Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Wednesday October 23, 2019
Justin Trudeau’s Anemic Victory
Sure, he eked out a “win.” But it shouldn’t have even been a fight.
This should not have been a competitive election.
When Justin Trudeau won a healthy majority government in 2015, it seemed as if destiny itself had cleared the way for the scrappy scion of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to dominate Canadian politics for years to come. Neither the Conservative Party nor the New Democratic Party nor the Green Party had any leader in the hopper who seemed able to compete with the Kennedy-esque Mr. Trudeau, who scored photo shoots in Vogue and his own comic book cover. He should have been untouchable for an election or two, at least.
And yet on Monday, Mr. Trudeau’s government was reduced to a minority. His party lost the popular vote to the Conservatives. Canada’s electoral map is now disturbingly divided between the Liberal-dominated east of the country, and the Conservative-dominated west. Mr. Trudeau will likely depend on the support of the other parties to keep his hold on power.
What happened to Canada’s progressive idol? The short answer is that Mr. Trudeau came to power when Canadian politics was dominated by issues like deficit spending, electoral reform and whether a local Conservative candidate peed in a cup on television. At the time, he presented a happy contrast to incumbent Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who seemed stodgy, cynical and petty by comparison. Mr. Trudeau’s campaign promised “sunny ways” and at a time when the future looked rosy for Canada, voters responded warmly to the change of tone.
But the world has grown much scarier and more uncertain since the 2015 election. And Mr. Trudeau has done little to convince voters that he is the right man to manage it.
Take, for example, the refugee crisis. Mr. Trudeau won in part in 2015 after striking a compassionate stance on the global crisis in the wake of the death of Alan Kurdi, the little refugee boy whose body washed up on a beach in Turkey, inspiring horror and outrage around the world.
It was a moment for Mr. Trudeau to distinguish himself. Canada has always seen itself as welcoming toward refugees, and the Liberal Party responded by promising Canada would take in 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year. But Canada’s once-easy consensus on matters of asylum and immigration has been shaken over the past four years. Canadian openness was sorely tested shortly after Mr. Trudeau’s election by an influx of asylum seekers using loopholes to enter the country at unofficial border crossings. Perhaps as a result, reporting about asylum seekers; far-right groups have even taken to protesting near the border.
Mr. Trudeau was also elected in 2015, just as President Barack Obama was in the twilight of his term. Relations between Canada and the United States seemed warm. The relationship between the two leaders was even described as a “bromance” (Mr. Obama endorsed Mr. Trudeau via Twitter in the closing days of this campaign.)
The warm feelings did not last long. In 2016 came the election of Donald Trump. Whatever Mr. Trump’s election says about the state of the liberal world order, or of America’s political and economic insecurities, none of it has been particularly comforting for your friendly neighbors to the north.
Mr. Trump broke with recent tradition by visiting other countries ahead of Canada early in his term. Mr. Trudeau went from being one-half of a bromance to the guy whose firm handshake became a matter of international scrutiny. A relationship that once seemed unshakable now seems vulnerable to partisan whim.
Mr. Trump and Mr. Trudeau might be considered political foils — except one man represents a global superpower and a country ten times Canada’s size. Down south, the revised North American trade agreement may be a petty partisan affair that scores a few laugh lines on the stump; up here, that trade deal was a matter of obsession on national political talk shows for months.
Canadian domestic politics have also taken an ugly turn. The drop in oil and gas prices, amid difficulty building pipelines, has resulted in depressed economies in the western provinces, raising the specter of an angry new separatist movement in Alberta. Paradoxically, Mr. Trudeau’s attempt to head off that movement by purchasing the Trans Mountain pipeline was seen as a betrayal by progressive and Indigenous communities who believed Mr. Trudeau would be a champion of climate change.
All of these incidents have shaken Canadian’s faith in our alliances, our economy and ourselves. Though Canada’s economy is strong, according to monthly polls conducted by the polling firm Ipsos Public Affairs, more than half the country believes a recession is imminent. The firm’s barometer of consumer sentiment and sociopolitical stability has registered a steady decline since the end of 2016.
Just a few years ago, Mr. Trudeau’s charisma and progressive bona fides were everything Canada wanted to say about itself to the world. But symbolism and optimism alone feel thin when the risks to your institutions and economies grow material.
In Mr. Trudeau, we have a leader whose major legislative achievements include legalizing marijuana and putting in place a carbon tax. His greatest hits in power include gallivanting across India in an outfit so outlandish he could have served as a cast member in a Disney remake.
He demonstrated the hollowness of his progressive virtues during what became known as the SNC-Lavalin scandal, in which he allegedly sidelined Canada’s first Indigenous attorney general because she refused to subvert the independence of her office by granting a politically well-connected engineering firm a pass on corruption charges. The episode betrayed a government that is just as centralized, controlling and cynical as the one it replaced.
Time magazine’s discovery and publication of photographs depicting Mr. Trudeau in painted brownface and wearing a garish Aladdin costume was the perfect encapsulation of the man’s faults.
No one seriously believes that Mr. Trudeau is or was a racist — at least not in a way that intends active malice. Rather, this prime minister, who has apparently lost track of how many times he darkened his skin for fun, is a blinkered frat boy. A child prince who, in the past, has sometimes “been more enthusiastic about costumes than is sometimes appropriate.”
The Liberals themselves tried to capitalize on a growing sense of insecurity among Canadians during the election by portraying the Conservatives as racist Trump-lite populists. However bad this tactic made the Conservatives look, it did as much to highlight the Liberals’ key weakness — that if Canada is facing some kind of ascendant far-right threat, this lightweight who wore blackface may not be the one best equipped to meet it.
Given the domestic and global factors that influenced this election, no doubt many Liberals will see securing a minority government as a success. This is the victory of low expectations. Mr. Trudeau will now struggle to pass budgets and maintain confidence in the House of Commons in a divided country.
The only factor saving Mr. Trudeau from a disastrous outcome on Monday was that none of the other parties convinced the electorate that they were better equipped to deal with the future that lies ahead. That was their failure. But Canadians should expect to be back at the ballot box before too long. And if you were a Canadian voter suddenly troubled by such uncertainty, honestly, is this the guy you would pick again? – Jen Gerson (Source: New York Times)