It has been a remarkable journey for Justin Trudeau, the 43-year-old “pretty boy” who has just become Prime Minister of Canada. Four years ago, the Liberal party suffered a crushing defeat, losing out not just to the ruling Conservatives on the right but to the New Democratic party on the left. Only a few months ago they were polling third. Now, they are the first new government Canada has had for almost a decade.
So is Trudeau, who only became leader of the Liberals in April 2013, the radical new blood the Canadian electorate craved after Harper’s dynasty? Or is he actually a step backwards? As Tim Montgomerie reminded CapX readers yesterday, Justin is the son of Pierre Trudeau, one of Canada’s most renowned Prime Ministers: “The United States has the Clintons, Kennedys and Bushes. And this part of North America has the Trudeaus. Dynasty still rules.”
If Justin Trudeau’s name conjures up historic sentiments, his flagship policies are distinctly 21st century. Unlike Harper, he put environmentalism and rights for Canada’s indigenous peoples at the heart of his campaign, and pledged continued support for immigrants and refugees coming to Canada – issues that resonate with young voters and progressives. He is pro-choice, pro-feminism, and (possibly most importantly) pro marijuana legalisation. If ever there was a policy guaranteed to tempt apathetic young voters to the ballot box, this is it.
In fact, turnout for yesterday’s election was up to 68.5 percent (compared to 58.8 percent in 2008 and 61.1 percent in 2011), and CBC News reports queues at polling stations from 7am. Whether this increased turnout was down to Trudeau himself, or to growing discontent with Harper, is impossible to say. However, it’s hard to imagine an anti-conservative campaign like votes4nudes (an online movement that promised to send people nude photos if they can prove they voted) being launched for a candidate without Trudeau’s progressive credentials. Other stunts, such as inviting the press to watch him at boxing practice on the night of the French-language leaders debate, enhanced his image as a feisty upstart outside the realm of mainstream politics.
And yet, aside from the flashiness of his edgy social strategy and perfect hair, Trudeau’s platform can be reduced to basic left-wing dogma: boost spending and raise taxes. He has pledged CA$5 billion a year in additional infrastructure spending and doesn’t mind running a deficit to do it, while promising a tax hike of 4 percent for the wealthiest Canadians. Only last month, Nima Sanandaji told the story of Canada’s success under the Liberal governments of Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin, where spending was cut and crucial reforms enacted to make Canada a competitive world power. Trudeau seems happy to ignore all the good work achieved since 1993 in the pursuit of a socialist dream. (In fact, the Canadian dollar has fallen 1.3 percent since Thursday, coinciding with Trudeau’s rise in the polls.) His economic policies do not match the modernity of his persona, and are in fact a step back in time.
One cannot watch the Canadian election from the UK and not wonder: is this a Corbyn moment for the Liberals? Yes, Trudeau is young and vivacious, while Jeremy Corbyn is a relic from the 70s, but both have enjoyed the momentum of newly-engaged voters while running on a traditional leftist economic platform. Both too have presented themselves as something new (“the right alternative” according to Trudeau, “a new kind of politics” for Corbyn), perhaps disingenuously – Corbyn has been an MP since 1983, and Trudeau grew up with a Prime Minister for a father. Is Canada just the latest case of oldschool leftism being repackaged in a shiny new-media campaign to appeal to young voters? (See also: Bernie Sanders in the US, Alexis Tsipras in Greece, Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland.)
At any rate, Justin Trudeau has, unlike Corbyn, proved himself electable outside of his core support group, winning yesterday’s election with a solid majority of 184 seats out of 338. That Canada had had enough of Harper is clear. Now the question is whether Trudeau will prove himself more than a pretty face with a famous name as he takes his place as the 23rd Prime Minister of Canada.