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OP-ED: Holding the line in Canada

  • Published at 07:31 pm September 24th, 2021
Justin Trudeau
Justin Trudeau waves to his supporters on election night BIGSTOCK

Justin Trudeau is much more than his critics give him credit for

At the conclusion of the 2019 Canadian general elections almost two years ago, I had written on these pages that the proverbial centre held across the northern border of then President Trump’s United States. Such an outcome was certainly a source of some relief to those on both sides of the Atlantic who saw in the preceding victories of Brexit, Trump, Hungary’s Orban, and the advances of Germany’s AfD many ominous signs of a liberal world order under stress.

In calling for and surviving -- though certainly in a chastened manner -- the chutzpah of a snap election, Canada’s Liberal Party (LPC) Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has sent some measure of reassurance that the traditional centre still holds. That the whole electoral exercise of hundreds of millions of dollars netted barely any changes in parliament may suggest that the iconic Pierre Trudeau’s son still has some ways to go to match the apparent stature of his father.

The younger Trudeau’s impact may be more far reaching than the mere status quo of post-2021 Parliament Hill suggests. For starters, his survival sends out the signal that Canada continues on its centrist liberal democratic path even as the populist rumblings south of the border and across the ocean show little signs of abating. 

If anything, the staid nature of the 2021 Canadian election campaign was a subtle contrast to the 2019 hustings where the Opposition Conservative Party (CPC) attempted to draw sharper contrasts and dialled up wedge issues with more intense rhetoric, often at the behest of imported political consultants. 

This year saw the Conservatives focus on basic economic issues, wholeheartedly embrace environmental activism, and keep public health conspiracists and pseudo-xenophobes at a decided distance. In fact, it is possible that the traditional centre-rightism of the CPC cost it thousands of votes, and maybe even a seat or two, in some Western provinces where the avowedly populist People’s Party (PPC) ate into the Conservatives’ far-right fringes even as the PPC won no seats at all.

Often dismissed as a politician who is better known for celebrity than policy or seriousness, Justin Trudeau may have used such underestimation to his advantage once more. More important, such armchair observations are perhaps better left to movie critics and reviewers of popular fiction. Winning three elections in a row, albeit the last two with pluralities rather than majorities, is not as facile as it seems in a country of almost four million square miles that is not only multi-cultural and multi-lingual, but made up of provinces which can sometimes be quite centrifugal in their politics vis-à-vis Ottawa. 

Canada’s head of government has seen himself through several minor personal scandals (like the blackface controversy), a few corruption investigations, some resignations in high places, and a national and international public health crisis; he has managed to survive and is set for another term it appears. 

The usual cynicism of republican democracy aside, once more the people of Canada have spoken in favour of the LPC under Trudeau, even if the volume was a few decibels and a few seats below the level of the majority mark of which the prime minister was hopeful.

Perhaps then, it is advisable for the usual pundit class to take a deeper look into Justin Trudeau ad go beyond his affability, good looks, and pedigree. Not even quite 50 yet, prime minister of Canada is of an age that lends itself to occasional mockery and condescension from savants used to septuagenarians running the show. 

His public displays of exuberance and spontaneity certainly does not help with the gravitas factor. Yet, he is standing atop a democratic country which is considered as the place with the number one quality of life, year after year in survey after survey by reputable organizations. 

Youthful, exuberant, inexperienced, and cheeky he may be, but he is also the guy who has welcomed thousands of Middle Eastern and Central Asian refugees when his fellow Western alliance members buckled, while his support for traditional energy sources has offended powerful environmental constituencies on the Left. Between those two polarizing nodes -- and several similar dichotomies -- the son of Pierre Trudeau is slowly charting his course as his own man.

I suspect history will remember Justin Trudeau in a far more sobering light that his critics give him credit for.        

Esam Sohail is a college administrator and writes from the USA. He can be reached at [email protected]

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