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Canada changes course with rebirth of trudeaumania

Published: 
Sunday, November 1, 2015

When Justin Trudeau takes office this week as Canada’s 23rd prime minister it would signal a dramatic change after nearly a decade of Conservative rule. In his own words, “Better is always possible.”

For Liberals this is a second coming, the rebirth of Trudeaumania. But the man who brought the party back from oblivion did not hang on to his iconic father’s coat-tails to do this. 

Justin Trudeau made it clear from the beginning that he was and will be Justin Trudeau, not Pierre Elliot. Still, the energetic, young (he’s 43) and handsome Prime Minister-designate reminds Canadians of his late father who is loved and also hated for bringing in a new constitution without the consent of the French-speaking province of Quebec.

On October 19, Trudeau ended Stephen Harper’s iron-fisted Conservative reign that started in 2006 when he led his newly minted Conservative Party of Canada to victory over the Liberals under the leadership of Paul Martin, the successor to Jean Chretien who had the rare distinction of winning three back-to-back majorities. 

Martin had squandered the goodwill and high Liberal approval rating he inherited from Chretien, and barely got back to government in 2004. By 2006 the Liberal brand was tarnished. Conservatives came together, created a single party and entrusted Harper with its leadership. 

Canadians ousted Martin and reluctantly handed the Government to the Tories while the Liberals continued their dramatic decline. It took two more elections before Harper got the majority he craved but having got it, he squandered it with his tough Conservatism and political blunders that led to the return of the Liberals.

While the Liberals were positive and focused, Harper’s negative campaign littered with misinformation and scare mongering made him one of the country’s most despised leaders. 

The Liberals started in third place with just 34 seats. But time and circumstance change many things, especially in politics. Trudeau took the party out of intensive care, developed a strong, inclusive platform and today leads a majority government with 184 MPs, a gain of 150 seats in an expanded Parliament of 338 elected members. 

The Conservatives had derided Trudeau as an inexperienced wannabe leader and an intellectual lightweight. Their negative advertising that concluded that Trudeau was “just not ready” offended Canadians. And the scion of a legendary Liberal proved that he was not only ready but, like his father, he had the right prime ministerial credentials. 

Negative advertising was only one of Harper’s campaign blunders. Harper was insensitive and divisive. His controversial bills that affected people’s civic rights, invaded their privacy and created second-class citizens, and his Islamophobia that challenged a woman’s right to wear a Niqab all signaled the Tory leader’s imminent fall as did his offensive snitch line to report what the Tories called “barbaric cultural practices.”

Harper and the Tories were so obsessed with their private agenda they misread the country’s mood on those issues and also in handling the Syrian refugee crisis, which exposed the Government’s hypocrisy. 

Trudeau’s victory is a resurrection of the Liberal party. Not since the rise of Chretien in 1993 has there been such a swing to the Liberals, taking every seat in the four Atlantic Provinces, regaining the trust of Quebec and winning in every province. It took another Trudeau to do it.

Trudeau’s message was one of hope and faith in the Canadian people. He spoke eloquently about a united Canada, while Harper and the Tories did everything to divide the country along ideological lines, which projected intolerance for Canada’s diversity.

The new prime minister embraced all, danced at a Trini soca fete in Calgary, joined Bhangra dancers in Montreal, and attended prayers with Muslims in Toronto. And he promised a government that believes in and respects all Canadians. 

“We know in our bones that Canada was built by people from all corners of the world who worship every faith, who belong to every culture, who speak every language,” he said in his victory speech. “We believe in our hearts that this country's unique diversity is a blessing bestowed upon us by previous generations of Canadians." It was his father’s gift to Canada.

Harper’s political demise leaves a fractured party in search of direction and leadership. As the first and only leader of the Conservative Party, Harper fashioned it after his own model. Finding a leader is only one part of the Tory dilemma. The real challenge is to break the Harper mold and cut a new path in a country as diverse as Canada.

For Trudeau, while his victory has been enormous, he knows that he must work hard to win the trust of the 60 per cent of the electorate that didn’t vote Liberal. 

For now, as he prepares to walk in the big shoes of his legendary father, Justin Trudeau must deliver on his campaign promises and prove that he is indeed fit and ready to lead.

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