Royal Jelly


The elusive, intangible element that, according to political aficionados, makes a real leader.

In nature, royal jelly is “a honey bee secretion that is used in the nutrition of larvae, as well as adult queens.”

In politics, “Royal Jelly” is the indefinable quality that great political leaders are said to possess, separating him or her from pretenders. The political usage of the term is traced to former Liberal Finance Minister Donald Macdonald, who, being urged to run for the party leadership following Pierre Trudeau’s (as it turns out) temporary resignation in 1979, mused “I think it’s important to have that little extra quality of royal jelly in the person who is going to be in the position. I haven’t got it.”

Party stalwart Senator Keith Davey (see Rainmaker) proceeded to send Macdonald a jar of real royal jelly with a note: “Now you do.”

Perhaps that did the trick; Macdonald quickly announced his leadership candidacy and immediately became the odds-on favourite. However Trudeau’s return to lead the Liberals in a snap, unexpected election – and the Party’s victory – preempted Macdonald’s leadership, and created one of the more interesting might-have-been scenarios in the country’s political history.

Today the term “royal jelly” is routinely invoked to assess leadership skills and (more often) deficits. This judgement tends to be in the eye of the beholder, and often best applied retroactively.  Politicians like Jean Chretien and Stephen Harper – prior to becoming prime minister – have been dismissed for their lack of royal jelly. Others have been mistakenly assumed to have a surfeit  – John Turner, Paul Martin and Michael Ignatieff federally and, on the provincial level, such big names as John Tory, Jim Dinning Jim Prentice and Claude Ryan, to name only a few.

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