Without exception, honeymoons – the real ones and the political ones – end. I don’t for a moment believe that the wheels will come off the Justin Trudeau administration but, as happened to his father shortly after his election in 1968, the wheels will start to wobble, the love affair will cool, and Justin will look human again.
Nothing should be taken from Trudeau’s victory – he earned it and the relief that came with the end of Harper has spilled over into the beginning of his reign. It’s important, however, in trying to gauge what will happen to his administration and when, to examine why Trudeau won.
Harper fatigue, Mulcair stumble
First, as mentioned, the public had become very tired of Stephen Harper – tired may not be quite strong enough. In any event, he lost the centre-right, which Conservatives must have and will only recapture with the right leader – along with skill, because the Liberals must have it too.
Speaking of wheels, they certainly did come off of the NDP wagon just at the very worst time – no time left to recover. Thomas Mulcair was victim of his own good character when he opposed the Niqab issue in Quebec, while Harper did well encouraging racism and Trudeau almost as well by standing back and watching. Good politics dictated that Mulcair waffle but he yielded to common decency and it cost him dearly, as virtue usually does in politics.
Media one of election’s big losers
Second, the Postmedia papers became unpopular with their support of the disliked Harper. The Globe and Mail seemed mad when they supported the Conservative Party but not Harper and Mulcair, having already crapped out, leaving Trudeau as beneficiary of media support that had the opposite effect than was intended.
A mysterious charisma
Thirdly, one can’t overlook the attraction of Trudeau as the election proceeded. He has that mysterious element charisma, a beautiful young family, and ran a campaign that went without error from the first debate on.
The honeymoon lives on because nothing has yet gone wrong. That will change – you can make book on it.
Road ahead will get bumpier
Trudeau has made the most out of his foreign forays where the girls have hugged him and heads of state have patted him on the head. It didn’t hurt that he got into the pleasant little exchanges with the queen. All of this makes for no bad headlines.
There are two things which will change, but the timing is open.
First, the losing parties have leadership problems. No one seems to be pressing Mulcair and politicians are unlikely to move unless pushed or a better deal comes along. The Conservatives are worse off because they not only need a leader but also must mend the party, and the two issues are closely intertwined.
Since Mr. Harper, with the happy treachery of Peter McKay, stole be Conservative Party for the Reform Party, it’s not been united except by the one thing that always closes ranks – power. With defeat, that glow has disappeared, recrimination has taken over, and Tories have a very sick party to try to make better.
It’s 1976 all over again – a party in tatters and no leadership candidate of consequence in sight. When you think that the finals of the Conservative leadership that spring were between the unknown (outside Quebec) Claude Wagner and the utterly unknown Joe (Joe who?) Clark, each of whom had the charm and charisma of a wet sock, the depths of party despair were obvious. After three years, a listless Joe Clark managed to eke out a victory against an increasingly unpopular Pierre Trudeau, only to give it right back a few months later. The possibility that this scenario unfolds in 2016, gives Trudeau II hope that his first term will be uncharacteristically easy.
At present, excepting the old guard left over from the Chrétien years, most of the Trudeau cabinet is untested. The new gender equal cabinet has yet to do very much. This will change. For the moment, the new defense minister, Harjit Sajjan, has rather caught the fancy of the media and probably most Canadians. Whether or not he falls on his face remains to be seen but you can be certain that some of the new cabinet ministers will attract unwanted if not unwarranted attention. Some will goof, some badly. Some will shine and most will be innocuous. In any event, there’ll now be cabinet ministers to pick on and blame, which will change things dramatically.
Thirdly, there will be an opposition – something to report on. Absent an exciting opposition leader, the press won’t be able to make as much hay but it won’t be an all-Trudeau show. If the Tories choose somebody who does attract attention or Mr. Mulcair bounces back, the Liberals will be shown as a government opposed, not a government free of constraints.
Fourthly, there’s the question of the media. It is in considerable disarray and Postmedia has been exposed as an extension of the fossil fuel industry. The Globe and Mail badly soiled its copybook at election time but, however shaken, might be the only real player left in the game. In any event, Mr. Trudeau gains from the mainstream media’s ever diminishing credibility. Whether or not the non-mainstream media picks up the slack remains to be seen. Politics, as with all things, does abhor a vacuum.
Energy file will prove a challenge
Finally, and this will be the big challenge for Mr. Trudeau, there’s the energy crisis which very much includes global warming, an issue to which the public has become much attracted. While Trudeau has probably already committed more than he can deliver, he’ll be pushed to do more by the left, as little as possible by the right, and be seen to make progress by voters.
The serious money in politics today is from the fossil fuel industry, even more willing to bribe politicians with donations than ever because their very existence is challenged. They’ve already bought off Postmedia, the country’s largest newspaper chain, and now it must be the politicians or they’re in trouble.
This is Trudeau’s big challenge as, for the first time, the public have rallied behind the anti-fossil fuel movement. Alternative energy sources now make sense to more people, the hypocrisy of governments talking about weaning society off fossil fuels while pouring subsidies into the industry is wearing thin, and the environmental movement, so scorned by the Harper government, is stronger and more effective than ever for having been proved right on the main arguments.
Mr. Trudeau, in his first term, will have to deal with three, perhaps more, proposed pipelines, several very unpopular proposed LNG plants in British Columbia, and the fossil fuel industry in general, which must extract and export or die. It’s a rich industry, used to having its way with politicians, and a force to be reckoned with. On the other hand, Mr. Trudeau is no dummy and understands these issues very well.
The testing question is whether or not Mr. Trudeau will do what the people increasingly demand as industry throws in all its chips to prevent that happening.
Like him or hate him, Pierre Trudeau had guts – soon enough we’ll find out if his son inherited them.