What Justin Trudeau will mean for Canadian politics

Justin Trudeau’s victory promises a shift in tone and substance in Ottawa, and a generational change in Canadian politics

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, holding his son Hadrien, his wife Sophie and two children Xavier, left, and Ella-Grace wave to a crowd of supporters during a rally Sunday, October 4, 2015 in Brampton, Ont. (Paul Chiasson/CP)

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, holding his son Hadrien, his wife Sophie and two children Xavier, left, and Ella-Grace wave to a crowd of supporters during a rally Sunday, October 4, 2015 in Brampton, Ont. (Paul Chiasson/CP)

Ready, aye, ready. This week’s majority government victory for Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is a stunning repudiation of the argument that he was “just not ready” to be prime minister. Canadians certainly think he is.

Trudeau took full advantage of the extraordinarily long election campaign to come from third place and demolish his more-seasoned competitors. It was a masterful display of political skill and craftsmanship that belies any alleged lack of experience. In deposing the Harper government and pushing the NDP back to its familiar role as a noisy but distant third party, Trudeau has re-established that traditional Canadian political dynamic of Liberal vs. Conservative.

Related: How the Liberals took down the Tories

Yet this is no Back to the Future election. Trudeau’s victory marks an important generational change in Canadian politics. Our incoming prime minister brings a younger and more energetic presence to Ottawa; his winning platform was clearly designed to win over young families, students and new Canadians. That more than 68 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots this week—the highest turnout since 1993—suggests an encouraging engagement among these groups and points to a brighter and more inclusive future for Canadian politics.

The comprehensive Liberal victory, which took the party from 34 to 184 seats, also has the happy result of producing a caucus full of fresh talent and vigour. Beyond a few familiar faces, such as former finance minister Ralph Goodale, there is no risk the new Liberal cabinet will look like a retread of previous versions under predecessors Jean Chrétien or Paul Martin. Again, this is a good thing for political discourse in Canada.

Related: What happens when a change campaign meets actual governing?

Beyond changing the demographics for Canadian voters and cabinet ministers, Trudeau’s victory promises a significant shift in tone and substance from Ottawa. Throughout the lengthy and often-rancorous campaign, Trudeau maintained a strong sense of optimism and positivity. In a gracious victory speech, he even reminded supporters to be kind to their former foes. “Conservatives are not our enemies,” he said. “They are our neighbours.” Such a co-operative spirit can be expected to spill over onto Canada’s international reputation as well. There will be a glow for all Canadians to bask in when Trudeau shows up at the United Nations climate change conference in Paris next month with something constructive to say. The experience may be rather similar to what Americans experienced in 2008 when Barack Obama became President. We now have the world’s attention.

This generational shift in Canadian politics partly explains Stephen Harper’s defeat. After 10 years, voters simply tired of his tough style, lack of warmth and reliance on divisive political stances. That said, Harper can take comfort in the fact his major accomplishments will survive long after this election. Harper remade Ottawa in many important ways, most significantly in fiscal policy and federal-provincial relations. Trudeau’s promise to tweak a few tax rates and run three more years of deficits were important from a marketing perspective, but won’t make a flyspeck of difference over the long run. The GST is not going back up. Corporate tax rates will stay where they are. The overall size of government is not budging.

Related: It’s Trudeau’s crummy economy now

Harper’s vision of a restrained Ottawa in other areas will also continue under the new Liberal government. Trudeau has already promised to follow the provinces’ lead on climate change, child care and health care. And there’s a surprising lack of big new federal endeavours within the Liberal policy book; the signature Canada Child Benefit is really just a combination of existing Conservative family policies (though it entails the elimination of income-splitting) with an added means test. On free trade, Trudeau can similarly be expected to stay the course. Harper may be gone but his most important policies remain. And they will continue to benefit the country.

While many big challenges await Trudeau, in the near term he can earn himself substantial acclaim simply by undoing many of the small-minded and destructive initiatives that took away from Harper’s larger achievements. Here we include obvious changes such as bringing back the long-form census, making Parliament more civil and functional, delivering a new vision on Senate reform, undoing deliberately divisive religious policies, creating greater transparency within the public sector, redrawing the limits of the criminal justice system . . . the list goes on. Who knows? A fresh face and less confrontational approach may even result in a pipeline or two going forward. Honey generally works better that vinegar.

In giving Trudeau a powerful mandate, Canadian voters have said clearly that they want to establish a new, younger and more positive image for Canada, both at home and abroad. At the same time, they expect their finances to be carefully tended. The task before Trudeau is to live up to these formidable expectations. He’s proven ready to seize the challenge. Now we’re ready for him to deliver.


What Justin Trudeau will mean for Canadian politics

  1. It was a Culture War, and the Future won.

    No more ‘fat farmer’ image, and the 50’s are finally dead.

    In spite of your strange wishes, all remnants of Harper and his Dark Decade will be gone within two years at most.

    ….On a personal note, I’d like to thank you for eliminating antique phrases like ‘dropping the writ’ and ‘vote-rich Ontario from your coverage. I hope this continues and we also don’t hear any repeats of ‘Trudeaumania’ and Americanisms like ‘First Lady’

  2. Haper’s legacy is the Conservative politics of selfishness. Reduce how much the government takes in so that it can reduce or eliminate programs for those that need them. It meant firing public employees so that those who needed help were unable to access it. It was not about making government more efficient or getting rid of government spending that was unneeded and wasteful. The Conservatives reduced spending by getting rid of 1.00 workers in Veterans Affairs, making it difficult for veterans to access money due them. The Conservatives reduced the amount of money for healthcare, to help the homeless, it cut spending on those who lost jobs, and despite their claims, it spent less on crime prevention. There is plenty more.
    If the policies of selfishness extend to the citizens of Canada, despite generations of citizens having no problem with spending on healthcare, the unemplyed, the homeless and making sure veterans were taken care of properly then Canada has become a pettier company. And it seems Maclean’s thinks that increasing the problems and harming the lives of Canadians will continue to benefit the country is a cruel and selfish way at looking at it. They and any Canadian not willing to increase some taxes they pay, even if it means they won’t get the same level of healthcare they used to, then we have not only become more selfish and petty as a country. They are too dumb to care if they and their families get sick and because of worse healthcare possibly die. Hopefully Trudeau will bring back the good in people so they care about their families and their neighbours who they may not even know.

    • I should proof read. The government got rid of 1,000 workers in Veterans affairs not 1.00.

      I apologize for the mental lapse. I not always smrt

  3. The longer I’m Prime Minister, the more isolated, angry,mean, vindictive and sadistic I will become. “Sadistic Victorian schoolmaster” as Conrad Black described Harper.
    Wells, watch how quickly Trudeau can wipe out the 10 dark years. Prison farms restored! Census. Make a list. It’s all gone.
    I nominate the Stop Harper girl for the Order of Canada.

    • I second that nomination! I think we are going to be pleasantly surprised with the turn in politics in Canada. We can look forward to a bright future of fairness, inclusiveness, compassion and most importantly, a government that respects democracy.

  4. I have one comment and I will leave. God help us if we, that is Canada, ever has to defend itself.

    • You are wrong there. Just because a government is against imposing ourselves on another countries infighting ( which is a lot more complicated than it might seem ) does not mean that they will be unable or unwilling to defend ourselves in the face of an attack. Your comment is a bit hysterical.

  5. The hope-and-changey thing certainly didn’t work in the United States with Obama, the Emperor of the Drones, and toady to Wall Street, the banksters, and the 1%, the acceleration of wealth inequality, and spreader of chaos around the world.

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