By Beat Guldimann
In the days leading up to the Canadian federal election 2015, pundits and pollsters had gotten the basic result right when they predicted that Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party would defeat Stephen Harper’s Conservatives.
What nobody saw coming was the landslide that got the Liberal Party 184 of a total of 340 seats in the House of Commons. That election result relegated the Conservatives to the role of Official Opposition — and it basically destroyed the leftist NDP.
Justin Trudeau, the man depicted by Conservative attack ads as not being ready to lead the country, leapt to a convincing victory. Obviously, Canadian voters didn’t share Mr. Harper’s concerns about Pierre-Elliott Trudeau’s offspring.
Trudeau ran on a message of positive change and restoring Canada’s historic values. His message resonated with voters. The next few weeks will demonstrate to Canadians and to the world what that translates into in real political action.
Here is a preview:
One of the key promises in the Liberal campaign was to reduce the tax burden of the middle class and have the top earners in the country pay for it. Trudeau will no doubt push this through Parliament with his first budget.
Canada’s federal government will boost spending to fix public transit in the largest cities and move ahead with key infrastructure projects, for which the budget will go back into deficit for three years.
As long as this deficit is strategically used to only fund infrastructure, Canadians should not be too worried as the investment will indirectly create higher tax revenues and increase GDP in the future.
Style and Tone
Mr. Trudeau promised to run a more open Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and to set a collaborative tone around the cabinet table. This is a welcome change to Mr. Harper’s iron fist approach and his reputation as a micro-manager.
Canadians can expect democratic debate to become more constructive and potentially a little less partisan over the next four years.
Mr. Trudeau even hinted to loosen party discipline and allow more votes in Parliament where MPs are allowed to vote their conscience rather than in fulfillment of party directives. This would be a highly welcome breath of fresh air on Parliament Hill.
Trudeau’s Liberals will bring the divisive debate around integration of immigrants and public phobia against all things Muslim back to the political center. They will almost certainly shut down the debate about hijabs that flared up during the election campaign.
Trudeau also promised to legalize marijuana for personal use. There is no indication yet as to when legislation to that effect will be slotted into the parliamentary process. However, it is highly probable that the term “pot roast” might be getting a new meaning in the foreseeable future.
Expect Mr. Trudeau to attempt reaching a balance between public safety and civil liberties in the tradition of the Liberal Party of his father and Lester B. Pearson. Mr. Trudeau genuinely believes that keeping Canadians safe can be reconciled with freedom of expression and religion.
That notion was somewhat lost during the last legislature. The future will tell how the Liberal government will go about this balancing act.
Mr. Trudeau’s first call to a foreign leader was to President Obama, whom he advised that Canada’s CF-18s would soon be pulled from the Syrian theater of operations. This is a clear indication that Canada will take a less hawkish stance in its defense policy.
Canada will no doubt become somewhat gentler and kinder in its foreign policy and keep a distance from the United States — all while understanding that friendly relations with its big southerly neighbor are essential to Canadian interests.
Mr. Trudeau also might not necessarily keep the “best of friends” status that Mr. Harper held with Mr. Netanyahu as he takes a more balanced approach to dealing with the Middle East.
Under its new leadership, Canada will see a return to preferring diplomacy as the primary instrument in foreign policy. This said, nobody should expect Canadian diplomats to just be nice and apologize all the time.
Mr. Trudeau shares Mr. Harper’s dislike of Vladimir Putin and has promised to take an active role in opposing his intrusions and transgressions in Eastern Europe.
Unlike his opponent Tom Mulcair, leader of the NDP, Mr. Trudeau has not criticized Mr. Harper for singing off on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).
The new Canadian government will continue on the path that the Conservatives have paved and secure Canada’s place in international trade. This is wise, given that Canada’s economic future depends more on exports than is the case for most if its peers in the G7.
The next four years will be an interesting new chapter for Canada. Foreign leaders are well advised not to repeat the mistake made by Mr. Trudeau’s recent political opponents and to underestimate his skill and determination.