The federal election has just ended, and the routine examination of its entrails will continue for days, perhaps weeks. There are hardly any new opinions that haven’t been expressed. It wasn’t a contest for the ages, like Brian Mulroney’s sweeping 1984 victory, or even Justin Trudeau’s 2015 majority. On the other hand, Trudeau’s win this week occurred during a global pandemic and returned him to Ottawa in a minority situation.
While this new parliament looks eerily similar to that of 2019, it might just be the shakeups in the Canadian populace that will be the real story of election #44.
Many have delighted in telling whoever will listen that this country is moving steadily along a progressive path. It’s hard to argue with such statements. Everyone seems to have an opinion on Justin Trudeau, many of them unnecessarily extreme, but his record is a progressive tour de force. Though only in power for six years, he has refined the NAFTA agreement, developed a somewhat credible plan on carbon reduction, welcomed a successful share of global refugees, centred indigenous reconciliation in national policy, at least in words and sometimes in deeds. Essential to people working in the anti-poverty movement, Trudeau has reduced child poverty to levels unseen in many years. His failure to commit to his electoral reform commitment in his first mandate will remain a deep stain on his legacy. Still, his years in power have left some impressive accomplishments for all the negatives aimed at Justin Trudeau.
So, yes, given the reality that the country has returned him to power, for now, the third term, speaking of a “progressive” age, is a credible claim. But little of this has happened in a vacuum. While the election extended the progressive wing of Canadian politics for another two or three years, the polarization it manifested drove opposition forces as they became ever more profound in their angst.
One of the ironies of this past campaign has been the anger aroused by the PM’s pandemic response. Globally touted as one of the better national responses to COVID, its effectiveness created deeper divisions than had been present in the 2019 contest.
The depth of that change was perhaps best displayed by the rise in popularity of the People’s Party of Canada. Some never saw that coming, yet it created such an effect that many worried about the rise of the angry right. And with many Conservatives concerning with O’toole’s move to the middle, some might drift further right. Pollster Eric Grenier, in his credible assessment of the just concluded political contest, saw evidence of this troubling trend.
“The People’s Party made some significant gains but still didn’t quite meet the level of support they had in the polls. But they were up five points in both Alberta and Saskatchewan and six points in Manitoba. They gained four points in Ontario and New Brunswick and three in B.C. and Nova Scotia. They were only up 1.3 points in Quebec.
If this were a normal party, this could be the start of a base. Since 2004, the Greens have only scored higher than the PPC did twice, in 2008 and 2019. But the PPC isn’t a normal party, and it is unclear to me what its long-term future is beyond vaccines and lockdowns.”
And there’s the rub. While it appears that the progressive movement in federal politics has found success three elections in a row, it is creating its own opposition as it attempts to forge a new future for Canada. The pandemic response only exacerbated that growing division, ensuring that hatred of Trudeau will remain a political staple for the near future.
Justin Trudeau’s mistakes are many but no more than Brian Mulroney’s, Jean Chretien’s or Stephen Harper’s. But he is moving faster in his reforms, aided by a global pandemic that allowed him to create a dynamic response mainly on the back of borrowed money. Figuring how to pay off such a huge debt will inevitably be one of the defining narratives once COVID has been contained. This new fashion for endorsing Liberalism in a hurry will inevitably prompt the opposition to keep pace, thereby driving deeper divisions in the populace.
Joe Biden is in a similar crucible south of the border, as he places trillions of dollars into a more progressive agenda — and at a speed that is increasingly splitting those in his Democratic party.
Six years ago, opposition parties, especially the Conservatives, delighted in publishing claims that the young Liberal leader just wasn’t up for the job. They aren’t saying that anymore, as Trudeau has displayed a certain savviness that gains global respect. He will require significant measures in this coming parliament, as his desire to leave a legacy in a hurry could create divisions that linger long into the future. To lead a workable parliament, he might need to pull his foot off the pedal to a certain degree. But given that this might be his final term in office — years in which leaders seek to cement their place in the history books — it’s not certain that Trudeau will slow down to more effectively manage things in Ottawa by working more efficiently with the opposition. We’re about to find out.