Full Pundit: Canada re-embraces the Liberals.

Chris Selley

National Post

This will be interesting.
What happens next?
“Stephen Harper simply wore out his welcome,” Sun Media’s David Akin observes. “And MPs from his Conservative Party and from Thomas Mulcair’s NDP paid with their jobs.” Canadians wanted change; it seems they wanted it in even greater numbers than they did in 2006; Justin Trudeau was the “change agent” they chose. Sorry, Mr. Mulcair. Congratulations, Mr. Trudeau.
There are many ways in which Justin is not like Pierre Elliott. For one thing, Graeme Hamilton observes in the National Post, Pierre was “parachuted into one of Canada’s safest Liberal ridings when he entered politics in 1965,” whereas Justin slogged it out in Papineau. Whereas Pierre “famously proved his mettle when he refused to leave the reviewing stand at the St-Jean-Baptiste parade in Montreal as protesters hurled rocks and bottles,” Justin proved it “in batting aside the relentless negative messaging thrown at him” ever since he arrived on the scene. You have to give the man his due.
Oh, and extra points to Hamilton for not mentioning that stupid bloody boxing match, which obviously did not matter. Let us never speak of it again.
Alain Dubuc, writing in La Presse, cautions against selling Trudeau short. He did more than just exceed low expectations and tug at our hope-strings. “He scored points off seasoned opponents,” says Dubuc. And he displayed an “ability to occupy the centre,” where most Canadians want their prime ministers to be.
Now that he’s set to become prime minister, mind you, he’s got some agenda to fulfil from the centre. The Liberal platform was pretty ambitious; one wonders if its authors really thought he’d be in a position to implement all of it.
“The smile that spread across the lips of the Canadian elites during the last week of this election, when Harper was reduced to posing with Rob Ford and his brother , … was almost wolfish,” Neil Macdonald writes in a good piece at CBC. And the elites will no doubt have been chuffed with Trudeau’s very Obama-lite speech. But the fact is, as Macdonald says, “Trudeau now bears the weight of impossible expectations that he himself largely created.” And “it didn’t take long for Obama to hit a bog of reality once his public rapture wore off six years ago.”
The world is going to come at Justin Trudeau pretty fast now. This will be interesting
The Globe and Mail’s Campbell Clark observes there’s a G20 summit coming up in three weeks; he imagines Trudeau’s “plan to withdraw from the air strikes against Islamic State… will be of interest” there. (Indeed. While a few Canadian jets doesn’t make much of a difference either way, it’s a bit of a clunker as one of his first acts in office. Trudeau has never explained why the mission is sound, but not Canada’s role in it.)
Then there’s the climate change summit in December, after which Trudeau is committed to “hammering out a federal-provincial (emissions) deal within 90 days.” Back at home, says Clark, Trudeau is going to have to put together a cabinet and figure out how to conduct himself in such a way that honours his hopey-changey promises of politics-done-differently while also of necessity “imposing (his) authority.”
The Financial Post’s Terence Corcoran suspects Trudeau’s headline economic promises will soon fade into the background once he starts dealing “with the real drivers of the Canadian economy — the price of oil, persistent global economic uncertainty, Middle East conflicts, the international refugee crises, trade agreements, international and local debt, along with the great global monetary policy muddle and the future of interest rates in the United States.”
Climate is first on the agenda at next month’s Paris summit, and Corcoran doesn’t like the tight timeline. “There is therefore some risk of stumbling into an international carbon control regime that will damage the Canadian economy,” he argues. If so, hopefully it’ll be another regime the Liberals can just ignore.
Adam Dodek, writing in the Globe, explores Trudeau’s very ambitious democratic reform agenda: decentralizing power to his cabinet and letting members actually talk about their files to the media; liberating backbench MPs to be themselves and speak their minds; “reinvigorating” the public service and enforcing transparency upon it; and following through on some kind of non-constitutional Senate reform. It’s not just a matter of reverting to pre-Harper days, as Dodek says. “In many cases — like the concentration of power in the PMO — Mr. Harper did not create the problem, but continued and exacerbated it,” he reminds us.
In that regard, at Policy Options, Dan Gardner offers some sage policymaking advice to the Liberals: resist the urge to undo things or do the opposite of things just because Stephen Harper did those things; and recognize that Canada was not perfect before Harper came along. The status quo ante isn’t the goal; improvement is. (The obvious exception is home mail delivery, which achieved perfection late in 2003.) Criminal sentencing is a perfect example, as Gardner says. They could “simply go down the list of newly passed mandatory minimums and repeal them one by one” — but the Criminal Code has been “a mess” for decades. So address the mess!
Dodek doesn’t even mention electoral reform, incidentally, and on Tuesday Trudeau reiterated his commitment that Monday’s would be our last first-past-the-post election.Bernard Descôteaux, writing in Le Devoir, suspects the New Democrats will firmly be reminding him of that commitment as time goes on. We’d frankly be astonished if Trudeau made good on that promise, but depending on what they come up with we’re prepared to be pleasantly astonished.
Trudeau’s agenda is not an incrementalist one like Harper’s, the Post’s Michael Den Tandt observes. And a wide-open governance style would be at odds with his “disciplined and gaffe-free” campaign. “With glasnost, and the broad loosening of the PM’s grip on cabinet and caucus that would accompany it, will come opportunities for mistakes,” as Den Tandt says. “It remains to be seen to what extent Trudeau and his advisors will tolerate the risk of relaxing central control.”
Oh, dear. Richard Martineau is unimpressed. “So the new prime minister will be a former drama teacher who wouldn’t even be qualified to run a small-to-medium-sized enterprise,” he writes in Le Journal de Montréal. His misery-guts colleague Mathieu Bock-Côté is even less impressed, lamenting that Quebecers have returned in such numbers to a party and a family name with such a “morbid aversion to Quebec and hostility in principle to any constitutional recognition of its identity.”
“The Québécois people clearly have no political memory,” Bock-Côté concludes. It makes him question their survival instinct. But then, a rainy summer morning or a sub-par meal makes him question Quebecers’ survival instinct.
Given the history, you would have expected the Liberal surge to have driven some votes to the Bloc Québécois, Michel David observes in Le Devoir: if the NDP were on the way out, better for sovereigntists to park their vote somewhere safe and warm. Nope. David therefore asks: “Must we conclude that Quebecers are now ready to accept Canadian federalism, to wipe clean the slate on repatriating the constitution, the Clarity Act and the sponsorship scandal?”
Yup! We’ll never hear about those things again.
In La Presse’s editorial, Pascale Breton notes that Quebec in general and Montreal specifically now have far more clout in Ottawa than they have had in years. (Get readyfor your new toll-free Champlain Bridge, Montrealers!)
But the Edmonton Journal’s Graham Thomson wonders who will now speak for mostly blue-and-orange Alberta. “Is it the province’s Conservative MPs? … Is it the four Liberal MLAs? … Is it Premier Rachel Notley, who proudly and loudly backed the wrong horse?” Thomson sees some common ground between Notley and Trudeau on oil patch matters; it’s certainly better news for her than another Conservative government in Ottawa. But her counterproductive intervention still stands as “her first real stumble,” in Thomson’s view.
What happened
It’s a myth that governments usually defeat themselves, argues Postmedia’s Andrew Coyne. But Stephen Harper’s Conservatives? Yeah, they defeated themselves — with a “dull, purposeless” campaign amounting to little more than “a series of morosely staged photo ops featuring Stephen Harper with nothing really to announce.” Mind you, Coyne says, they were so unpopular beforehand — again largely thanks to their own actions — that only a minority was likely in play anyway, and “only if the opposition vote remained almost perfectly evenly divided.”
Tom Flanagan, writing in the Globe, argues the Conservative campaign was far too short on positive elements that hadn’t already been announced, such as the Child Care Allowance, income splitting and tax-free savings accounts — which the Liberals were easily able to counter with their own giant novelty cheques.
“At its best, the Conservative campaign was lacklustre. Where was the bold plan for the future? The new initiatives?” John Ibbitson asks in the Globe. “At its worst, the campaign was debased. The niqab debate. The Ford brothers.” Oh right. That actually happened.
The Tory base came out, Andrew MacDougall notes in the Ottawa Citizen. No problem there. “The problem for Harper is that was it,” he says. “As a result, the Liberals grew from 34 seats to form a majority government. It might have been Iggy who told Liberals to ‘rise up’ but it was Trudeau who produced the electoral Viagra that has put the Liberals back in pole position.”
OK, that was totally unnecessary.
Harper “could not articulate a single bold thing he wanted to do if given one last term in power,” the Globe’s Adam Radwanski observes. And while “the Tories were less guilty than the New Democrats of underestimating Mr. Trudeau,” he argues “they overestimated … the ability of Mr. Harper to win over swing voters in the absence of much resembling a forward-looking agenda.” Instead they spent all their times “attacking the alternatives.”
Jason Kenney delivered a quote for the ages in Calgary last night, as related by Susan Delacourt at iPolitics: “I think where we went wrong was on tone.” We think he’s dead right, and he can tell it to the mirror. At immigration he did any number of unpopular things the Liberals did as well, and created about 10,000 times the controversy they did, for the simple reason that he seemed to revel in doing them.
The Toronto Star’s Tim Harper suggests Kenney’s leadership prospects may have been seriously damaged Monday, so “inextricably tied” is he to “this night of infamy.” Indeed. No disrespect intended to the guy, but he is simply of the wrong temperament to be the next leader of this party.
Delacourt hopes the “consumers who went to the ballot box looking for discounts on their taxes in the past few elections may have remembered that they were citizens as well as ‘taxpayers’ in this one.” A nice idea, but there was no shortage of basic economic pitches in the Liberal campaign, was there?
The Calgary Herald’s Don Braid provides a little perspective: as thumpings go, this is hardly “catastrophic” for the Tories. “With victories in 99 ridings, they remain a significant political force that could easily revive with a popular new leader, one with some gift for human contact that Harper could never muster in public,” he writes. Kenney has that gift, no question. After Monday’s defeat he “almost immediately said the party needs a ‘sunnier’ and more optimistic conservatism,” Braid observes. But fairly or not, he’s also seen as a cartoon villain.
“Harper will wear this defeat for all time,” Chantal Hébert writes in the Star — and not just the defeat, but the epic Liberal comeback in reasonably good economic times. ”Whether the Conservatives can agree on a successor without tearing the party apart is not a given.”
Ibbitson, however, argues the stains will eventually wash out, leaving “much that Stephen Harper can be proud of”: uniting the conservative movement, bringing “the West into the heart of the federal government,” trade agreements, not screwing up the financial crisis, “a decade of peace … between Ottawa and the provinces,” putting more money back in our pockets and just generally making “the federal government mean less in our lives, which was what this most conservative of prime ministers wanted more than anything else.”
Uh huh. And then we all went out and elected Captain National Strategy, the first guy in yonks to campaign on running deficits. Ouch.
Oh, and just by the by, the Star’s Heather Mallick regales us with tales of her hard work against the Harper government, and of how ever so much she has suffered for her art.