Justin (time) Trudeau or Trudeamania Mark II


I caught up with some good friends for a drink at the Wellcome Trust recently during a research trip. There were a few new faces and once basic introductions were made, a new face to me – someone late of Scandinavia –turned conversation to politics and Canadian politics in particular. She was wholeheartedly impressed by the new Canadian PM, Justin Trudeau, and his response to forming a gender equal cabinet. ‘Because it’s 2015’, was his very Trudeau-esque rebuttal.
The remark might not quite have had the defiance or, indeed, inherent threat of ‘just watch me’, the most infamous words uttered by JT’s father Pierre, but it showed that something had certainly changed in Canadian politics, but in a back to the future sort of way. I should readily admit to being an unapologetic Trudeauophile. Although the Liberal party is the only major Canadian party I have never voted for (I was even a youthful dabbler in Preston Manning’s Reform movement), I always liked Trudeau, even as a kid. What I knew of his policies, I liked, and his personality seemed to balance all the qualities needed of a leader in a parliamentary democracy where majority governments are common: he was thoughtful and was willing to change his mind about things when appropriate (unlike Thatcher, he did not have the bloody-mindedness of an aircraft carrier without a rudder), but he could also be stubborn when the situation demanded it, such as during the FLQ crisis, and he clearly did not suffer fools gladly. For me, he was far and away Canada’s best prime minister.
PET also loved Canada and had a vision for making it better. He was a quintessentially Canadian prime minister. One of the things that has struck me about non-Canadians commenting about the new Trudeau at 22 Sussex is how very un-Canadian they saw the previous Harper regime to be. What they probably meant is Harper’s mean, parsimonious, conservative approach to everything. While I accept all of that, I also think that the really un-Canadian aspect of Harper’s regime was his complete and utter lack of vision. Even with a massive majority, his masterplan reached only as far as mindless cuts and asserting the sort of tired, unimaginative and dogmatic policies that people on the right unceasingly toss out: deny climate change; get cosy with Israel; ridicule the arts; decimate academia (even the sciences). I might not agree with much of what Manning’s Reform movement stood for now (though Manning was one of the first Canadian politicians to speak out about climate change), but at least they had a vision; at least they wanted to do something! Harper’s modus operandi was neoliberal inertia.
So what of JT? Ever since he delivered his tearful eulogy at his father’s funeral, his path to PM has been clearly marked. Indeed, Richard Nixon predicted his calling long before that. But, rather than becoming a policy wonk like Harper, and nearly every single British party leader, or even a lawyer, as is the pattern in Canada, he went and got a job as a teacher. He got at least a taste of normal life, just as his father did, travelling through India and protesting with nascent nationalists in Quebec during the ‘40s. And while the dynastic nature of his rise to power – not to mention the tragedies faced by the Trudeau family – have a Kennedy-esque quality, I think it’s clear he lacks their unbridled arrogance and ambition. He seems to have been drawn to politics for the right reasons, which is a rare thing. While he appears to have some of his father’s steel, he also has his mother’s humanity, a quality to which Canadians relate.
Like most Canadians, I am hopeful. I also wonder what JT’s influence will be beyond Canada’s three shores. Will he be the first PM since his father to have an impact on the world stage? Will his election, like the last 35 years of Canadian political history, foreshadow what will come to pass in Britain, as it has tended to of late? For Britons who scoff or despair at the election of Jeremy Corbyn, take heed at what’s happened in Canada, not just federally, but also in provinces such as Alberta. Change may well be afoot. Perhaps just in time.