It may not have occurred to you, but 85 per cent of Canadians now have a woman as premier. Only five smaller provinces — the three Maritimes plus Manitoba and Saskatchewan — don’t.

I hadn’t thought too much about why this would be until one night, while watching the news, Alberta’s Alison Redford and Ontario’s Kathleen Wynne came on one after the other. Instead of feeling prickly and grumpy regarding whatever the issue was, as would likely have been the case had it been their predecessors, Ed Stelmach and Dalton McGuinty, I found myself inexplicably relaxed and even charmed, and saying to myself: Why can’t we have one of those here?

I was surprised at my own reaction. But I quickly had a eureka moment as to why this was: No guy stuff. The speech and the body language said it: No jihad to turn Canada into a right-wing petro-state, no jobs or other obsession, no half-cooked “big ideas” with no explanation of how they’d be enacted, no implicit playing up to the big boys’ club, either political or economic — just, I thought, both feet on the ground and the issues looked in the eye without the plumage and the big egos.

Quebec’s Pauline Marois might be the exception that proves the rule in the half-cooked big idea department, but on the whole, this is a remarkable phenomenon, and not just happenstance. It’s part of our search for both trust and stability in politics at a time of increasing queasiness about both, against, of course, a background of empowerment of women that has been going on for decades.

On the whole, women (at least in this context) are more low-key, closer to the social forces, less likely to be making crazy promises they can’t keep, less likely to be corrupt, and tone down the high-intensity mudslinging of election campaigns. Angela Merkel is playing the “trust” card in what looks like another convincing victory for her upcoming in Germany.

It’s my belief that if Maureen MacDonald were today at the head of the NDP, those forces would kick in and the NDP would be out of the woods. MacDonald, who as health minister quietly presided over impressive improvements in health care, has the gravitas and social democratic credentials that Darrell Dexter had but lost with too much over-the-top guy stuff and that he’s now desperate to recover with two weeks to go. The presumption that we’re forever looking for a “strong” and charismatic leader is contradicted by this crop of women premiers.

And here’s a note from my neck of the woods. Yarmouth is a bedraggled and dispirited place, for which the loss of the ferry was merely the final straw. The ferry’s coming back now, but Yarmouth also has its first woman mayor, Pam Mood, who has launched something called “All Hands On Deck” — a movement on how to improve Yarmouth and turn things around. So far, it’s a howling success (and a template for Nova Scotia itself?). This week, 400 people showed up at a meeting, plus letters and e-mails of support, tons of ideas, and people and organizations volunteering to improve the place. Somehow, I can’t see the dry old establishment guys who preceded her, going back to the old sea captain days, pulling off such a thing.

In Nova Scotia, where, for a while, things were more out of control than in most places, we searched for trust in a different way. For me, it has never been just a coincidence that there was a premier called Dr. John Savage followed a Dr. John Hamm. Dismayed and even disgusted with the shoddy reign of lawyers, businessmen and political fixers, we were looking for someone we could confide in. Medical doctors, as a class, are people we trust and the political selection process took note of it.

It worked. They were trustworthy. But, as with the women premiers, that alone doesn’t solve anything but a problem that shouldn’t exist to begin with. To be obsessing about trust simply detracts from the real business of public affairs.

Thus, back to our own campaign. Commenting on this newspaper’s Thursday poll on what the issues are, political science professor Jeff McLeod expressed surprise that trust in politicians was hardly mentioned. “One would have thought the top of the agenda might have been trust in public figures,” he said.

But in fact it is, and will likely be the determining factor in the election. It’s just unspoken because it’s not so much an issue as a moral/social precondition. According to the polls, we trust Stephen McNeil more than the other two, and if he wins, he’ll be well advised not to misbehave. Among premiers, he’ll be just one of the little boys among the big women.

Ralph Surette is a freelance journalist in Yarmouth County. This article was first published in the Chronicle Herald.

Photo: Premier Kathy Dunderdale (NL), Premier Christy Clark (B.C.), Premier Eva Aariak (Nunavut). Credit: Jeff Vinnick/BC Gov Photos/flickr

Ralph Surette

Ralph Surette

Ralph Surette is a veteran freelance journalist living in Yarmouth County.