observations and opinion
In recent years, those who believe in the idea of liberalism – small and big “L” – have watched with weary sadness as the political custodians of the Liberal Party have corroded its reputation and sundered its prospects. The next, and perhaps final fatal blow, looms this weekend.
It is easy to be sceptical about Justin Trudeau: the over-wrought eulogy for his father, the lack of personal accomplishment, the haircut and, most gravely, the sophomoric and disloyal musings about supporting Quebec separatism if the rest of Canada gets too right wing for his liking. He seems like a nice man born with a huge advantage in life, and an appetite for fame.
We don’t really know what he is made of, other than that. Yet one can fairly say that Justin Trudeau has done nothing to distinguish himself as a particularly astute thinker, politician or leader. He has self-promotional gifts, perhaps, but having been born in the brightest spotlight in Canadian political history, whatever shine he has is a reflected light, not something he emits. Despite all that, Mr. Trudeau is apparently days away from announcing his candidacy to lead Canada’s most accomplished political party, likely burying any other candidate who might surface.
We may not know who Justin really is, but his candidacy tells voters a great deal about the Liberal Party of Canada. Since losing its grip on power in 2006, the hope was that a few years of repentant and serious opposition would allow the party to find its soul again, re-earning Canadians’ respect. Instead, the party has been a chicken with its head cut off, clawing for an easy return to power. The 2006 leadership contest, riddled with stupid factionalism, led to the accidental election of the Liberals’ own version of Joe Clark – Stephane Dion. A well-intentioned, cerebral political amateur, Mr. Dion lost the party ground and then self-immolated at the time of the failed 2008 coalition.
After that, the party quickly annointed its “Pierre Trudeau Version 2.0” – the erudite, professorial, superior and vaguely foreign Michael Ignatieff. In 2011, Iggy let his handlers lead him by his aquiline nose into a stupid and unnecessary election. The Liberals’ reward from the voters: near obliteration. Bereft and in third place, the party grudgingly accepted the services of twice-scorned Bob Rae, whose talents and pluck kept them afloat, if not aloft. But the same instincts that resulted in such brilliant leadership decisions of 2003, 2006 and 2009 have in 2012, forced Rae out of the competition. The throne, to a much diminished kingdom, sits open.
So now, the Liberal Party sets its hungry eyes on the flowing mane, gleaming smile and solid-gold brand name of Justin Trudeau. And lo and behold, early opinion polls show that Trudeau the Younger could vault the party back into first place – back into its Natural Governing Party den, cozy again atop Parliament Hill. Liberal hearts flutter and loins tingle at the possibility. Well, not all Liberal hearts and loins, but probably enough to make the 2013 leadership contest, no contest at all.
What these Liberals do not understand, because so many of them are afflicted with it, is that the very capacity to think Justin Trudeau should be leader, is the thing which has made the party repugnant to the electorate. It is this impulse – the hunger for unearned power, steeped in a rich sense of entitlement and arrogance, and a very low opinion of the voters’ intelligence – that made the Liberal Party what it is today.
Every aspect of this is wrong. It is a wild mis-reading of the electorate to think they would fall for ANY name, much less the name “Trudeau” without reason other than nostalgia or sex appeal. It is wrong to want the voters to do so, because it betrays a contempt not only for the electorate but also for the importance of good government. It betrays the Liberal Party itself, which traditionally had more to offer than just glitz. It violates the national interest, pushing more voters to the right and left options, rather than attracting them to a serious, principled centrism.
The ultimate victim will be, ironically, Justin Trudeau. Here is a man who may contain unseen depths of talent and wisdom, who might have thrown his starpower behind a more experienced candidate – who might have served his party and country well, through hard times, emerging as a true leader in a few short years. Instead, he will allow himself to be used in a cynical and transparent attempt to win office without credentials or much effort. He will let himself be a package, into who knows what will be poured, that the electorate will gobble up. Or so the political wizards think.
But who outside the Liberal Party thinks it? Who thinks Mr. Trudeau is the best person to lead the country, which after all, should be the test? Who believes that even Liberals think Mr. Trudeau would be the best PM? Indeed, who believes that Justin Trudeau means anything more to Liberals, or to the voters at large, than does Justin Bieber? No-one, with the possible exception of Justin Trudeau.
The electorate won’t buy it. They will see that they are being played. They will not be blinded by Justin’s starpower, nor will they see his virtues. What they will see is a party which holds them in contempt. They will understand instantly that the Liberals think they are stupid, and they will not like it, and they will not vote for it.
Tonight, many Liberals are giddy at the sudden spurt of media attention triggered by the prospect of Mr. Trudeau’s candidacy. Those people should close their eyes for a moment and imagine Mr. Trudeau, drama teacher and lightweight boxer, in the ring with the heavyweight champ of Canadian politics. Who can doubt what Stephen Harper, the most brutal practitioner of politics we have ever seen in this country, will do to Mr. Trudeau? And with him, to his party?