Justin Trudeau, uniting the left and sugarplum fairies
“I shook his hand once,” my coworker said as we watched the news on the office TV. “Who?” I asked. “Justin Trudeau,” he said. “Oh,” I said, not knowing what else to say.
There's an aura growing around Trudeau, or perhaps there has always been one, that gives liberals (I use the small “l” intentionally) hope for the future. Especially in the face of Stephen Harper’s quietly draconian governing style rising up again in the form of a new omnibus bill as the fall session starts. “Can Trudeau reignite the flame of the centre-left?” Canadians wonder.
Trudeau's aura brings with it a halo effect to liberal/Liberal politics that's been missing since, well, I don’t know when. Yesterday, for example, I got an accidental phone call from a disaffected NDP supporter in Montreal (which is odd, since I’m based in the provincial Liberal office in Edmonton). She was upset that the NDP in Quebec were drifting toward what she termed “soft nationalism” and she didn't want to remain with a party that supported separation, no matter how softly. Toward the end of the conversation she asked whether I knew if Trudeau had officially declared his nomination. “Ah, there it is,” I thought.
No one would like to see Canada's left reignited and reunited more than I would. And lately in Alberta there’s been a lot of not-so-secret backroom buzz flying around about a merger between the parties on the left. In fact, there are a few people actively campaigning to make that happen.
Just for the record, the lonely Alberta Liberals have 5 seats in the Legislature, the New Democrats have fewer with 4 and the Alberta Party has zip. The Wildrose Party on the other wing is now the official opposition with 17 seats. The PCs control the remaining 61 seats—a comfortable majority to say the least, especially when one considers that the party has been in power for 41 years. And, for you trivia buffs, this will be the longest running provincial party in the history of Canada by the end of its term in 2016, beating the Nova Scotia Liberals who operated uninterrupted from 1882 to 1925.
Clearly, Canadians are no strangers to dynastic politics, whether it’s in the form of long-standing regimes or second and third generations of political scions such as the Ignatieffs, the Martins, the Leblancs, the Lougheeds, the Bennetts, the Crosbys, the Laytons and many more. So Justin Trudeau is no anomaly. But one might ask, is this aggregation of power into the hands of a few families a healthy thing, given our country’s present size, wealth and population?
I don't know. My instinct says no. But instinct is often wrong. There seems to be no shortage of new genes coming into our political system, including Stephen Harper. Ultimately, the key to a healthy political system is diversity and renewal. And in that sense, Justin Trudeau fits the bill perfectly for small “l” liberals on the national scene, just as Harper did for the right a decade ago.
So we have two threads of thought here: the magnetic appeal of the next Trudeau, and the possible merger of the parties on the left, principally, the Liberals and the NDP. And can these two threads be linked or are they mutually exclusive? It's too early to tell. Bob Rae will be a key figure. But given the discontent of half of the Canadian voting public, there seems to be a deep desire to pursue anything that brings together a working coalition on the left to take on the evermore rightist Conservatives in Ottawa.
Some pundits might tell you that the Canada’s left will unite about the same time the Liberals take power in Alberta. And actually, that could happen sooner than anyone thinks, but that's a story for another time.
Mirroring the federal scene, there’s a small movement underway in Alberta to bring the Liberals, NDP and Alberta Party together into a unified party of the centre-left. This was openly discussed at the NDP annual general meeting last week, which was publicly rejected by party leader Brian Mason. But the issue isn't quite dead on the floor.
I caught an e-mail the other day outlining the similarity of the platforms of the Alberta Liberals with the NDP during the last election, pointing out that there wasn't a great deal of difference between the two. It was a justification, I suppose, for the merger.
But the devil in any of these concepts, as they say, is in the doing. It's not the platforms that matter so much as how those platforms are developed and implemented that matter. These “how” issues raise deep philosophical divides between entrepreneurial, pro-business liberals and pro-labour, anti-business socialists.
And it's not the parties that matter, but the power residing behind those parties that matter. The “how” of merging power structures and cultures is far more challenging than merging platforms.
On both counts, merging ideologies and power structures, it would be naïve to think that uniting Alberta’s Liberals with Alberta’s NDP would be an easy task. Developing strong leadership and interparty cooperation might be an easier and far more effective way to deal with the slowly calcifying policies of Alison Redford’s PCs.
That, at least, is my insider's view for now. That could all change if the Trudeau-Bob Rae alliance reaches out to unite with the federal NDPs. All things are possible in Canadian politics.
At the end of the day it isn't left-right that matters, it’s always top-bottom. And even sugarplum fairies know Santa’s the boss.