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Tag Archives: Canadian Election

Brand Trudeau Wins a Second Term

“Brand Trudeau is: ‘Welcome to the new politics, just like the old politics.’” (Shachi Kurl, Angus Reid Institute, The Guardian, Aug 22, 2019).

Few politicians come across more as products of hashtag committee management than Justin Trudeau. His image has been doctored, massaged and spruced, and even then, the Instagram-Twitter committee did not quite see those corrupt influences that are bound to tarnish someone who believes in endless, indestructible parliamentary majorities. The image can do much, but not that much.

After being elected in October, 2015, Trudeaumania became something of a syndrome, helped along by a persistent dedication to being in the permanent social media cycle. The photo-op became a staple, as is a certain shallowness that lends itself to it. In picking Canada’s first gender-balanced federal cabinet, he was mindful of the optical moment. Change was coming, and his revolution would be tweeted.

In a fast spinning, whirling age of disseminated images, lacking substance helps and acts as a powerful propulsion. The Internet, observed Eric Andrew-Gee in 2016, “has given still photos a pride of place in our media culture that they haven’t enjoyed since the rise of television. Mr Trudeau has used that power, and that technology, to the hilt. He is the first prime minister of the Instagram age.”

In July 2016, it was noted that Trudeau “has had about one official photo-op for every weekday he has been in the business of governing.” Marie-Danielle Smith of the National Post considered him “the most visible Canadian leader since his father, Pierre” having “participated in at least 168 public events since swearing in his cabinet last November.”

Trudeau the Brand has been in business for some time. It came to the fore in the now famed charity boxing match in March 2012 against Patrick “Brass Knuckles” Brazeau, a second-degree black belt in karate and former navy reservist. The Liberal MP for Papineau seemingly did not stand a chance. Nor did the Liberal Party, having been wiped by the Conservatives. Trudeau, after absorbing the initial barrage of punches, won.

In a film on the encounter by Eric Ruel and Guylaine Maroist, Trudeau suggested that “the power of symbols in today’s world” should never be underestimated. The Liberals were weak in parliament. “We’ve never had so few MPs. The Conservatives have all the money and the support. So… wouldn’t it be fun to see Justin Trudeau win? A triumph over the all-powerful Conservatives?”

In 2017, Trudeau would tell Rolling Stone that the choice of opponent in the boxing bout was entirely conscious, giving the impression that the whole affair, from start to finish, had been an exercise of eager manipulation. “I wanted someone who would be a good foil, and we stumbled across the scrappy, tough-guy senator from an Indigenous community…I saw it as the right kind of narrative, the right story to tell.” Very British New Labour; very Old Third Way.

The Canadian elections have returned Trudeau to Ottawa, but with a reduced vote. The sheen has come off, and the coat seems somewhat tattered. Trudeau was found by Canada’s ethics watchdog to have violated conflict of interest laws in pressuring his attorney general to avoid a criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin for bribes made to Libyan officials between 2001 and 2011. As the ethics commissioner, Mario Dion, found, Trudeau “contravened section 9 of the Conflict of Interest Act”, being the only public official “able to exert influence over the attorney-general in her decision whether to intervene in a matter relating to a criminal prosecution”.

Then came the other side of branding and e-marketing political candidates. What goes around in image terms will come around. If you pontificate about the evils of toxic masculinity, be wary of what skeletal remains the historical cupboard is stocked with. And so it transpired that a younger Trudeau was prone to don “blackface” and “brownface” pose, less in terms of toxicity than being intoxicated by moment and situation (Those few mishaps included singing Harry Belafonte’s Day-O at a high school revue, and sporting an Afro wig, blackface and body paint in the company of fellow white water rafters.) A public apology followed: “It was something that I didn’t think was racist at the time, but now I recognise it was something racist to do, and I am deeply sorry.”

As it wore on, the nodding suggestion of Trudeau’s time in office was a return to what had been dubbed in Canadian political circles the Laurentian Consensus, the elite self-absorbed view of those in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and cities along the St. Lawrence River. As John Ibbitson of The Globe and Mail described it in 2011, “On all the great issues of the day, this Laurentian elite debated among themselves, reached a consensus and implemented that consensus. In short, they governed the country.”

Nor could Trudeau claim to be vastly different from his 2015 conservative opponent, Stephen Harper, certainly on the subjects of Canada-US ties, free trade and the Keystone XL pipeline. Trudeau might have excited millennials on the subject of legalising cannabis, or opening doors to Syrian refugees, but he caused suitable irritation, even fury, over breaking a campaign promise to end “first-past-the-post” federal voting. The Afghan Canadian Liberal MP, Maryam Monsef, was saddled with the task of gradually strangling electoral reform in the crib.

Trudeau also revealed, in his government’s purchase of the Trans Mountain Pipeline for some $3.4 billion from Kinder Morgan, that he was more than willing to back fossil-fuel infrastructure while proclaiming green credentials. As Martin Lukacs noted with devastating precision, despite Trudeau signing the Paris Climate Accords in 2016, “the gap between Canada’s official carbon reduction targets and its spiralling emissions has grown wider.”

The record, then, is not only patchy, but abysmal for this particular cardboard progressive. Oil companies have been guaranteed continuing subsidies, organised labour has been confronted with attempts to outlaw strike action, notably in the postal sector, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been assured arms sales even as Trudeau celebrates Womankind.

Fighting an Instagram prime minister might have required some marrow, but the Conservatives’ Andrew Scheer was not going to provide it. He did win more votes than the Liberals and dominated in Alberta and Saskatchewan, but this merely served to eliminate Trudeau’s majority and highlight a chronic sense of Western alienation. Nor did Jagmeet Singh’s NDP, whose caucus was reduced by half, roar with any success. The Bloc Québécois buzzed, the Greens were a preserving stutter and the People’s Party barely registered.

Scheer decided to play the card of ordinariness, and stayed, for the most part, ordinary. When supporters chanted the old Donald Trump expression of locking up the opponent – in this case, Trudeau – he doused the flames, favouring the chant of “Vote him out.” A judicial inquiry would be preferable. The politics of blandness.

Canadian political strategists were even noting a certain similarity between Scheer’s views and those of the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, whose tactics he is said to have embraced. But Canadians were left with the spectre of considerable vacuity. As Jonathan Kay argued this month in Foreign Policy, the big issues had been settled if not avoided altogether, leaving the ground on hashtag wars to be fought with mind-numbing emptiness.

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Canadian Election: Paradigm Change for the Better?

Denis Bright invites discussion about the rise of inclusive politics in Canada with the formation of a majority Liberal government after nine long years in Opposition. Is the conservative political template which has dominated representative democracies for most of the last 50 years being finally challenged by voters with implications for election strategies in other representative democracies?

Is Justin Trudeau’s majority Liberal government in Canada part of a paradigm change in the politics of representative democracies?

For much of the past 50 years, the conservative template constructed by President Nixon in the US and Margaret Thatcher in Britain has been the political model for a succession of representative governments in economically developed countries.

Now Justin Trudeau has shattered the political template of the militarized low tax state with a commitment to a deficit budget to promote economic recovery and the withdrawal of CF-15 fighter jets from Iraq and bombing raids in Syria.

The extent of Justin Trudeau’s political landslide is quite incredible and perhaps only comparable to the Queensland state election result on 31 January 2015.

Trudeau’s Liberal Party has drawn its support from both the right and left of the political spectrum. The opposition Conservative Party has half its previous representation. On the cross-benches, the New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Greens are in a similar position. Only the Bloc Quebecois (BQ) has improved its representation.

Under the austere political template of Prime Minister Stephen Harper since 2006, Canada developed a neo-populist style of market-led economic development. Canada’s foreign and defence policies met all the requirements of NATO.

Writing in The Atlantic on 18 October 2015, Parker Donham notes the desperate measures used by Stephen Harper to cling onto government.

Stephen Harper wanted the electorate to focus on insignificant symbolic issues such as desire by one woman to wear a niqab veil during a citizenship oath ceremony. The Canadian Court of Appeal upheld her right as she was prepared to reveal her true identity in private before the ceremony.

The conservative populist strategy failed to strike a real rapport with the electorate.

Harper pounced on the decision; his deputies promised an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, and the prime minister hammered the issue during a September 24 French-language debate in Montreal, Quebec.

“When we join the Canadian family, we should not hide our identity,” Harper declared. “Never will I say to my daughter that a woman has to cover her face because she’s a woman.” Mulcair, for his part, accused Harper of attempting to “hide his record”—particularly on the failing economy-behind a niqab” (Parker Dongham, The Atlantic 18 October 2015).

Another desperate measure noted in The Atlantic article was the recruitment of Australian election strategist Lynton Crosby to promote negative perceptions of recent Arab immigrants. This became a political diversionary issue to distract from Canada’s ailing economic growth and employment record.

Voters were canny enough to realise that the decline in commodity prices could not be concealed by the conservative political template with its emphasis on balanced budgets and market-led growth.

The Conservative Government could hardly run on its record despite a modest last-minute pre-election improvement in short-term economic growth, retail sales and housing starts.

Reflecting the conservatism of the prairie provinces, The Winnipeg Free Press cheered on the extent of the surplus in its federal budget coverage. The government’s budget graphics were carefully reproduced with the caveat that the important surplus should have been higher but for the collapse of oil and gas prices in November 2014.

The Harper government lived up to its promise Tuesday to eliminate the deficit, making use of billions of dollars in balance-sheet tweaks designed to cushion the blow of the oil-price shock.

Finance Minister Joe Oliver delivered a federal budget that boasted a narrow $1.4-billion surplus for 2015-16, scoring a politically critical goal just six months before a scheduled election in October (Winnipeg Free Press 21 April 2015).

To the last, the Harper Government had clung to its convictions about the value of a balanced budget during a period of rising unemployment to 7.1 per cent and falling commodity prices for oil, gas, coal and most other minerals.

The National Democratic Party (NDP) saw its vote and representation in the House of Commons halved with a -10.9% swing.

When the NDP was narrowly leading the opinion polls just one month before polling day, its finance spokesperson Andrew Thomson of Saskatchewan and a number of high profile NDP candidates made the error of promising more balanced budgets for the next four years with modest increases in corporate taxes and an end to family income splitting as introduced by Stephen Harper.

Opposing Canada’s overseas military commitments in Iraq and Syria (The Globe and Mail 10 September 2015)

Opposing Canada’s overseas military commitments in Iraq and Syria (The Globe and Mail 10 September 2015)

The commitment by Thomas Mulcair to withdraw all Canadian troops from both Iraq and the bombing of ISIL targets in Syria did not reverse the NDP’s decline in the last month of the campaign.

The NDP’s anti-war commitment came just one week after allegations surfaced of civilian deaths in Canada’s bombing raids on ISIL targets in Syria.

Justin Trudeau supported the NDP’s commitment to withdraw fighter jets from military operations in Iraq and Syria but offered an economic policy that was more daring in addressing the problems of economic stagnation and rising unemployment to 7.1 per cent of the workforce.

Let’s hope that advocates of political change are taking note of the Canadian election on 19 October 2015. Only time will tell if it is indeed a watershed in democratic politics.


denis-bright-150x150 Denis Bright (pictured) is a registered teacher and a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). He has recent postgraduate qualifications in journalism, public policy and international relations. He is interested in developing progressive public policies that are compatible with commitments to a social market model within contemporary globalization.



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