new political air, the effects of these vastly different leadership styles are already being seen. As the Globe and Mail reports, a recent Ekos poll shows the Liberals gaining momentum, ?with a majority of Canadians now holding a negative view of Conservative Leader and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.? Even Stéphane Dion’s battered coalition is attracting new attention, with half of those polled ?favouring a coalition government.? The Conservatives are still preferred by 43 per cent of respondents, but That’s a distinct shift from the overwhelming disapproval the coalition faced just a month ago.

There’s no doubt that political winds change regularly, and the Dion-Ignatieff changeover clearly played a part. But the promise that Obama represents can’t help but make us hold that mirror up to our own leaders. And in a time when partisanship and pettiness are so deeply entrenched in all the major parties, we can only hope it will make them take a good hard look at their own reflections.

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