Is Jean Chretien right — “today marks the beginning of the end of this Conservative government”?

Apr 15th, 2013 | By | Category: In Brief

[UPDATED APRIL 16]. MONDAY, APRIL 15, 2013. MOON RIVER.  Hélène Buzzetti at Le Devoir has probably said it best, in the official language of the first people who called themselves Canadians: “C’était écrit dans le ciel et le ciel aura vu juste. Justin Trudeau, le député de Papineau, la rock star de la politique fédérale canadienne, le fils de l’ancien premier ministre Pierre Elliott, a accédé dimanche soir au trône libéral. Un trône ayant certes perdu de son lustre, mais que le principal intéressé entend redorer d’ici l’élection de 2015.”

Social democrat partisans will stress that this past weekend did not belong to M. Trudeau alone  — even if he did win his Liberal Party of Canada’s leadership by a landslide. Some of us are annoyed (if far from surprised) that the New Democratic Party of Canada policy convention in Montreal could not bring itself to seriously consider the “Resolution on a Parliamentary Republic of Canada … Submitted by Chicoutimi-Le Fjord.”  From the standpoint of the party’s own immediate interests, it was no doubt more important to ensure that “NDP convention focuses on plan to take on Stephen Harper in next election.”

In fact, it seems that the New Democrats’ and the Conservatives’ initial criticisms of the new Liberal leader are rather similar. The Conservatives’ immediate reaction was that “Justin Trudeau may have a famous last name, but in a time of global economic uncertainty, he doesn’t have the judgment or experience to be prime minister.”   And, as another headline put the point: “NDP MPs at Montreal convention hear that they will counter possible Liberal resurgence following … election of Justin Trudeau as party leader with substance and experience — meaning NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair.”

In fact again, if two recent opinion polls can be believed, what looks like a Liberal resurgence for the moment has already begun. A Nanos poll conducted April 4 to 8 “has the Liberals in first place at 35.4 %. The Conservatives are …  at 31.3% and the NDP …  at 23.6%.”  According to a somewhat different Forum poll conducted April 2 : “The numbers show 33% of respondents would vote for the Liberal Party under outgoing leader Bob Rae, compared to 29% for Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. The Official Opposition NDP garners 25% support, while the Greens trail far behind at 6% …  when respondents are asked to picture Trudeau as the leader … the Liberals win 40% support to the Conservatives 28%.”

UPDATE APRIL 16: This just in,  as reported in the Toronto Sun: “Canada’s new Liberal leader, Justin Trudeau, would lead his party to a crushing election victory if a vote were held now, according to a poll released on Tuesday that put Liberal support substantially higher than other recent surveys have shown … The Forum Research poll, the first conducted since the son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was elected party leader on Sunday, has the Liberals at 43% and the Conservatives at 30% That amount of support would give the Liberals a solid majority government …  The Forum numbers would have been enough for the Liberals to win 170 of the 308 seats in the [Canadian] House of Commons …”

Can the magic touch last?

The most significant point in all this no doubt is that there will not be another Canadian federal election for more than two years, in 2015. A week is a long time in politics, etc, etc. As hard to remember as it may be now, there were similar bumps in Liberal opinion poll support when both Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff became Liberal leader. And Justin Trudeau does remain a largely unknown political commodity — even if : his “thin resumé could be an asset” ; or “Mulroney, Day and the business community: Justin Trudeau earns praise from unlikely sources” ; or “Trudeau has the magic touch: Anne McLellan … he also has what it takes to win in Alberta.”

You might wonder as well just how much better it will be for Canadian democracy if the Harper Conservatives who won a majority of seats in the Canadian House of Commons with just under 40% of the cross-Canada vote are replaced by the Trudeau II Liberals, who win a majority of seats with just under (or even just over) 40% of the cross-Canada vote.

Even on the most optimistic political arithmetic suggested by any of the polls extant, the only real chance for a government actually supported by a democratic majority of Canadians still lies in some form of Liberal-NDP or NDP-Liberal co-operation. (Even if neither Nathan Cullen nor Joyce Murray finally won their party leadership races.  There can still be co-operation after a 2015 vote that gives one or the other progressive party a minority government.)

You can of course say that we haven’t in fact had many governments supported by a democratic majority of actual Canadian voters, going back for many years now. But that nonetheless does seem to be an increasingly important part of the democratic malaise currently haunting the land in the early 21st century. (And in the past, more than a few policies of Liberal governments that didn’t quite have a majority of the popular vote did qualify for majority support when the NDP vote was added — in a world where, some would argue at any rate, New Democrats were just “Liberals in a hurry.”)

One optimistic thing about the current scene for the new Trudeau II Liberals is that even Conservative supporters among the punditocracy seem to be acknowledging a certain ”Harper weariness” in the air. Similarly, something about Justin Trudeau — something almost impossible to specify, perhaps — appears to inspire at least large numbers of people to feel better about their country and where it is going, and so forth. Whatever else he may or may not do, Mr. Harper does not really inspire even his own  part of the electorate. (And neither, more than a few might argue, does Mr. Mulcair. This argument may prove wrong in the end. “Tom Mulcair” may suddenly start grabbing the mass imagination, in the midst of an election campaign, say. But that has not happened yet.)

Justin Trudeau’s kind of “magic touch” can always vanish almost overnight, no doubt. But the new Conservative attack ads saying he is “in way over his head” seem a little weary in their own right. And one thing almost all the recent polls do appear to show is a significant enough slide in Harper Conservative support since the 2011 election.  (Oh and btw, this also just in: “Analysis: Canadians losing faith in economic ‘miracle’.”) Jean Chretien may have been quite wrong when he said yesterday that  “today marks the beginning of the end of this Conservative government.” But you don’t have to be a strident supporter of either the Liberals or the New Democrats to think, at least for the moment right now, that he may finally prove to be quite right.

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