Trudeau's Win in a Divided Canada

Image Credits: Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau (Getty, iStock)

By Naveed Qazi

JUSTIN Trudeau has won a historic back-to-back third election in Canada, and is now in the elite company of prime ministers. However, he had won the third term through a snap election, by dissolution of the parliament in August 2021. An early opinion poll before the dissolution had kept his Liberal Party ahead, but that soon changed with O’Toole’s CPC moving ahead. Although, he had been positive about his campaign as he thought that his management for Covid was successful.

“It looks like nobody wanted an election and no one got what they wanted,” said the Toronto Star political columnist Chantal Hebert as results came in, reflecting the peculiarity of the election. When it comes to his first term, it was often tainted as scandal ridden and shambolic.

For the second time since 2019, Trudeau has been handed a minority government by Canadians, meaning he will have to reach across the aisle to work with smaller parties in order to govern. For his critics, however, this snap election was for ‘nothing’.

During the campaigns, he had been plagued by protestors at every stop, who made bounderish  gestures and shouted rude words, which was not normal for him before.

The parliament had been largely mirroring the 2019 result. His rival, O’Toole had accused him of engineering a ‘quick power grab’ and being carefree about high deficits. Back then in 2019, by not coming in the majority, his brow had darkened, both literally and figuratively. But he still managed to form the government. Eventually, he started wearing a beard as a reflection of the gloomy new times.

Son of former liberal prime minister Pierre Trudeau, Justin’s advocacy of a more moderate brand of conservatism, nevertheless, seems to have gone down well with many, even if it may puzzle some in the CPC’s traditionally hard-line support base.

For his supporters, Trudeau had been looking too obviously good with his policies, after six years in power. He was also getting the hang of that Chrétienesque opportunism which can sometimes help win snap elections for weakened governments, but it can also taint by looking down at weaker opposition parties at the same time. This stance can also backfire. The Liberal risk is that, as Gord Downie sang, “there’s nothing uglier than a man hitting his stride.”

O’Toole’s recent repositioning by tilting towards the centre, and shunning the far right, had also opened up space for the populist People’s Party, campaigning on an anti-vax, climate-change-sceptic, pro-gun, pro-oil-industry platform. Several of its policies have been termed as xenophobic and racist. On the other hand, Greens failed to make an impact coming with a disappointing fourth.

However, several populist activists in Canada, quite lately, seem to have lost their nerve for normal civil conduct of Canadian politics.  Rowdy disruptions of Liberal rallies by them have become counter-productive. Part of them are vulgar mobs, who are more organised than ever on social media. Actually, there is a rise of far-right extremism in Canada, which is putting its politics in a loophole. Canada is now a ‘home of far-right extremism’, according to Oped writer David Moscrop, because political parties in Canada, mainly the Conservatives have failed to repudiate extremists and drive them out of the tent. Infact, far right elements have been welcomed by the party.  For instance, in 2015, then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper fought an election campaign in which his party floated the idea of a ‘barbaric cultural practices’ snitch line. He then lost the contest to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. In 2016, one of the faces of that policy, Chris Alexander, admitted the error as he prepared to run for the leadership of the party, but the damage was done. In 2018, then-Conservative senator Lynn Beyak was removed from caucus for defending residential schools, but the time it took to remove her was telling. She has recently quit the senate. In 2019, then-leader Andrew Scheer gave a speech to ‘extremist yellow vests’, part of the Canadian perversion of the French populist movement on Parliament Hill and then defended his decision to do so. Even the recent expulsion of Derek Sloan, a Conservative member of Parliament — “because of a pattern of destructive behaviour involving multiple incidents and disrespect towards the Conservative team for over a year,” according to O’Toole — raises the question of why that pattern was allowed to develop in the first place. Thus, it has become important for a pivotal party, such as CPC, to come clear, be persistent and unambiguous on extremism lurking in its shadows.

This, at the same time, also doesn’t mean that if Canadians rebuke the Conservatives for stirring several controversies, it makes everything which Liberals do as right.

By the time September came, with its frantic culture of protesters outside hospitals and gravel falling on campaigners, the election result reflected that it was too late to get back to simply governing. It reflected how Liberals in Canada had telegraphed confidence for too long. The election result is a madness in a way, as Canadians are in the middle of multiple national crises.

There is also Americanisation of Canadian political media, which focuses on party leaders, and not on representatives which common people actually vote for. Journalism like that can mislead, but this is how things are now in Canada.

Joseph Brean in the National Post had also shared some interesting anecdotes in his Oped. He compared Trudeau with a parable of a foolish prince, and wrote: ‘The reason for this gamble was simple. Trudeau wanted to lock in his approval. Things were fine for him, as prime minister, but they could be better. It is a familiar storyline. Canadians recognise it. If Trudeau were a character from a fable, he would be the dog who, walking alongside a river, sees his own reflection in the water. Mistaking it for another dog carrying a better piece of meat, he opens his mouth to snatch it, losing his own real meat in the process. The Dog and his Reflection is an old fable by Aesop, retold innumerable times in various ways, with a moral about trading substance for shadow. It cautions against risking the good in pursuit of the perfect.

Pauline Greenhill, professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Winnipeg, and Canada’s leading academic authority on folklore and fairy tales noted how different Trudeau is from traditional male folkloric hero, five years after. When he first became the prime minister, one could just shoehorn Trudeau into an imaginative folklore hero. Sure enough, he was a first-born political prince, not unprivileged as folk heroes usually are, and he did not seem exceptionally humble or clever like these heroes, but he had a strong and diverse team and a cabinet with half women, including an Indigenous justice minister. Now, many argue that Trudeau’s political career has fallen just like seen in familiar plotlines that reflect rash confidence, pride and failures in recognising the structural qualities of a decision.

There has been a certain unCanadian behaviour during this election, which makes it understandable that Trudeau is in a pit of his own digging, as his failure to ensure a majority also asserts his political defeat and a depletion of his political capital.

Naveed Qazi is an author of six books, and editor of Globe Upfront. For feedback, he can be mailed at [email protected] Views expressed are the author's own

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