We value: Our readers.
Our independence. Our region.
The power of real journalism.
We're reader supported.
Get our newsletter free.
Help pay for our reporting.

Now that Hope Has Won a Majority…

How did Trudeau win it, and what will he do with it? Some reflections from Tyee contributors.

By Tyee Staff and Various Contributors 20 Oct 2015 | TheTyee.ca

David Beers is founding editor of The Tyee. Ian Gill, Shannon Rupp, Bill Tieleman, Chris Wood, Tom Sandborn and Andrew Nikiforuk are frequent Tyee columnists and contributors.

They grow up so fast

"They're treating him like he's a kid!" my friend's 19-year-old son said two weeks ago about Justin Trudeau's opponents, and the media, too. "Fuck them! He's 43." And then, last night, as Trudeau gave his victory speech on a barroom television screen in Vancouver, a 33-year-old city planner who migrated here from Iran offered her assessment. 'He looks like a Disney character. A Disney prince." In those two comments you have what so much poll sifting and policy analysis dedicated to the three main candidates missed this election. If most Canadians were ready for a change, then Justin Trudeau, even when he was running a distant third, especially when he was running a distant third, was perfectly cast for the part. The change, as we learned last night, was never about substituting one grizzled manager within the political class for another. The change was about one generation yielding to the next.

Thomas Mulcair prepared the way by sparring so ably with Stephen Harper in the House of Commons, drawing blood regularly, worrying Harper towards his worst instincts and proving him politically mortal. But being tired of Harper was not the same as being inspired by Mulcair. That left a vacuum seemingly ignored by the NDP. Instead, the New Dems treated the election as a referendum on which of the two silverbacks could exude the most restrained gravitas by balancing budgets. Trudeau exploited the vacuum brilliantly. His self-assured appeals to idealism on the campaign trail day after day cheerfully said 'fuck them!" to the fogeys. His final round of television ads were works of aspirational genius.

Already people are tweeting that Canada is cool again. But it's not really that big a deal to have wanted a change of face, of mood, of generations, after one dour leader and his party had ruled for a decade (an eternity in politician years). The morning after, it's not really clear how boldly Canadians expect Trudeau to move on climate change, aboriginal reconciliation, shifting to a sustainable economy, reversing the widening inequities of late capitalism. On those files, who will hold our new PM accountable? Not his Conservative opposition. So it will have to be you and me and the civil society that Stephen Harper tried to smother. Justin Trudeau is 43, looks like a Disney prince, and now has at his command a majority government. He looks very much like change. Will he in four years?

Welcome to Trudeau's ashram

Now that we can hit fade button on the exhausting din of an 11-week election campaign, normal service is about to be restored, which regrettably means our airwaves, elevators and shopping malls will once again be awash with Christmas music.

Whether 'tis really a season to be jolly, or anyway to take some measure of comfort and joy from the gift of Stephen Harper's overdue demise... well, ultimately that will depend on the extent to which Justin Trudeau can rebuild our battered country, and not just deliver saccharine bromides that sound like they were written by the self-help guru Tony Robbins.

But first things first. Harper is gone, and let's pause long enough to be utterly grateful for that. That steely-eyed cardboard bastard is history, and what with his rat-faced evil twin Tony Abbott getting outfoxed in Australia just a few short weeks ago, two of the developed world's better countries just got shot of two of the world's worst leaders ever. They should be exiled to a remote atoll someplace, preferably just a couple of feet above sea level, where Abbott can run around in his Speedos while Harper plays the keyboard, lyrics by Ayn Rand, as the ocean rises around them. Good riddance to them both. 

Too bad that in Canada, turfing Harper came at such a deep cost to the NDP, whose return to its customary third place is discouraging. Jack Layton and later Thomas Mulcair brought the NDP into the frame as a party that was full value as a credible governing alternative to the two dominant parties, and for a moment they had a tantalizing sniff of power. Think about it: had the election only gone five weeks, not 11, Mulcair might be Prime Minister now. Instead, it falls to the Liberals to prosecute a more progressive path for Canada, which won't be progressive enough by half if history is any guide.

As for the Greens, they are only on the scoreboard because of the redoubtable Elizabeth May, which is yet another reason we should look harder in this country at proportional representation, because we need more diverse political choices, including the potential for viable power-sharing coalitions in which more accountability and creative policy-making can occur. 

But back to Trudeau. For a moment there, hearing someone on TV talk about "Prime Minister Justin Trudeau" gave me a twinge of nostalgia for the Trudeau of old, and it's hard not to be sentimental about a son stepping into his father's role having won it, not having been gifted it. This country doesn't have dynasties like the Bushes and the Clintons, thank goodness, but thinking of Trudeau fils in Ottawa seems fitting in a way, and will prove even more so if the stripling governs as well as he campaigned, and seasons half as well as his old man did.

Alas, his victory speech did not augur well. With all that gushing and blathering on, with his wife Sophie looking on adoringly, it suddenly felt like the yoga party had won the election and we'd just traded the industrial stench of Harper for choking wafts of incense. 

Oh well, welcome to Justin Trudeau's ashram. It was Gandhi who said he thought Western civilization would be a good idea, and maybe Trudeau is just the guy to restore it in Canada. On that, the jury is out -- but the main thing is, so is Harper. No more feast of Stephen.

Awaiting the Mary Jane chain

I woke up this morning wondering where the Liberals were planning to open our neighbourhood brothel and dope bar. I imagine it will be a chain. They'll call it "Mary Jane." Perhaps they will even keep some sheep in the Mary Janes for the sad, sad Reform-a-Tories who will now have so much time on their hands?

That gag is as good a reason as any to explain why the Harper regime was brought to such a conclusive end last night. They had become mockworthy. Until the 78 days -- and on the plus side, no prime minister will ever do that again -- Harper's enemies had painted him in a fairly flattering light as an evil genius. They were Nazis! They had an iron grip on the country!

Of course, what his opponents failed to understand was that in underlining Harper's power they were helping him keep it. Power is seductive, and they were painting the Conservatives as winners while positioning themselves as whiny, jealous losers. Since most people want to be seen in the winner’s circle, his challengers failed every time they launched another hate-filled volley.

Harper's marathon campaign was designed to take advantage of that. To give him a chance to show off his power, often through attack ads, while exposing the weaknesses of Mulcair and Trudeau.

Instead it revealed that he was devoid of ideas. His candidates were such a disaster that he had to hide them. He tried to run on his record, in which there was something to offend everyone. And worse: he revealed that they weren't Conservatives at all -- Harper and Co. was the Reform Party at its worst. They flaunted all the qualities for which the Reformers were justifiably kept out of power for years: the racism; the ignorance; and the gross incompetence.

They're not gone of course. They thrive in the political culture of the small town west, much the way the loony racist separatists thrive in small town Quebec. But they're neutralized for the moment.

And B.C. did the smartest thing it could in these circumstances -- it dumped the Reformers and claimed a seat at the table via that astounding 17-seat Liberal caucus. Did it have something to do with Elections Canada lifting the blackout and allowing everyone to see the Liberals sweeping Atlantic Canada as it happened? Maybe. But I'm not sure that matters: we all vote in our own best interests, so why should we be denied information that allows us to make that choice?

There's a small bright sign for the NDP: they hung on in B.C. They are the natural party of populist voters in B.C. -- not the Reformers. And they did it despite running absolutely the wrong campaign: they tried to mirror Harper. The polls consistently gave Tom Mulcair high marks for having the right qualities for a leader, but the campaign they delivered made him sound like a Red Tory. Which isn't inherently a bad thing. It's just not what voters looking to jumpstart a sluggish economy want to see. It was Liberal economic strategies that helped Canada weather the 2008 economic collapse, despite Harper taking credit for it, and most of the country knows that.

The pundits are crediting Justin Trudeau's charm for this win. Although I think you could put a potato in a hat beside Harper and someone would discuss the spud's relative charisma. Trudeau is obviously more than nice hair. He's stealthy.

That thought first occurred to me when he got into a charity boxing match with bragging former senator Patrick Brazeau. Trudeau took him down handily, much to everyone's surprise. I was reminded of that during the debates, when he did a sort of verbal judo on Mulcair. He doesn't telegraph his punches and you underestimate him at your peril.

Who knows what he'll do? Liberals are notorious for campaigning from the left and governing from the right. And as I've noted before: I think these are some mighty blue Grits.

But whatever he does, at least B.C. will have some voice in the process. In the meantime, I await the Mary Jane chain.

NDP #fails

Hashtag fail.

That's the New Democrat 2015 election campaign in a nutshell, a colossal collapse that allowed the Liberals under Justin Trudeau to make an unprecedented leap from third place to a strong majority government.

Leader Tom Mulcair performed admirably but like a good actor in a bad movie, he was undermined by the poorly written plot.

Trudeau, conversely, was the understudy in a Broadway play called on to perform the lead role unexpectedly -- and wowed the audience.

The future for the Liberals is bright -- four years with a huge majority likely means they are in for two terms, barring huge mistakes. Trudeau can now impress as PM by simply being nicer than Stephen Harper, hardly a big challenge.

The Liberals can take their traditional approach of campaigning from the left and governing from the right without much fear of negative reaction, as voters will be just relieved the Harper reign of nastiness is finally over. Until Canadians get tired of Trudeau's breathless Hallmark speeches and unless a serious crisis gets out of control, the Liberals can cruise.

The Conservatives are in surprisingly good shape. They boast a strong opposition across the country despite their loss, and under a new leader will position themselves for a serious run for power in eight years. They'll remain in contention in four should the Liberals falter.

But the NDP faces a bleak forecast. Losing over 50 seats, their Quebec power base and the coveted opposition status all at once puts them out of contention for an indefinite period, again unless their opponents make enormous errors simultaneously.

And the Green Party reverts back to its novelty status as a party trick that gets old in a hurry the more times you see it. Leader Elizabeth May's promised "breakthrough" and ill-considered public statements offering to broker opposition party deals in a minority Parliament can now be seen as baseless bluster, with the Greens taking less votes nationally than the regional Bloc Quebecois. That separatist party showed vague signs of life thanks to an offensive campaign that gained it 10 seats, but left leader Gilles Duceppe out of Parliament again.

And so after Canada's first three-party competitive election, the country returns to the two governing parties status that has kept politics in a narrow, centre-right band since Confederation.  

I'll have much more to say on the NDP's failed campaign in next Tuesday's column.

Give the man a chance

Early in the evening, when only results for Atlantic Canada were yet in, Andrew Coyne remarked that if Fundy-Royal, a riding that stretches up the Bay of Fundy east from Saint John, N.B., went Liberal red, then the Conservatives might really be in trouble.

I used to live in Fundy Royal. It was one of those Maritime ridings where people said that you could run a three-legged dog as a Conservative and he’d be elected.

Then Atlantic Canada went 32-0 for Justin Trudeau and the Liberals. Then the rest of the country did what I had so deeply wished for: it politely but decisively gave Stephen Harper and his party the boot. On the cusp of autumn, we gave ourselves a Canadian spring.

Now, I'm old enough to have black-and-white memories of Pierre Elliott Trudeau's long-shot leadership campaign and first election victory in 1968. That also makes me old enough to remember what came after.

So, two things.

One. For those who dismissed Trudeau Jr. and his party during the campaign as policy clones of the Harper Conservatives: I believe you are wrong about the man. You are definitely wrong about the party. Trudeau Sr. and Co. decriminalized gayness in Canada, limited money in our politics, instituted official multiculturalism, and gave us the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Neither Trudeau Sr. nor the Liberals of his day were perfect, far from it, but they believed in the power of Canadians working together through their public governments to do good.

Our outgoing Prime Minister has believed only in the power of politics to diminish the public sector and reduce Canada to a corporate playground.

So that change is joyously welcome.

But two. Our new Trudeau will disappoint us. He won't be able to help it. And we need to be ready to let him.

The tasks are too large. The damage done to the nation's institutions too grave. The finances the Harper government claimed are in surplus are almost certainly far from it. There are pressing decisions ahead. A cabinet. What to do about the TPP. Devising a national climate plan before a global summit in December. The new Prime Minister won't be able to get to everything at once. Some things will be harder to do than he hoped.

Which is why the rest of us, having collectively put our trust in Trudeau Jr. to dispel the divisive darkness of the Harper decade, should now cut him some slack. Accept that some of his decisions will not be the ones we'd have taken, that some repairs will take time -- perhaps his entire term, or longer. Camelot will not be delivered by this afternoon.

Of course we'll see what's been accomplished a few years from now as we reach the far end of the new government's mandate. There will be plenty of time to condemn him then if it's needed.

But for now, let's pat ourselves on the back for ballots well cast. Let's breathe the morning air delightfully free of paranoia, suspicion and fear. Let's be grateful for voters who broke the curse of the three-legged dog.

And then let's do a bit more, and give the man a chance.

If he's serious about real change

There a number of stories to tell about the election results. First, it is not possible for a candidate whose rare passionate moments come when he is mouthing stale-dated mantras of market fundamentalism and thinly-veiled dog whistles -- "Markets good, taxes bad, regulation scary, niqab-wearing women scary" -- to rule Canada for more than a decade. That is a small comfort, I suppose, but it comes rather late.

Another story to tell is about the role strategic voting campaigns like Leadnow's Vote Together played in the results. Encouraged to focus on backing candidates with the best chance of defeating Conservatives, many who voted NDP or Green last time shifted their support to Liberals. Whether or not that turns out to be a positive outcome will remain to be seen, as we have a chance to assess Trudeau's version of change. The fact that Leadnow has indicated it intends to remain active between elections and press the Liberal government to make good on some of its key promises is a good sign.

One other thing that seems clear is that a time-honoured and cherished Canadian tradition has been reaffirmed. When the Canadian electorate wants to turn to a centrist party with modest claims to humane social rights policies and a business-friendly agenda dressed up with resonant, empty rhetoric, it will turn to the original version, the Liberal Party -- not to an NDP trying desperately to occupy that role. Tom Mulcair and his advisers, in one term in office and one desperate campaign, oversaw the transformation of the effervescent excitement of the Orange Crush election into Orange Pulp. The "realists" who shaped Mulcair's campaign may have proven finally and conclusively that an effort to bring the NDP to power by recklessly veering into the middle of the road is likely to end the party up in the ditch of political irrelevance.

And don't let anyone tell you that the NDP's crash and burn experience in Quebec came about because of Mulcair's principled opposition to the Conservatives' niqab ban and "barbaric practices" hotline tactics. If it were that simple, the Liberals, who took a similarly critical stance, would not have gained so many new seats in Quebec.

Justin Trudeau, who is being praised by many mainstream pundits for leading a "brilliant campaign," managed to give a victory speech that was almost entirely free of any perceptible ideas. Trudeau has a mandate (albeit still not a majority of the popular vote) for change. It remains to be seen whether the change he has is mind is a shift of style and tone, or something more serious. 

If serious about real change, he could signal that by asking Elizabeth May to serve as Minister of the Environment and/or as a special envoy to the upcoming climate change meetings in Paris. She has been the strongest voice for environmental sanity among the party leaders, and giving her an ongoing leadership role on eco-policy would send a very good message indeed.

If serious about real change, he could use his commanding majority in the House to pass electoral reforms that would end our long dysfunctional experiment the first-past-the-post system and bring proportional representation to our next federal election.

If serious about real change, he could announce a new goal of admitting the kind of numbers of refugees from Syria and other global hot spots that Germany is proposing to admit.

If serious about real change, he could develop a national industrial policy designed to shift the Canadian economy away from fossil fuels entirely in the next five years and create hundreds of thousands of high-paying jobs in renewable energy, mass transit and urban infrastructure.

If serious about real change, he could commit to guarantee clean drinking water in every First Nation reserve in Canada. He could immediately create the commission of inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women First Nations have demanded, and take steps to move the treaty making/treaty reform process into high gear. First Nations have already waited far too long.

If serious about real change, he could use his majority to repeal the odious Bill C-51 and critically review all the new powers given to security and police agencies over the last decade.

I am, as you may have guessed, skeptical about just how much serious policy change we are going to see from Trudeau the Second. But I would be happy indeed to be proven wrong, and happier still if the NDP, the party I have supported in every election since I came to Canada, learned the lessons of this debacle and recommitted itself to real social democratic principles. Neither outcome seems very likely right away, but I am trying to hold on to positive thinking.

Notley's challenge is now Trudeau's

Canadians have contradicted the mainstream media, the pundits and the pollsters. They have ended the reign of one of the most despised prime minister in the history of Canada. In so doing, they quietly reached the same sort of conclusion that U.S. political activist Thomas Paine did on dealing with intransigent British imperialists more than 300 years ago: "To argue with a man who has renounced the use and authority of reason, and whose philosophy consists in holding humanity in contempt, is like administering medicine to the dead, or endeavouring to convert an atheist by scripture." And so Canadian voters ignored a quisling press, and pitched Stephen Harper into the dustbin of history.

Justin Trudeau now faces the same challenges as Alberta Premier Rachel Notley. Like Notley, Trudeau has inherited a messy and dysfunctional petro-state. He must replace a secretive one-man reign that systemically eroded the public service, revolutionized foreign policy, and concentrated power into the hands of an oily one per cent. Undoing that damage with a fresh bunch of MPs will take time, grit and patience.

It is not clear how Trudeau will address the issue of climate change and a raft of what are now clearly unnecessary pipelines. He opposed Northern Gateway, but endorsed Keystone XL. He is not opposed to Kinder Morgan or Energy East even though the best science suggests that most of Canada's bitumen should stay in the ground -- unburned. He has promised to reform the National Energy Board and make greenhouse gas emissions part of its full assessment process. He has promised to restore environmental legislation and federal research science dismantled by Harper. And he has promised to restore openness and transparency to the PMO's office, a poisonous citadel that has avoided the accountability like the plague. Canadians will be watching with high expectations. Appointing Green MP Elizabeth May as Canada's envoy to the Paris climate change talks might be a positive signal of real change.      [Tyee]

Read more: Election 2015

Share this article

The Tyee is supported by readers like you

Join us and grow independent media in Canada

Get The Tyee in your inbox


The Barometer

How are you making it through social distancing?

Take this week's poll