By Paris Jefferson
Exhausted by the unrelenting noise that is Brexit? Then allow me to relieve you with musings about the recent Canadian general election and why Justin Trudeau went from a majority government to a minority, why Canada is a surprisingly difficult country to govern and what the future may hold for Canadians.
When Justin Trudeau won the election back in 2015, he was seen as the international heir apparent to Barack Obama, a welcome progressive voice that promised a bright and enlightened future. And his government did deliver: 1,000,000 new jobs, thousands of children lifted out of poverty, the best performing economy of the G7 with a low unemployment rate, and a gender balanced cabinet because, as he famously said, “It is 2015.” This Liberal Party was buoyed on the back of Trudeau but if you ride on the crest of a big wave, then the crash can be pretty startling, especially for a party that pushed brand Trudeau so very hard.
When asked what is the most difficult thing about governing, the British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan famously replied, “events dear boy, events.” Well, here are some of the unforeseen “events” which challenged the photogenic image of Trudeau: he had two personal ethical violations by the Ethics Commissioner ( a first for a Canadian PM). A disastrous tour of India which saw the world press lambast him for his choice of attire. The SNC Lavalin affair resulting in two strong female cabinet ministers kicked out of the Liberal caucus, tarnishing Trudeau’s 2015 feminist credentials. His foreign affairs policies which arguably pushed values over interests (all very laudable) but resulted in souring relationships with China, India, Australia, USA and Japan, to name but a few. And then there were the damning blackface photographs of Trudeau which happened not once, but over a series of years. These “events” made the voters snap their collective heads in confusion. Just who was Justin Trudeau?
The other major choice the voter’s had was the Conservative leader, Andrew Scheer, who at the remarkably young age of 32 was elected Speaker of the House by his peers, an MP since the age of 25, who had a reasonable plan to curb the burgeoning deficit and who won the popular vote in this last election by 1%, roughly 34% to Liberals 33%. (Trudeau heartily promised the end of first past the post in 2015. Nary a word has been said about it since). You might think that the constant coverage of Trudeau’s woes would give Scheer a big political bounce. It didn’t happen. Why? Scheer is anti-abortion, doesn’t support same-sex marriage, refuses to march in or support LGTB parades, doesn’t seem to get the urgency of the climate crisis (although Greta might argue that neither does Justin) and misrepresented his qualifications as an insurance broker. Once upon a time the conservatives were known as the Progressive Conservatives, not so much now.
To be fair to the politicians, Canada, which is about 40 times the size of the UK, is a pretty difficult country to govern. With lots of land and natural resources, and a population of roughly 36m spread across almost 9,000 km comes a diversity in personality. The provinces are fiercely independent and bring very different things to the table. Oil from Alberta, food from the Prairies, finances in Ontario, to name but a few, and then there is Quebec which is a nation within a nation with its proudly French-speaking population. To say that it is impossible to please all of the provinces federally is an understatement.
So what did this diverse Canadian population do at the ballot box? They may have rapped Trudeau’s knuckles with a minority government but they overwhelmingly voted as a progressive nation with 66% of the vote going to the left of centre Liberals, New Democratic Party and the Greens combined, which should force the political parties to work together. Perhaps there will be less closeted political discussion and more progressive public platforms. That is what Canadian’s have said they want. That doesn’t mean there won’t be some blood sport over the next couple of years with possible leadership challenges to both Trudeau and Scheer, but if Scheer reintroduces Progressive back into the Conservatives, or Trudeau manages to walk the line somewhere between shining and tarnished knight, then maybe they will keep their heads and battle it out again. But four years is a long way away, and in this game, anything can happen, just ask Macmillan.
Paris Jefferson is an award-winning British/Australian actor, photographer and writer now living in Ottawa.