Not yet elected—though her leader would later dismiss the possibility that she won’t soon be—Chrystia Freeland appeared in the foyer this afternoon to be presented as the co-chair of the “economic council of advisors” that will apparently contribute to the multi-faceted process of formulating the Liberal party’s policy platform. Ms. Freeland, she of the book about inequality, described herself as “tremendously excited” and seemed just a little nervous—fidgety and smiley and perhaps not entirely sure yet how one is supposed to look when standing around the party leader at one of these photos ops—but enthused about the work ahead.
“What we’re doing today is putting in place a very serious process and effort to address in a sophisticated smart way how we can secure real prosperity for the Canadian middle class going forward,” she said, dressed all in red. “This is not something that you can sit down and write a bumper sticker about. It’s not a three-point plan you can come up with on a napkin one morning. This is a really, really hard problem and we’re rolling up our sleeves and getting to work on it starting today.”
Shortly thereafter, Justin Trudeau was asked about marijuana. And here he managed the neat trick of pivoting away from himself.
“I think all Canadians that I’ve spoken to over the past while are pleased that I have opened up this question because it is something that is of concern to them,” he said, “but they are much more interested in the big economic questions facing us, facing the Canadian middle class.”
So the summer of marijuana is officially over, apparently. Now the leaves are turning and so we must turn to more serious matters.
“The fact that Mr. Harper continues his prohibition is of concern,” Mr. Trudeau continued, “but not nearly as much of a concern as his lack of action on the issues facing middle class Canadians, their jobs, their pensions, their future, their kids’ future. And that’s why I’m glad to be drawing together this economic expertise now.”
He returned to the Hill this day looking a little shaggy (his feathery hair now nearly covering his ears) and sounding a bit froggy, but the summer was basically a good one for Mr. Trudeau. His side has now led the Conservatives for five consecutive months. In August, the advantage was six points and his party now leads in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia.
All of which helps, but none of which accomplishes much of anything. The basic challenge remains: Mr. Trudeau must prove himself worthy.
After the Liberal leader had suggested Canadians were more interested in economic matters, a reporter suggested that Mr. Trudeau seemed more willing to advocate for the legalization of marijuana than to explain his economic platform. Mr. Trudeau seemed to take a bit of umbrage.
“Would you like to talk about my policies on pipelines, my policies on foreign investment and trade, my policies on open Parliament?” he asked. “I’ve come forward with an awful lot of concrete policies and I will continue to. However, like for marijuana, the complete platform will be built with Canadians and by Canadians for 2015. I’m not going to short-circuit the process, I’m not going to cut short the trust we’re building with Canadians about giving them the kind of government that is responding to their concerns and their needs. I will continue to talk policy regularly, but I will not put forward a platform until the election because that platform needs to be built with Canadians.”
This is a bit of a dance. Probably there is some sense in not having a platform to table tomorrow and possibly it does not matter too much whether Mr. Trudeau waits two years to do so, at least so long as he can table just enough ideas to undermine the notion that he lacks them.
For now, with his party’s policy convention still months away, he can defer dreamily to the ideal of democracy. But oh what a cruel mistress democracy can be.
“What if the middle class says: Tax the rich, cut our taxes, do all that?” a reporter next asked. “If you’re doing all the consulting, is that your plan? If they say cut our taxes, make it easier for us for the middle class, is that what you do?”
Here Mr. Trudeau appealed to something even more than simple democracy.
“We will respond to those very complex questions in a way that is not based around easy electoralism and what’s going to help to get us elected,” he declared. “We have a government that has gotten itself a majority simply on the basis of what kind of retail elements it thinks it can sell, what it thinks it’s going to be able to trick people into voting for. The problem with that is it’s gotten into the position where it actually can’t respond to the very real and deep challenges we’re facing.”
Let us call what Mr. Trudeau is pitching here suprapolitics: that which is above and beyond the current practice. That word isn’t so long that it can’t fit on a standard-sized bumper sticker. (Though Mr. Trudeau should perhaps hope that anyone who voted Conservative in 2011 who he hopes to have vote Liberal in 2015 won’t feel their intelligence has been insulted here.)
“The policies we will bring forward will be both broad and deep in the way that we are going about the consultation and the way we’re bringing them forward,” Mr. Trudeau continued. “So there are a lot of very complex and important questions that we have to discuss, not with a mind to how do we get the most votes out of this, but how do we make this government serve Canadians in the best possible way, to build a strong economy that creates opportunity for everyone and builds a stronger future for us all.”
It is a vaguely lovely idea. And perhaps, at least for a little while, that will be enough.