Trudeau an unlikely Grit saviour
MP Justin Pierre James Trudeau walks to work on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Tuesday, June 19, 2012. (QMI Agency/TONY CALDWELL)
A surprising Abacus Data poll says the Liberals would vault from their third-place doldrums into a statistical tie with the Harper Tories atop the polls with Justin Trudeau as leader, leaving Mulcair’s NDP eating red dust. Don’t believe it. This poll shows he’s cute, people have heard of him and the lad can punch. But not that he’s the stuff political dreams are made of.
Of course, politics is full of surprises and, as Lyndon Johnson once memorably said of Richard Nixon, something else can turn into chicken salad overnight. Still, as with many odd proposals in life generally, I find myself wondering to what identifiable problem Justin Trudeau as Liberal leader is the solution.
The Liberals have no leader. OK, it would fix that.
The Liberals need a charismatic leader. OK again. Justin can be charming and disarmingly frank. The Liberals need a brilliant leader. Oh oh. And it gets worse.
The Liberals haven’t won a majority under an anglo leader since William Lyon Mackenzie King communed with his dead mother. No problem, in that Trudeau’s not an anglo. But no solution either because:
The Liberals haven’t won a majority of Quebec seats since 1981, because of Trudeau Sr.’s repatriation of the Constitution. The family name is about as magic there as in Alberta. (Oh, and they haven’t won a majority of Western seats since 1949.)
In short, the Liberals still think they’re the big-tent, national-brokerage party but in the last four elections they’ve lost 138 seats and more than half their popular vote share in an alarmingly steady slide: from 172 MPs and 40.8% of the vote in 2000 to 135 MPs and 36.7% in 2004, 103 and 30.2% in 2006, 77 and 26.3% in 2008 and 34 and 18.9% in 2011.
Of course, party fortunes fluctuate. But normally a party dramatically tossed out quickly starts regaining ground, as the Liberals did in the Diefenbaker years and the variously-named right-wing parties after 1993. Instead, the Liberals are in a unprecedented slide. How does Justin Trudeau fix that?
As my colleague Lorrie Goldstein wondered Thursday, are Canadians giddy schoolgirls “who would elect their hairbrushes as prime minister, as long as they were named Trudeau?” Maybe the party thinks so, since their only official leadership candidate is a policy wonk who gave birth to Pierre Trudeau’s daughter when she was 36 and Trudeau was 71. But leadership isn’t the problem. Followership is. There’s no reason to follow the Liberals any more.
If they are to revive, great hair won’t do it. They need ideas. Not necessarily ones I share — I don’t think their party has had many good ideas since the 1950s —but ideas that speak to the major problems of our day in ways that capture the imagination of Canadians.
Not even Justin Trudeau thinks he has those. In the same interview where he mused about becoming a separatist, he led with his chin in ways Patrick Brazeau could only dream of, saying his father “was an intellectual. Me, I’m a bit less intellectual.”
I’ve always thought Pierre Trudeau’s intellect was wildly overrated. His blindness to the Soviet menace was just one of a number of shallow left-wing poses that let him pass for a deep thinker. And his economic thinking was an appalling trendy mess.
Trudeau Sr. once claimed, “The only constant factor to be found in my thinking over the years has been opposition to accepted opinions.” But the reverse was true. His great gift was to be about five minutes ahead of the conventional wisdom and thus seem bold.
Choosing Justin Trudeau as leader doesn’t count as a major idea, nor a useful substitute.