Is new Liberal non-strategy working well enough (except for the monarchy)?

Jan 29th, 2020 | By | Category: In Brief
“passing thoughts” by prize-winning Toronto artist Michael Seward, January 2020.

The most striking political thing I’ve heard lately came from a lady on the 39th floor of a downtown Toronto residential tower — over grapes, nuts and Perrier water, looking south out a big window on the naked city in all its current wonder.

She follows Canadian federal politics with real interest, but without any great pretence of the sort so many of us over-persuaded by our own wisdom frequently exhibit. And she is starting to wonder if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is even going to run in the next election.

“Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to members of caucus on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Thursday, January 23, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld.”

She has seen how the once ebullient 40-something PM — even viewed through the inexact media prisms we ordinary voters rely on — has seemed different, much quieter say, since the October 2019 election, in which his Liberal “natural governing party of Canada” won only a minority government.

(As have various earlier incarnations of Liberal governments on the old Ottawa River canoe route, including Justin Trudeau’s father’s in 1972. And as did two of Stephen Harper’s three recent Conservative governments, in 2006 and 2008.)

After some deliberation the view that PM Trudeau may not even run in the next Canadian federal election finally strikes me as an interesting extreme explanation of the unusually big role he has given Chrystia Freeland in his new cabinet.

In any case I’d of course agree that, especially since he returned from his year-end holidays with a greying beard, he does seem more cautious and less warm and friendly than he was after his first majority government win in the 2015 election.

Now there’s the estimable Chris Hall on the CBC News site as well : “If there’s anything to be said about the Liberal minority government so far, it’s this: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his inner circle don’t seem to be in a hurry to do much of anything.”

Deputy PM Chrystia Freeland with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney in Edmonton, late November 2019. (Amber Bracken/CP).

Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez has responded to Mr. Hall’s recent queries with : “We have a full set of agenda that’s coming. Look at the throne speech …”

Chris Hall notes that the “speech, delivered Dec. 5, does provide clues … strengthening the middle class, continuing ‘to walk the road of reconciliation’ with Indigenous people and positioning Canada for success in an uncertain world.”

Abacus Data’s latest Canada-wide opinion poll, taken January 19–20, 2020, also suggests the current Trudeau Liberal non-strategy may be working well enough : “If an election were held at the time of the survey, the Liberals would win 34%, the Conservatives 30% … followed by the NDP at 17%, the Greens at 8%, and the BQ at 6% … In Alberta and Saskatchewan, the Conservatives have a massive 37-point lead over the Liberals. In the rest of the country, the Liberals hold a 10-point lead.”

Meanwhile, I offer a note on a suitably less serious issue.

Justin Trudeau and the governor general he appointed (technically through the Queen), Julie Payette — at the December 5, 2019 reading of the Speech from the Throne. Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/La Presse Canadienne.

There have been various hints over the past number of years that “senior officials advising Prime Minister Justin Trudeau” include some who believe the federal Liberals should, presumably to help firm up the alleged right wing of their popular support base, at least intermittently show warmth towards the dying embers of the British monarchy in Canada.

A few days ago the Canadian Press reported that a “memo provided to Trudeau shortly after the Liberals won re-election last fall” noted how an advisory committee established by Stephen Harper “to offer up names” for appointments of “the governor general and provincial lieutenant-governors” has not met since the 2015 election.

As explained by the Canadian Press : “The task of coming up with candidates for vice-regal appointments — including Gov. Gen. Julie Payette, who was named in 2017 — has been left with the Prime Minister’s Office and its bureaucratic arm, the Privy Council Office.”

The memo sent to Trudeau shortly after the October 2019 election — which the Canadian Press “obtained through the Access to Information Act” — suggested Trudeau consider “re-engaging” the advisory committee to “give greater structure to the identification of potential candidates.”

PM Justin Trudeau with Queen Elizabeth II at Scottish Palace of Holyroodhouse, July 2017.

My own idea of how to choose a “Governor General and Commander in Chief of Canada” in the 21st century is the same as my colleague Randall White’s in “Happy Canada Day 2018 : Electing the Governor General could make a lot of sense in the 21st century.”

And one of my personal big disappointments in the Trudeau Liberals is how ultimately gutless and wimpish they have been in standing up for Canadian parliamentary democracy, and against the future of the aristocratic British monarchy (and even what Franklin Delano Roosevelt called “economic royalists”) in northern North America.

This might not stop me from voting for the Trudeau Liberals when all the alternatives are considered. But it does stop me from giving money and joining in on what they recurrently seem to be casting as a serious progressive political movement.

It‘s worth remembering, I think, that even at the peak of their electoral popularity in the 2015 election the Trudeau Liberals — like the Harper Conservatives before them — won a majority government with no more than 40% of the Canada-wide popular vote.

My own guess is also that the Liberals could become something like a real majority party of progress in Canada today if they ever did move solidly onto what the Constitution Act. 1982 calls the “free and democratic” bandwagon, and plan for some polite and constructive disengagement from the monarchy in Buckingham Palace across the seas (more or less like the Labor Party in Australia?), at the end of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.

Looking south at downtown Toronto on a snowy early evening in December. GETTY IMAGES/Katrin Ray Shumakov.

The ultimate problem here, it may be, is that too many of the senior officials who might write memos in this direction are in the NDP! Even so … as I return to my memories of the 39th floor over grapes, nuts and Perrier water, deep downtown in the current largest Canadian metropolis, I recall how on our last visit the same political lady suggested that if it weren’t for the resurgence of the Bloc Québécois Justin Trudeau would have won a majority government in 2019 as well.

That I think is altogether true — which almost makes me start to wonder if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is even going to run in the next election myself.

But for the moment I’m still guessing he will.

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