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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Characteristics of Canadian Prime Ministers : ratings by historians and political scientists Ballard, Elizabeth Jean


Personality, situational and behavioural theories of political leadership fall short of explaining the interaction among the leader, the followers and the environment. In contrast, the transactional approach emphasizes this reciprocal process of social, cognitive and situational influences. Integrative complexity theory provides a framework and a methodology for studying this interaction and its effect on how people process information. This study focuses on the Canadian Prime Ministers as a population of political leaders worthy of investigation. In addition to studying their integrative complexity level, other aspects of value in understanding great leaders were examined. Based on items found in studies of American Presidents (Maranell, 1970; Schlesinger, 1962) the following dimensions were studied: difficulty, activeness, motivation, strength, effectiveness, prestige, innovativeness, flexibility, honesty and overall> accomplishments. Two sets of complexity scores (on prepared and spontaneous materials) were obtained in order to test the question: Whose complexity is being rated in prepared speeches — the writer's or the speaker's? Prepared speech scores came from the Response to the Speech from the Throne texts in Hansard, while spontaneous speech scores were based on extemporaneous responses to informal questions in the House of Commons. Two groups of experts (historians and political scientists) on Canadian leaders were approached for their opinions about the 16 Prime Ministers along the ten dimensions mentioned. An eleventh item was included as a check on the experts' knowledge of each leader. There was no difference between the prepared and spontaneous integrative complexity scores. Except for honesty, there were no correlations between complexity and the 11 dimensions rated by experts. The experts' ratings did not differ as a function of their discipline on 10 of the 11 scales. Only on the amount of information they had about each Prime Minister did the two groups differ. The difficulty of the political issues facing a Prime Minister had an effect on how he was rated on five dimensions: activeness, strength, effectiveness, innovativeness and accomplishments. Based on the four items found to be most predictive of greatness in American Presidents (i.e., strength, prestige, activeness and accomplishments), Canada's five greatest Prime Ministers are: Macdonald, Laurier, Borden, King and Trudeau. Both primacy and recency effects can be seen in these choices. The difficulty of the issues facing a Prime Minister had an impact on 3 of the 4 components contributing to greatness. The 5 Prime Ministers selected as great tended to rate high on the items which correspond to the 3 major dimensions (evaluative, activity, potency) of the semantic differential.

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