New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern has received international praise for her response to a racist terrorist attack that left fifty Muslim worshippers dead and dozens more injured at two mosques in the city of Christchurch. Her example has sparked countless reports and coversations about her compassionate leadership and what lessons she can offer other countries and leaders.
It is worth considering what Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, specifically, can learn from Ardern. While in the last two weeks she has focused specifically on the Christchurch attack, her response to the national tragedy establishes standards of leadership that may be applied to any situation.
TLDR: New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern has earned international praise for her response to a terrorist attack that targeted Muslim New Zealanders in the city of Christchurch. Below are 5 things, applicable to any situation, that Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau may learn from her example of leadership.
Selfless compassion is the best policy
Jacinda Ardern's response to the terrorist attack at Christchurch has even spurred petitions for her to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Speaking with compassion for victims, survivors, and their families, Ardern implicitly rejected the politics of revenge and retribution. She even refuses to utter the name of the attacker in order to deny him the notoriety he craved and to focus government and media attention on the Muslim community in New Zealand.
In her public comments, Ardern has been brief, focusing on victims and new policy to prevent future tragedies. She has avoided long meditations on grief, taking up no more speaking or camera time than she has needed. Even so, she has led the country and the world in their reactions to the tragedy. She has never inflated her personal importance, appeared to capitalize on press attention, or resorted to platitudes.
What has happened in Christchurch is an extraordinary act of unprecedented violence. It has no place in New Zealand. Many of those affected will be members of our migrant communities – New Zealand is their home – they are us.— Jacinda Ardern (@jacindaardern) March 15, 2019
This humility and compassion is perhaps best captured in a viral image of Ardern not speaking to the press, but appearing heartbroken as she looks out a window while meeting privately with members of the Muslim community.
Hopefully Justin Trudeau will never have occassion to express such emotions. But Ardern's example of selfless compassion in this moment of national tragedy can also be applied to other circumstances. Demonstrations of compassion from government are not excessive, they are effective.
Concrete feminist action speaks louder than words and gestures from political leaders
Many have labelled Ardern's response to the Christcurch terrorist attack as an example of a "feminine" approach to leadership. Her response exemplifies, some say, what women bring to high-profile political positions.
While it is simplistic to gender political attitudes, Ardern's response at least typifies her feminist lens in her approach to her role. She has rejected what Salon calls the typically "masculine" styles of leadership that value revenge and force, for example.
Indeed, throughout her tenure as prime minister, Ardern has championed feminist methods and action over vague commitments to feminist ideals. In an interview last year, for example, the PM hoped that the "energy of the #MeToo movement" could be "translated into action," according to Newshub. She goes on to explain that "legislation [plays] a critical role to reinforce what I think was already a cultural shift."
Trudeau, too, is a self-proclaimed feminist. While few would doubt the importance of such a declaration from a national leader or the strides he has made for gender parity within his government, many have criticized Trudeau for preferring the spectacle of feminist gestures over continuous, substantial action. In 2017, for example, CBC writer Robyn Urback geniusly stated that "Trudeau-brand feminism has become like that tired catchphrase on a family sitcom."
We’re in London for #CHOGM18 and a meeting with PM @theresa_may – but first I joined PM @jacindaardern and Mayor @SadiqKhan for a town hall with youth focused on gender equality – we had a great conversation and you can watch it here: https://t.co/vifa6bwg30 pic.twitter.com/rN238ipoFQ— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) April 18, 2018
Jacinda Ardern has shown what wholistic feminist leadership looks like.
Immediate delivery on major promises is the boldest demonstration of strength
In the aftermath of the Christchurch attack, Ardern promised that New Zealand gun laws "will change." Less than one week later, according to Fortune, a ban on semi-automatic weapons became law.
While her initial promise drew skepticism for its boldness, the speed with which the New Zealand parliament has enacted the new ban has impressed observers around the world, especially in North America, where governing bodies are notoriously obtuse.
In fact, it would be impossible to enforce similarly sweeping new gun laws in the United States because of a constitutional right to bear arms. But the CBC reports that now the Canadian parliament is under pressure to pass long-delayed new gun laws, as well.
But Ardern's ability to quickly act on her promise is more generally an example of highly effective leadership. She appears to have had no thought for political expediency or complications. She completed a duty she deemed right and necessary.
Political action is, of course, not so simple in Canada, which is much more populous and divided than New Zealand. But the example of Ardern and her government should prompt Trudeau and his cabinet to reconsider the campaign promises, like electoral reform, that they have seemingly abandoned since taking power. The Trudeau government is bogged down by political considerations.
That's not to say that the Liberal government has not followed through on many promises, like the legalization of recreational marijuana. But such acts are pursued at moments of political convenience, seemingly not from any convictions about righteous policy.
Public will should direct a leader's activity
After the Christchurch shootings, Ardern and her team reached out to the Muslim community to ask how they could be of service. The prime minister was at the disposal of community leaders. "Our time is for you to determine," she was quoted as saying to community members. She did not impose her own political will. At a memorial service, she spoke briefly in order to not steal time from imams, survivors, and families of victims.
Trudeau is often criticized for appearing to capitalize on his own celebrity and opportunities to engage with the public. No one doubts that his emotions and intentions in such instances are not genuine. But the Canadian prime minister too often appears to act according to optics instead of the the will of his constituents.
There is a time to abandon politics
All of these items can be summarized by this final point. Jacinda Ardern's display of leadership derives from an ability to command, listen, and abandon politics. Justin Trudeau should take note.