Character, Complexity and Controversy

Yesterday I had lunch with David Sweet, Member of Parliament for the riding of Ancaster/Dundas/Flamborough/Westdale (where I live). He is a Conservative backbencher and the former CEO of Promisekeepers Canada. In the interest of honesty I should say that I have never attended a Promisekeepers event and I did not vote for Mr. Sweet in the last federal election, I voted Green. I wanted to talk to Mr. Sweet not primarily about policy issues, though we did cover a few over the 90 minutes we spent together, but mostly about being a leader in two organizations that are well known for having contentious perspectives and more than a few controversially outspoken adherents. Beyond that, my riding is one of the most complex in the country with agricultural, academic, industrial, and suburban residential all co-mingling in a sometimes tense balance. To my pleasure, Mr. Sweet was very sincere in our conversation. He spoke openly about the tensions of competing priorities between constituents, party loyalty, and personal conviction. He described the difficulty of becoming effectively knowledgeable on an enormous range of topics in very limited time. And he admitted to the difficulty involved in making decisions that have enormous impact on the lives of Canadians, particularly in military matters. There are a number of issues (though fewer than I thought) on which David Sweet and I hold significantly different views. That said, I believe the thing that makes him able to navigate the challenges and complexities of his role is relatively simple: he has some fundamental convictions about which he strives to be very consistent. He admits to being an incrementalist, change takes time and compromise is often the way forward. But at a core level he demonstrates a strength of character that I find admirable. At Catalyst we talk about leadership having three key aspects: Competence, Character, and Context. Based on my observations of David Sweet in his campaigns since 2004 and as an MP since 2006 I have to say that there is much to commend about him in all three aspects. His background (personal and professional) gives him a diverse and valuable skill set, he has integrity and has largely earned trust, and he is in a role which seems to bring out the best in him with deep passion. Two closing thoughts: 1. I am still surprised that Mr. Sweet hasn’t been given a cabinet post. He and Hamilton deserve better. 2. I know some people who have a significant disdain for David Sweet for a variety of reasons. I don’t know how legitimate or spurious their complaints are, and I am not advocating for him politically (or for his party for that matter). I am simply saying that as a leader David Sweet is someone worth listening to.