AMAC Exclusive – by Daniel Roman
Justin Trudeau, Canada’s Prime Minister, became an icon of international liberalism almost immediately upon his rise to power. With Obama aging into cynicism, the election of the young, attractive Trudeau, famous for shirtless boxing pictures, allowed center-left liberals not just in Canada, but in America and Britain as well to imagine that the Obama era did not need to end. “We lost because we had Hillary rather than Justin,” whispered millions of Democrats after 2016, as they opened their wallets first to Beto O’Rourke and then Pete Buttigieg. Ignored were voices of reality, even those from the Canadian left, who said that Justin was an empty suit, that he hugged animals while taking cheques from oil companies (often into his party’s coffers), and that he presided over a government short on policy and heavy on graft–one which showed as much respect for its female and non-white members as Justin did when he donned blackface for a faculty party as a teacher.
The myth of Justin Trudeau carried a young man with few assets other than physical attractiveness and a famous father to the heights of power. But reality has a way of seeking a reckoning. In July, Trudeau, expecting to ride a wave of post-COVID euphoria while simultaneously using the current U.S. Delta Surge to provide a contrast with U.S. Republican governors, called an election for September 20th, two years ahead of schedule. A month later, everything has gone wrong. Trudeau’s Liberal Party is in free fall in the polls, and the Prime Minister faces hecklers wherever he tries to speak, which is not often, as Trudeau now claims he is too busy dealing with Afghanistan to properly answer questions.
Trudeau’s current political travails are yet another example of the script that the global elite wrote in 2020, one in which populism was on the retreat, and cultured, elite, technocratic progressivism, was on the rise, not playing out according to plan. It is not just Hispanic voters in Texas, or suburban parents in middle America angry about CRT and closed schools who are revolting in America. Nor is it just working-class and Muslim voters in Britain, or cosmopolitan city-dwellers in Madrid. Now, the Great Realignment is even coming for those idealized as “liberals”, Canadians. Canadian voters seem ready to throw out the Liberal Party, one of the most successful political machines in the Western world, and to repudiate its leader, the icon of post-Obama charismatic liberalism, Justin Trudeau.
Few politicians have better represented the policy vacuum that characterizes modern western politics in the 21st century than Justin Trudeau. Having become an MP on the basis of his last name alone, and risen to the leadership of Canada’s historic ruling party by virtue of its decimation to a tenth of the federal parliament in 2011, Trudeau proceeded to benefit from his own weakness and that of his party. Neither the Conservatives led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, nor the New Democrats, now headed by the serious-minded Quebec politician Thomas Mulcair, took the young leader seriously. With 30 MPs, no experience in government or the private sector, and stuck in third place in the polls, why would they have?
Instead, the assumption was that the 2015 election would be fought between the Conservatives and the New Democrats. This calculation was to prove fateful for both parties. For the Conservatives, it seems to have persuaded an exhausted Stephen Harper to remain as leader. Having done more than anyone else to create the modern Conservative party, uniting a fragmented Right in 2003, and over the course of four elections taking them to a majority, Harper seemed visibly run-down by 2014. His mission, the destruction of the Liberal Party, hated for so long in his native Alberta, seemed complete. With few policies left to promote, the government seemed to lack an agenda. The Conservative ratings in the polls steadily fell from 40% to 30%.
Harper should likely have stepped down, ideally in 2014 to allow his chosen successor a year to establish themselves as incumbent Prime Minister, but Canadian Prime Ministers have a history of sabotaging their successors and their parties by remaining too long. In 1984, Justin Trudeau’s father left his successor, John Turner, with a mere three months, and saddled him with midnight patronage appointments which both proved an anchor on his campaign and denied him a majority. In 1993 and 2003, Brian Mulroney and Jean Chretien waited until the last minute to hand power to successors. Harper’s position was complicated by the lack of an obvious heir. His official heir, Peter MacKey, was seen as far too left-wing for the party, an impression proved correct when he was crushed in the most recent Conservative leadership contest. Under the impression the campaign would be against a socialist National Democratic Party (NDP) aligned with Quebec separatists, Harper seems to have convinced himself that despite poor polls and the lack of any public rationale for another term, he could win reelection by running a scare campaign.
Thomas Mulcair seemed to agree with Harper. Mulcair also dismissed any prospect of a Liberal revival, instead believing that 2015 would be between himself and a tired Harper. It was an election the NDP should win unless Harper was able to paint the party as too extreme. Mulcair therefore dedicated every waking hour of his leadership to fostering the opposite impression and broke with long-held NDP positions. In the leadup to 2015, the NDP dropped almost all mention of policy positions from its messaging. The NDP insisted that it would change nothing other than to remove Stephen Harper.
This meant that when the 2015 election campaign began, Justin Trudeau was an unblemished figure, offering youth, charisma, a famous name, and inspiration for change. The Conservatives warned of radical change if the NDP won, and the NDP insisted that if they won, nothing would change. In such an environment, it is hardly surprising that the Liberals, from a third place start in the polls, surged and won a majority. The Liberals won 184 seats from a mere 34 in the previous parliament. The Tories won a mere 99, down from 166, and the NDP was reduced to from 103 to 44.
The result was a personal triumph for Trudeau. Not only did he hold a strong majority, but less than 20% of his MPs had served in parliament prior to his leadership. There was no “before times.” His position was further strengthened by the bloodletting that followed. The NDP rapidly ousted Mulcair and resumed a far-left ideological position, allowing Trudeau to pose as a centrist, while the Conservatives fell into a series of leadership crises.
If Trudeau’s political success before becoming Prime Minister owed almost everything to exploiting vacuums left by his opponents, the same has been true of his tenure as Prime Minister. His government pursued a limited legislative agenda and was rocked by constant scandals, even by Canadian Liberal standards. He suffered revelations of personal use of blackface and financial irregularities. He also forced out his Attorney General, Canada’s first indigenous Minister, when she objected to his demands that investigations into a major Liberal donor be dropped.
Trudeau managed by and large to dodge the consequences of these actions by resorting to the politics of image. With Barack Obama’s replacement by Donald Trump in the U.S., Trudeau tried to present himself as Obama’s natural successor both at home and abroad. To those familiar with his career this seemed laughable, except perhaps to those who were also intimately aware of the smoke and mirror show that represented Barack Obama’s public life.
There were signs, however, that this strength was an illusion, notably in 2019 when Trudeau faced his second election. While the Liberals won the most seats, 157 out of 338, they actually won less votes than the Conservatives by 1%, benefiting from the natural geographic advantage for the Liberals, winning a mere 33% of the vote. This came after having entered the campaign with a substantial polling lead, and only after disingenuously suggesting the Conservative leader wished to ban abortion and same-sex marriage.
Having very nearly lost one election, one might assume that Trudeau would be hesitant of calling another, but flush with confidence on the back of COVID’s apparent retreat, Trudeau called an election for September 20, 2021 this past July, more than two years before it was legally scheduled. In an effort to trap the Conservatives, Trudeau announced vaccine mandates for all state employees and major workplaces the very same day, evidently hoping that this would allow him to frame the new Conservative leader, Erin O’Toole, as aligned with U.S. Republican governors such as Ron DeSantis of Florida. It was widely declared a masterstroke by the media.
Then everything went wrong. For one thing, O’Toole didn’t take the bait. He evaded the trap, backing allowing employers to require vaccine mandates, and leaving it up to provinces, Canada’s version of states. Having dispensed with one issue, O’Toole left Trudeau with nothing to campaign on. What did he need a majority for? What could he pass with another majority that he could not pass with the existing parliament? If COVID-19 was such an emergency that it required vaccine mandates and masks indoors, then why was Trudeau forcing the nation to go through an unneeded election which was one big, 40 million-person, super spreader event?
“Erin O’Toole has pro-life candidates!” seemed to be the retort from the Liberals, suddenly reeling in search of a message. So they did, but they also had their first ever transgender candidate running in Vancouver. The election call began to look like a cynical power-grab, and the Liberals, having led in the polls for nearly two years, first fell into a tie, and in recent days, fell behind the Conservatives. Two of Canada’s top pollsters, Mainstreet and Ekos, have Liberals trailing by 8% and 6%, respectively.
To make matters worse, the right-wing People’s Party (PPC) led by former Conservative Cabinet Minister Maxime Bernier, has reinvented itself as the only party to break from the consensus by opposing lockdowns and vaccine mandates outright. While not a majority position, Canadians who have been in lockdown as recently as six weeks ago seem to be tired of it, and the party has gone from 2% to 6-7%. Shockingly, much of this support seems to have come from disaffected Liberals and NDP supporters, pushing the combined Conservative and PPC vote to 40-42%, which is around where the center-right vote was in 2011 when it was enough for a majority.
However, it may still be premature to welcome a Conservative government under Prime Minister O’Toole. The electoral system still favors the Liberals, as evidenced in 2019 when they lost the popular vote 34.3% to 33.1% but led 157 to 121 in seats. But the Liberals under Trudeau have now placed themselves in the same position Harper was in back in 2015. They are in the middle of an election campaign no one wanted, with no rationale for why Trudeau called for elections, and no idea of what they want to do if they retain power. Ideologically, they have no policies. Strategically, their only option is Harper’s in reverse, to attack O’Toole as right-wing so that enough NDP voters vote for Liberals to stop him.
That strategy may work. But history is against it. Canadian ruling parties that have slipped early in election campaigns due to lack of a message are more apt to implode entirely, as seen by the Liberals in 1984 and 2004, and the Conservatives in 1993 and 2015. Even 2019 saw the Liberals squander a 7%-8% lead into a 1% deficit. Trudeau’s numbers are on the way down.
Most concerning for Liberals, his numbers are on the way down because he has nothing to say. The Emperor has no clothes. In fairness, he never has worn much in the way of policy or achievements, but until now that absence has been disguised by the errors of others. This time he has no one to blame but himself, his cynicism, his lack of achievements, and the emptiness of his public career. All stands exposed to the whole world.