Can Justin Trudeau be defeated in the next Canadian federal election?

May 8th, 2018 | By | Category: Ottawa Scene

Justin Trudeau and family visit Taj Mahal in India, February 2018.

Has the prime minister of Canada reached rock bottom in his current troubles when no less than the UK-based Guardian complains : “Justin Trudeau is waging a phony war against inequality”?

And, after some two months too long in the wilderness, does Prime Minister Trudeau (II) now have nowhere to go but up?  (Or is he inexorably going down, from here on in?)

To start with, less than three weeks ago CBC opinion poll analyst Éric Grenier reported : “A new poll suggests the federal Liberals have recovered from their post-India slump, regaining a commanding lead over the Conservatives … It also indicates that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s base of support has gotten softer – a sign that his ill-fated trip to the subcontinent might have had a longer-term impact.”

For the recovery side of the picture see “Liberals 41, Conservatives 29, NDP 16, Green 8 … Nanos Weekly Tracking, ending April 13, 2018 … (released April 17, 2018 – 6 am Eastern).”

Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump at the White House, October 2017. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images.

And then see “Liberals 39, Conservatives 31, NDP 18, Green 6 … Nanos Weekly Tracking, ending April 27, 2018 (released May 1, 2018 – 6 am Eastern)” – for some potential “longer-term impact.” For a much worse view of continued softening in Liberal support see the latest Forum Research federal poll, released on April 27 : “Conservative Majority if an Election Held Now.”

And finally, for something in between, see the Ipsos “online survey of 1,907 Canadians conducted between April 24 and 30, 2018,” and released on May 4 : Liberals 36, Conservatives 35, NDP 20, Green 6. (Oh and BQ 3 – and all summarized by Global News with “Liberals gain more public approval as memory of India trip fades: Ipsos poll.”)

There is also an argument that, regardless of the trip to India, Justin Trudeau is at that point in his term of office when things start going wobbly. Éric Grenier investigated this claim a month ago now, in “For Trudeau, a normal mid-mandate slump in the polls? Not really … The Liberals’ slump … is not unheard of at this stage of their mandate, but it is far from routine.”

A very young Justin Trudeau in canoe with his father.

Two recent mainstream media pieces have nonetheless pondered this theme : “‘Time has run out’ on Trudeau government, says Harper’s ex-chief of staff,” by Monique Scotti at Global News ; and “Justin Trudeau fighting ghost of Stephen Harper, struggling with ghost of his own father … As first mandate ticks down, the PM is starting to think about how he’ll be remembered,” by Susan Delacourt in the Toronto Star.

Yet there seems some sense as well in which various elements in the Canadian political system have been doing their best to groom Justin Trudeau for the same kind of safe-to-hate-object in public life that Kathleen Wynne has lately been saddled with in Ontario.

He is not a formidable gay woman with a public same-sex partner in later life. But he has been someone who talks about ideals that are always hard to realize in the real world of politics.

Justin Trudeau in the hot seat : some key current cases

Young Justin Trudeau and his father with Margaret Thatcher outside 10 Downing Street in London, June 1980.

The Guardian’s complaint that “Justin Trudeau is waging a phony war against inequality”is just one case in point.

(And when Luke Savage urges that Trudeau’s talk about inequality “is plainly the language of technocratic management, not moral urgency; first and foremost an appeal to the self-interest of elites rather than a coherent political demand directed at the powerful,” he just betrays his own ignorance of the real world that even progressive mainstream politicians like Justin Trudeau – or Barack Obama for that matter – accept as beyond radical reorganization, by whatever means.)

Note six further key current cases :

(1) ALIENATING IBBITSON’S “MANLEY LIBERALS” : John Ibbitson sheds some conservative crocodile tears over “Trudeau’s student-grant kerfuffle is the latest act that could alienate Manley Liberals” – ie old-school right-wing Grits who sometimes vote Conservative, and who Mr. Ibbitson claims are crucial to winning the 2019 federal election for Justin Trudeau.

Justin Trudeau addresses Assembly of First Nations in Gatineau, Quebec, May 2018. Justin Tang / The Canadian Press.

(2) CANNABIS LEGAL BY SUMMER : “Trudeau vows cannabis will be legal by summer as senators urge delay … Senate’s Aboriginal Peoples committee is recommending a delay of up to a year.” (Though unelected senators, however appointed, don’t have the real power to do such things in today’s Canadian democracy, and haven’t had for more than a century at least.)

(3) INDIGENOUS RIGHTS AGENDA NEEDS TIME : “‘We are all impatient’: Trudeau promises First Nations leaders fundamental change… PM says Liberal government has enacted major changes that will be difficult for others to undo.” See also, from Mark Bonokoski in the Sun papers : “First Nations to Justin Trudeau: Don’t walk on our grass!” ; and, from the Globe and Mail : “Justin Trudeau says Indigenous rights agenda needs time.”

(4) TWO-FACED CLIMATE GAME, I : “Justin Trudeau’s Two-Faced Climate Game,”Â  by Damien Gillis,  a documentary filmmaker and journalist in British Columbia, writing in the New York Times (with an eye on the Trans Mountain pipeline issue in Alberta and BC, part I) : “The young, charismatic Mr. Trudeau … was ideally positioned to shift the country to a greener future … Yet more than halfway through his mandate, he has adopted the backward energy and economic policies of his predecessor Stephen Harper … not a climate crusader, but a pipeline pitchman who tells the world one thing while doing the opposite at home.”

Justin Trudeau with his daughter and older son and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, at the Calgary Stampede.

(What Mr. Gillis forgets is that Justin Trudeau is a democratic party politician who wants to be re-elected, in a country with a currency sometimes called a “petro dollar.”)

(5) ENVIRONMENTAL BASKET CASE AND LOUSY OIL MERCHANT, II : The serious parallel with the late 1980s and early 1990s eludes some of us. But Paul Wells presents Trans Mountain pipeline issue, part II in “A reminder to Trudeau: Canada barely survived Brian Mulroney’s constitutional blunders … Under the Trudeau Liberals, Canada could end up an environmental basket case and a lousy oil merchant …”

This challenges Justin Trudeau’s attempt to blend environmental and energy policies in constructive ways, on the old argument that when you try to make everyone happy you finally just make everyone mad. Yet the Alberta economy does seem to be improving as international oil prices rise again. And the serious constitutional issue regarding conflicts among federal and provincial (and increasingly indigenous?) powers is nicely sketched in a Globe and Mail article by Eric M. Adams, who “teaches and researches constitutional law at the University of Alberta.”

Justin Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron in Sicily for G7 meeting, May 2017.

Mr Adams points out that “the constitutional framers were right about the underlying objectives of the project of division itself: the preservation of provincial diversity and the promotion of national unity … It is the contradiction between the unity and diversity inherent in Canada’s overlapping constitutional jurisdictions that creates the capacity for our intense national disagreements, but also the constitutional theory that makes Canada work.”

(And my own view would be that Canada has now in fact survived Brian Mulroney’s constitutional blunders rather nicely. It’s time for someone else, ideally with Eric Adams’s wisdom, to try some new blunders – though I have my doubts that this will be Justin Trudeau.)

(6) FEMALE EQUALITY AND HELPING THE DOOMED KATHLEEN WYNNE? : The pursuit of male-female equality is an ideal Justin Trudeau delivered on right after he was elected prime minister – with his half-female cabinet. Helping Ontario’s beleaguered first female premier in the forthcoming June 7 election in that province fits from this and other angles.

Justin Trudeau and wife Sophie Gregoire with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and his wife Angelica Rivera at the Palacio Nacional in Mexico City, October 2017. Sean Kilpatrick, The Canadian Press.

If Wynne does finally lose, as all the polls currently predict, that may even be to Justin Trudeau’s advantage. There is a fabled historical argument that Liberal governments in Ottawa are more stable when matched by Conservative governments in Ontario (and/or vice-versa).

Meanwhile see Premier Wynne’s May 4 tweet : “We’re investing $110 million, matched by the federal government, to secure a $1.4 billion investment from Toyota that will make Cambridge and Woodstock the North American manufacturing hub for the #RAV4, protect 8,000+ good auto sector jobs in Ontario and add 450 more.”

(See also the Canadian Press article : “Toyota Canada plants to get $1.4B upgrade; Ottawa, Ontario to pitch in … Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks as Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne looks on during a visit to the TMMC Toyota Manufacturing facility in Cambridge, Ont. on Friday, May 4, 2018.” And note Marieke Walsh in ipolitics on “Trudeau dropping in on Wynne days before election campaign.”)

Conclusions in an inconclusive country where political discussion is ultimately futile

Justin Trudeau takes time out at New York boxing gym, April 2016. His father gave him boxing lessons, just like his grandfather gave his father boxing lessons.

* One conclusion was suggested by Liberal guru Warren Kinsella not too long ago : if you’re making bets on the 2019 federal election, the smart money will still tell you that the best bet among Liberal Justin Trudeau, Conservative Andrew Scheer, New Democrat Jagmeet Singh, and Green Party leader Elizabeth May is still Justin Trudeau … (and even by something close to a country mile?) That at least is my own key current opinion as well.

* Another conclusion is think of the original Prime Minister Trudeau (I) : He did so poorly after his first term in office that he could only manage a minority government in 1972, supported until 1974 by David Lewis’s New Democrats … And then he went on in the early 1980s to finally “patriate” Canada’s constitution from the United Kingdom, and enshrine the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (well, the sovereigntist Quebec provincial government of the day did not exactly agree, but …).

* Justin Trudeau in the very end may be more like his mother from BC than his father from Quebec. (Which may make him a better politician too, if not as deep a thinker?) But he’s still trying to “set Canada on a path forward” in various ways (even if his Senate reform policy still looks pretty much like a failure to me!). He may never do anything sensible about the outstanding constitutional issues Canada still does need to address at some point in the 21st century (starting with the unique province of Quebec’s formally signing on to the Constitution Act, 1982). But he is trying to do something about and with the Canada that belongs to the Canadian people, beyond minding the store competently on behalf of those who are striving to get rich in the private sector economy. (Or who are following the notorious advice of the 19th century French conservative politician François Guizot : “Enrichissez-vous.”)

Justin Trudeau with son and daughter at NHL playoff game in Montreal, May 2014.

* When all is said and done Harold Innis in the late 1940s may still have said it best : “As evidence of the futility of political discussion in Canada, there were Liberals who deplored the activities of the federal administration in no uncertain terms but always concluded with what was to them an unanswerable argument – ‘What is the alternative?’ In one’s weaker moments the answer does appear conclusive, but what a comment on political life …”

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  1. Excellent, if not brilliant, article about Trudeau including some excellent photos drawing on the Canadian fascination with canoes, brightly coloured clothes and breasts. Focus on the family is a good strategy and ending with the Harold Innis shrug ‘…but what is the alternative? sums up the difficulty of understanding Canadian politics where the conservatives govern like liberals and the liberals etc., etc. I think it might be premature to elect someone with Singh as a last name.

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