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Nine things to watch as Canada’s next Trudeau era begins


Defying expectations in August that pitted the Liberal Party in third place at the beginning of the election campaign in August, Justin Trudeau has now won a clear majority government and a mandate for change in Canada’s 42nd federal election.Canada Flag Icon

So what does that mean for Canada, for US-Canadian relations and for Canada’s role in the world in the weeks and months ahead?

Here are nine policy areas to keep an eye on as Trudeau begins the rapid transition to 24 Sussex Drive, appoints a cabinet and tackles a full agenda of issues that could dominate what will likely be a full four-year term with the kind of parliamentary mandate that should make it much more easier than Trudeau ever expected to enact his policy preferences.

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Climate change. As the Paris summit on climate change approaches in November, Canada’s government will go from being one of the most skeptical participants at the conference to one of the most enthusiastic supporters of action to reduce carbon emissions. Keep an eye on Stéphane Dion, the former Liberal leader from 2006 and 2008 and a former environmental minister, to play a vocal and supportive role. Nevertheless, global climate change policy is mostly set by the G-2 — i.e., the United States and China. So Trudeau’s role at the summit, while productive, will be more about style than any actual substance. Joyce Murray, a popular left-wing MP and British Columbia’s former environmental minister, who was the runner-up to Trudeau in the 2013 Liberal contest, is also a rising star to watch on environmental matters.

Economic policy. At the start of the campaign, the traditionally more centrist Liberals advanced a tax policy to the left of the New Democratic Party (NDP) by promising a middle-class tax cut to be paid for by slightly higher taxes on those who earn roughly more $200,000 annually. During the campaign, as Canada officially slipped into a shallow recession, Trudeau doubled-down by pledging to engage in deficit spending over the next three years to stabilize Canada’s economy, protect jobs and boost infrastructure. It was this move, again outflanking the NDP (whose leader Thomas Mulcair promised to maintain the Conservative Party’s devotion to balanced budgets), that may have convinced voters that Trudeau, and not Mulcair, represented the most striking contrast with Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper.

Ralph Goodale, a former finance minister under Paul Martin; Bill Morneau, a 52-year-old newcomer first elected last night from the Toronto’s business world and Scott Brison, a former Progressive Conservative MP who defected to the Liberals over a decade ago, could all be leading contenders for finance minister. Continue reading Nine things to watch as Canada’s next Trudeau era begins

Trudeau overwhelmingly wins Liberal Party leadership

Justin Trudeau, the son of former Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau, has been elected the new leader of the Liberal Party in Canada.Canada Flag Icon

As expected, his victory was essentially a coronation — he won 80.1% of the vote to just 10.2% for British Columbia MP Joyce Murray and 5.7% for former Ontario MP Martha Hall Findlay.

Here’s what I wrote last month about the challenges Trudeau will now face in advance of the 2015 general election

Here’s what I wrote last week about Murray, and how she represents the future of Canadian politics in a couple of key ways.

Despite Trudeaumania, Joyce Murray personifies the future of Canada’s center-left


It’s a safe prediction that Joyce Murray will not be the next leader of the Liberal Party.Canada Flag Icon

When the Liberal Party’s membership finishes voting and the winner is announced this Sunday, the winner is certainly going to be Justin Trudeau — and likely by a landslide margin.  His anticipated election is already pushing the Grits ahead in polls, and not only against the official opposition, the New Democratic Party under Thomas Mulcair, but into contention for first place against the Conservatives under Stephen Harper.

It seems equally likely that the Liberals will get an even larger boost in the polls in the ‘Trudeau honeymoon,’ as the presumptive Liberal leader ascends to lead a party that governed Canada during 69 years of the 20th century — and which has seen its share of the vote fall in each of the past five elections.

Murray, who served as minister of water, land and air protection in the Liberal government of British Columbia premier Gordon Campbell in the early 2000s, lost her provincial seat in 2005 and reemerged as a Liberal MP from Vancouver in the House of Commons in the 2008 election.  Since the withdrawal of MP Marc Garneau from the leadership race, however, Murray has been locked in a battle for second place with former Ontario MP Martha Hall Findlay.

The late momentum, however, lies with Murray, whose main campaign strategy has been a unite-the-left platform aimed at pulling together the Liberals, the New Democrats and the Greens together in an alliance for the next general election.  Murray certainly has raised more money than any of the non-Trudeau hopefuls.

The fundamental fact of Canadian politics is that the broad left — from the most moderate business-friendly Liberals to the most ardently progressive New Democrats — remains split between two credible alternatives to the Conservatives.  In many ways, it parallels the split between the old-guard Progressive Conservative Party and the upstart Reform Party / Canadian Alliance in the 1990s and early 2000s, which allowed Liberal prime ministers Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin to govern without much of an opposition from 1993 to 2004.

In the same way, the logic that propelled the conservative merger in 2003 augurs for a similar center-left alliance in 2013.

And the logic is tantalizing — in a country where MPs are determined in 308 first-past-the-post single member ridings, the Tories won a majority government in 2011 with less than 40% of the vote.  A recent Léger poll shows the Conservatives with 31%, the Liberals ascending to 30%, the NDP with 24% and the Greens with 7%.  Taken together, Murray’s dream coalition would trounce the Tories on a vote of 61% to 31%.

The problem is that unlike the PCs, which never won more than 15 seats in the House of Commons after their decimation following the 1980s governments of Brian Mulroney, and unlike Reform/Alliance, which never managed to extend its reach beyond western Canada, both the NDP and the Trudeau-era Liberals are national parties with long, proud histories in Canada that stretch back far into the prior century.

Trudeau himself has argued to the incompatibility of the Liberal and NDP traditions:

But this debate is less about electoral calculations than about Trudeau’s assessment of congenital incompatibilities on the left of the Canadian political spectrum. In an interview last year with Maclean’s, he contrasted the unification of the right, as accomplished by Harper in 2003, and the notion of symmetrical coming together of Canadian progressives.

“The right didn’t unite so much as reunite,” Trudeau said. “I mean, Reform was very much a western movement breaking away from Brian Mulroney. But they broke away, then they came back together. The NDP and the Liberals come from very, very, very different traditions.”

But that overstates the case — keep in mind that the most successful leader the Liberals have had in the past decade, the current interim leader Bob Rae, is the former NDP premier of Ontario.  Mulcair, the current NDP leader, was a member of the Québec Liberal Party during his career in provincial politics.  Though it’s important to keep in mind that provincial parties aren’t affiliated with national parties, it’s fair to say that there’s a significant amount of cross-pollination between the two traditions.

Even beyond her controversial support for a broad center-left alliance, however, the center of gravity in Canada is moving in two directions — both westward in the geographic sense and toward a more globalized, diverse, immigrant-rich Canada in a demographic sense — and British Columbia (and Vancouver) is obviously at the heart of both of those trends.  Continue reading Despite Trudeaumania, Joyce Murray personifies the future of Canada’s center-left

Trudeau now all but certain to become Liberal leader in Canada


While everyone was watching to the Vatican City on Wednesday, another potential world leader took a step toward his own elevation — Justin Trudeau, whose chief rival for the Liberal Party leadership in Canada dropped out and endorsed him in advance of what’s now likely to be a mere formality on April 14. Canada Flag Icon

Like the new Pope Francis, Trudeau will assume control of a once-powerful organization that has had difficulty finding its purpose in a vastly changing world — the world of 21st century Canadian governance.  He’ll do so having risen to the leadership as the son of a beloved former prime minister on a campaign that’s little more substantive than rewarmed platitudes of what’s been orthodox Liberal policy of the past two decades and his airy good looks.

Right now, Canadians love him, though — they say that they would overwhelmingly support the Trudeau-led Liberals in the next election.  Today, however, with his election as leader all but certain, the Liberals remain mired in third place behind the Conservative Party and the New Democratic Party.  So it’s worth taking caution in reading polls that seem to show a Trudeau landslide in the next election — those polls suggest to me the upper limit of what Trudeau might achieve in a best-case scenario in 2015, when the next federal election is likely to be held.

As the leadership race approaches, though, the central question of Canadian politics has now become whether, on the one hand, Trudeau’s rock-star quality and popularity will wear thin after his coronation (dooming the Liberals to what must certainly be oblivion) or, on the other hand, Trudeau will rise to the occasion by navigating the top echelons of federal politics sufficient to bring the Liberals back into power by following in the footsteps of his father.

The future of Canadian politics — and Canadian policy in the next decade — rests on the answer to that question.

His chief rival Marc Garneau exited the race on Wednesday after releasing a survey that showed he would win just 15% of Liberal voter support to 72% for Trudeau, who he also endorsed.

As the first Canadian in outer space, Garneau is somewhat the John Glenn of Canada — he served as the president of the Canadian Space Agency from 2001 to 2006, and then moved into electoral politics, winning a seat in the 2008 election in the Québécois riding of Westmount in the Montréal area.  He’s thoughtful, articulate, and he hasn’t been unwilling to take on Trudeau — taking advantage of several debates to challenge Trudeau directly for running a campaign of ’empty words’ as an untested rookie.

Garneau, ironically, would have been a better candidate than any of the past three Liberal Party leaders — former prime minister Paul Martin, who lost the 2006 federal election to Stephen Harper’s ascendant Conservative Party; former environment minister Stéphane Dion, who won just 26% in the 2008 federal election; and former author and academic Michael Ignatieff, who won just 19% and 34 seats in the 2011 federal election, well behind the more progressive NDP that’s now Canada’s official opposition. He may well have even been a better Liberal leader than Bob Rae, who ruled out a run himself last year, despite receiving high marks for his performance as interim leader.

If Trudeau becomes prime minister in 2015, Garneau will obviously be at the top of the list to fill an important ministry.

But Trudeau fils has always been the frontrunner in the race, and it was never likely that anyone would be able to dislodge what the Liberals believe is their last shot at returning to electoral viability.  Sure, six additional candidate remain in the race — including former justice minister Martin Cauchon, former leadership contender Martha Hall Findlay and British Columbia MP Joyce Murray, who has called for center-left unity with both the NDP and Canada’s Green Party.

Nonetheless, it seems ever more likely that Trudeau will now overwhelmingly win the Liberal leadership and, sure, he probably seems like the best chance that Liberals have to retake power, even if they would need to quintuple their current 35 seats in the House of Ridings in order to win a majority.  We still don’t know if Trudeau’s breezy success in politics to date will continue after he wins the Liberal leadership, though even former prime minister Jean Chrétien, the last Liberal to have widespread electoral success, agrees that the race — and, implicitly, Trudeau’s energetic campaign — has boosted Liberal fortunes.

Either way, the Liberal Party in 2013 is a far cry from the Liberal Party that governed Canada for 69 years in the 20th century — a party dominated by elites from Montréal, Toronto and Ottawa — and personified by Trudeau’s father, Pierre Trudeau, prime minister in the 1970s and 1980s.  Continue reading Trudeau now all but certain to become Liberal leader in Canada