An anti-incumbant pro-change wave took hold of Canadian politics this week…thrusting to victory the 43 year old son of one of the country's most enigmatic politicians. Canadians may have had a love-hate relationship with Trudeau Snr., but they sure feel the love for his scion.  

“Justin’s just not ready...nice hair though”.

So went one of the many attempts by Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party to diss the “kid” politician in Canada’s election.

Justin, the son of former Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, was portrayed by his political opponents as a lightweight pop star incapable of coping with the country’s top job.

Justin, 43, decided to play positive politics - to beat fear with hope as he termed it.

Justin, hair brushed just so, will be sworn in as Prime Minister on November 4.

In a move contrary to some European electorates where voters are turning to the anti-immigrant right, Canadians opted for a return to the immigrant welcoming, moderate, ‘nice’ country they believe Canada once was. 

Trudeau junior’s play nice was a strategy which led to a red Liberal wave sweeping the country from east to west, dominating virtually all demographics.

Justin with the nice hair began the three month campaign in third place behind the New Democrats and the Conservatives following the routing of the Liberal party under Michael Ignatieff four years ago.

At mid point the three parties were virtually tied.

On Monday night Trudeau added 150 seats to the 34 he began with. 

While Trudeau conducted a smart and admirable campaign, the election was as much a referendum on Stephen Harper’s polarizing and too often mean-spirited style of government.

Harper prided himself on establishing a clear division between what he called “solid Conservative values” and smug expensive liberal socialists.

During Harper’s reign - and at times it seemed like a reign as the Prime Minister’s office became all powerful to the point Ministers cleared all statements and interviews with it - the PM slowly but surely changed moderate Canada.

His ‘incrementalism’ as it was often referred to, was designed to stealthily push Canada to the right.

Bit by bit over ten years, he strengthened policies that cracked down hard on criminals, eroded civil liberties, dismissed the multinationalism of the United Nations, ignored pleas from the First Nations, from Syrian refugees, from environmentalists and he worked hard on finding ways to subvert Supreme Court decisions which did not go his way.

His was an extraordinarily secretive administration which rammed through huge omnibus bills, hardly deigned to speak to journalists or answer questions.

He prided himself on his ability to socially engineer Canadian society and its place in the world according to old style Conservative Canadian beliefs.

His wedge politics was to appeal to “old stock Canadians”.

His deliberately divisive and fearmongering stance on the niqab and the establishment of a ‘barbaric cultural practices” hotline were in the end too anti-democratic for the electorate.

Canadians were sick of him to say the least.

At times he evoked visceral hatred. Former media baron Conrad Black once compared him to a “sadistic Victorian schoolmaster”.

The Globe and Mail called the culture of Harper’s government “rotten”.

Now, supposedly, the days of cynicism are to give way to “positive politics”, to “sunny ways my friends, sunny ways” as Trudeau told his victory party.

The contrast between the personalities of Trudeau and the man he vanquished could hardly be more stark.

Trudeau is not only from another generation than Harper, but appears to be from another planet altogether.

He touches people’s shoulders, holds his hand on his heart, takes selfies with punters, seemed genuinely affectionate towards babies thrust at him on the campaign, and most definitely is genuinely affectionate towards his wife - the conservative National Post noting Justin and Sophie are “so kissy they almost warrant a PG rating”. They apparently nuzzle foreheads and embrace fully.

Not only that, Trudeau has already held a press conference in the Parliamentary Press Gallery where journalists were permitted to ask questions and were given answers.

Forgive Canadians for being a little in love with their new leader, just as America was with Obama.

And as Obama found out pretty early, Trudeau's honeymoon will last only so long when the piper must be paid.

Trudeau has a formidable to-do list on the back of a pretty stagnant economy and oil price pressures. His inner ‘Tigger’ will no doubt be dampened somewhat, but that’s not a bad thing in a grown up.

This is particularly so following his almost breathless message to “Canada’s friends all around the world” that the compassionate and constructive Canada is “back”.

His credibility domestically will in part depend on making sure the Liberal party he leads to the government benches in Ottawa will not succumb to the electoral scandals, cronyism, ‘jobs for the boys’ and internal divisions which saw it crushed by the Harper machine.

His credibility internationally will in part depend on how quickly he is up to speed on foreign policy - the first test coming in mid November at the G20 in Turkey which will no doubt require an explanation for his campaign pledge that while Canada will continue the fight against ISIS, it will pull out of the coalition bombing raids.

Trudeau’s campaign, decisive victory and admirable team of advisors belie the Conservative ad that ”he’s just not ready”, but they are right about the hair, even if it will soon be tinged grey with the stress of high office. 

For confirmation of that he needs only take a brief look at the leader south of the Canadian border.

Comments (6)

by John Egan on October 22, 2015
John Egan

Very well summed up. Whilst my team (the NDP) didn’t do well—how’s that for an understatement—it is excellent news that Canada has turned the page on the Harper years. I think three issues will be the first litmus test for Trudeau’s régime: how quickly he can get Syrian refugees to Canada (he promised 25,000 “by Christmas”, which Canada has come close to achieving in the past), setting up the inquiry about murdered and missing Aboriginal women (an easy box to tick), and electoral reform (which I expect he won’t do, since he’s now got a majority. 

by Tim Watkin on October 22, 2015
Tim Watkin

It helps that niceness is a point of difference from the incumbent and that you have a push back against that leader, but it's encouraging that 'play nice' can work in these often negative times. Good strategy.

by Murray Grimwood on October 22, 2015
Murray Grimwood

'Trudeau has a formidable to-do list on the back of a pretty stagnant economy and oil price pressures'.

This is the problem from here on in, for any leader left or right. 'Tackling Climate Change' requires moving away from fossil fuels, moving away from fossil fuels fuels the permanent already-recession; change of leader, go back three spaces and down the snake.

A paradigm to watch - increasingly - is the soft/kind/loving members of the Western middle-class/intelligencia and how they react to the realities of their existence. Living at the expense of others 'somewhere else', living at the expense of pollution 'somewhere else', living at the expense of future generations.

Carter - the smartest, most clinical, far-sighted leader of them all - got ousted in favour of 'Morning in America'. Hip-pocket and status angst may oust Trudeau too; unless we cross some civil-maturity threshold and understand more than we appear to currently. Change only sticks if 50% believe or come to believe, below that it's temporary.

There will be a lot of power and money looking to smear, regardless. As always.

by Lee Churchman on October 22, 2015
Lee Churchman

As a friend who was a former Canadian diplomat told me: the basic feature of Canadian politics is that the Liberals win. The main reason the Liberals haven't been winning is that Quebec had the hump with them over various scandals. Now normal service has been resumed. 

by Peggy Klimenko on October 22, 2015
Peggy Klimenko

Lee Churchman: " the basic feature of Canadian politics is that the Liberals win."

Whereas here the default has always been conservative. It's deep in our culture and difficult to shift.

by Lee Churchman on October 22, 2015
Lee Churchman

Whereas here the default has always been conservative. It's deep in our culture and difficult to shift.

Well, we don't have an electorally significant minority who more or less refuse to vote for National. The Liberals are the only party that can garner sufficient support from Ontario and Quebec, and without those two provinces, it is difficult to form a Canadian government as Harper discovered, only managing a slim majority once in his three goes at it, and then only because the Liberals were in disarray. Looks like the NDP are being put back in their place. It's a shame for them that Jack Layton died. I attended an anti-war march he spoke at not long after he was elected leader of the NDP. He was an extremely charismatic man and an effective leader with an ability to connect with voters that Mulcair just doesn't have. 

National in NZ is to me more like the Canadian Progressive Conservatives used to be (the so-called "Red Tories") rather than ex-Reform politicians like Harper (and the other western nuts). Perhaps the PCs will make a comeback. I hope so. Canada is better off without the American style far right, and having lived there for a while I only wish the place well. Now if the Leafs could just win a cup...

I guess part of what's happened is that people fatally underestimated Trudeau. He's a lot smarter than people think, and if he's half the politician his father was, he'll be unbeatable (he does seem to have his father's charisma). But there'll never be another Pierre Trudeau (who's probably the politician I admire most).

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