Thursday, May 5, 2011

Is it time for a new Trudeaumania?

My Answer is Yes.

So is the Montreal Gazettes.

With numerous storylines emerging from this week's stunning federal election, here's one important question to ask: Is the Liberal Party's collapse Justin time? Is the Trudeau heir ready for prime time?

It is no shock that Canadians didn't warm to Michael Ignatieff during this campaign; few expected they would. The premature but very effective Conservative attack ads on Ignatieff 's commitment to Canada, together with his aloof nature and lack of charisma, turned the Liberal campaign into a nightmare.

The majority of Canadians do not necessarily have a strong ideological bent, and most do not fully understand the difference between right-wing policies and left-wing ones. Politics today is strongly driven by the cult of "the leader." Canadians seem anxious to find a bandwagon to jump onto, or to get washed away in a wave of some sort.

This campaign was unexpectedly hijacked by the orange tsunami in Jack Layton's wake. He is not a young, dashing or exciting newcomer. Maybe it was Layton's cane, or his milk moustache or his two minutes of brilliance in the debate when he staggered Ignatieff on his poor voting record.

But something about Layton's easygoing demeanour seemed to offer a fresh alternative to the other, more traditional, serious leaders. And a lot of our fickle voters became drawn to it.

In this province, the "noneof-the-above" phenomenon was potent.

Tired of the repetitive cassette played by Gilles Duceppe, Layton seemed like a guy Quebecers could trust, and once the polls showed an upward blip, they hopped on the bandwagon in shocking numbers.

The by-product of this impulse vote is a very unusual NDP caucus in Ottawa. There will be tremendous pressure on the inexperienced Quebec NDP members of Parliament - by the Quebec media, among others - to take a nationalist stance to fill the void left by the Bloc Québécois.

Layton has already shown a willingness to curry favour with Quebec nationalism. There wasn't a word of English on his campaign posters in Quebec, even in the western parts of Montreal. And any reference to Canada seemed to have disappeared from the party's slogan and posters in this province, in contrast to the rest of Canada.

Strains with the MPs from the rest of the country could become unmanageable, and might even lead eventually to the Quebec caucus breaking from the main party. Layton's sheen will very quickly start to fade.

In 1968, Trudeaumania swept the nation. A relatively young Pierre Elliott Trudeau had flair, intellect and a vision for the country. For many anglophone Quebecers, it was a vision that consolidated our community's diehard support for the Liberal Party for a generation to come.

A strong central Canadian government, bilingualism, a charter of rights and freedoms, standing firm against Quebec separatists, were all Trudeau's tenets.

Ever since Justin Trudeau turned 18 more than 22 years ago, since his eulogy at his father's funeral, from the moment he entered politics, from his numerous appearances in the social pages, people who followed, admired and believed in his father's vision of Canada have quietly wondered: Will he follow in his father's footsteps? Will he lead the Liberal Party? When will be the right time?

Justin Trudeau certainly shares his father's ideological underpinnings, despite efforts to downplay his genetic background.

But if ever the Liberal Party needed a bolt of lightning to regenerate what was boastfully proclaimed Canada's "natural governing party," it is now. Ignatieff did not connect with voters. The only one who might be able to create that cult of leadership that Canadians so crave is Justin Trudeau. It will not be Bob Rae, or Denis Coderre, or Frank McKenna.

Is Justin Trudeau up to it? With a young family, is it worth it? Does he have what his father had? Will he be true to his father's ideals?

Being part of a small rump in opposition allows politicians to sharpen their fangs. It is easy to criticize and galvanize opposition on certain issues that can translate into populist appeal.

We now have a stable majority government.

With the unholy alliance that is the NDP caucus, and its potential volatility, Canada will need a strong and stable opposition. To restore the Liberal brand, it may very well be Justin time.

Robert Libman is an architect and a former member of the Quebec National Assembly.


Anthony said...

Hey Jim,

Libman forgets one crucial thing. Since Pierre Trudeau repatriated the constitution in 1982, Quebec has massively rejected the Liberal Party, denying them a majority of seats in a province they once dominated for a century.

It is something many Quebecers have not forgotten, even now, Layton surged only after he started saying how it was unfair that Quebec wasnt a part of the constitution. (complete fallacy by the way)

Trudeau's top down federalism is anathema in Quebec. It is something that even Jean Chretien dared never challenge. Chretien may have been a staunch centralist before 1982 but as PM, he devolved more powers to the provinces than any other prime minister since 1867. Chretien also benefitted from a lack of a federalist alternative, which now, is definitely not the case.

Pierre Trudeau was a great PM. But in many cases, his actions have crippled the LPC ability to win in Quebec and Western Canada. In order to give the LPC life again, bringing back Trudeau's view on federalism is probably the fastest way into the historical dustbin.

Pedro said...

Another point younger Liberals are failing to see with their up to the second information from social networks, but no knowledge of history. Much of the novel social policies brought forward by the Trudeau Liberals had actually been in development as policy for quite a few years by Liberals like Pearson and Paul Martin Sr., at the urging of the CCF. The young turks under Trudeau had great charisma that was able to turn great POLICY into a giant red L machine. A savvy Justin Trudeau won't wade in until, as Duffy mentioned last night on TVO, the Liberals develop policies that members and leadership are willing "to die" for.
I'm dying to read a good history of the Liberal party from 1960 through 1993. If there is one out there and I have missed it, let me know.

Craig Chamberlain said...

Trudeau would be wise to avoid rushing in too soon. The party may be wise to protect him for a fight on another day.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Craig Chamberlain -

Craig Chamberlain said...

(During the later days of the election, Mr. Harper ramped up the messaging about Canada having finally dug itself out of the debt left from the Trudeau years. No accident there.)