By Janet Guttsman
Canada ousted its secretive, centralized Conservative government in a decisive vote this week, opening the door to a Liberal administration that promises a stepped-up role in the fight against climate change and a more welcoming hand to refugees from war-torn Syria.
The new government, led by the 43-year-old son of a former Canadian prime minister, has promised to boost spending on infrastructure, cut taxes for middle-income Canadians and raise levies on the rich.
It’s hope rather than fear, incoming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told supporters after his Liberal Party won an unexpectedly strong victory against a Conservative party that offered plenty of populist announcements to win over interest groups but few new ideas.
Trudeau will become the second youngest prime minister that Canada has ever had when he takes office on November 4 at the head of a cabinet where half his ministers will be women.
Dismissed in Conservative attack ads as “just not ready” for office, he impressed voters with his command of issues and his performance in debates in Canada’s two official languages, English and French.
Did it make a difference in the outcome that he’s a boxer and a snowboarder, with a beautiful ex-journalist wife, three cute children and a baby-faced film star look?
Abandoning the Canadian mantra of balanced budgets.
As voters sought change from the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the Liberals swept from third to first place in opinion polls during a long and acrimonious election campaign. They won 184 seats in Parliament, well above the 170 needed for a defeat-proof majority.
The Liberals say they will halt Canada’s involvement in the U.S.-led bombing campaign against Islamic State forces in Syria.
While Harper dismissed the idea that climate change could be a problem and sent low-level delegations to international meetings, Trudeau plans to attend the United Nations climate change conference in Paris that starts next month, and he will invite provincial premiers to join his delegation.
In a break with his party’s cautious economic past, Trudeau is abandoning the Canadian mantra of balanced budgets, a watchword for a generation of political leaders, and says he will run two years of deficits as he pays for infrastructure repairs.
The Liberals have vowed to ease the gag orders that Harper imposed on ministers and public servants, and improve often fractious relationships with Canada’s provinces.
Canada’s election races normally last five or six weeks, and the 11 weeks of the latest campaign gave Trudeau plenty of time to make his case.
“A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian.”
As the election neared, the anyone-but-Harper momentum grew. Voters abandoned both the Conservatives and the left-of-center New Democrats, who started the campaign as front-runners and who were the second largest party in the old parliament.
The Liberal promises point to a very different tack from Harper, who touted small government and low taxes, tried to bully Washington to approve the Keystone oil pipeline and bragged about forcefully telling Russian President Vladimir Putin to get out of Ukraine.
In announcements that even some of his allies viewed as unnecessarily divisive, Harper said the face-covering niqab worn by some Muslim women was not in line with Canadian values.
And he effectively created a two-tier system for Canadian citizenship, where the government can strip citizenship from Canadians who are dual nationals or who retain the right to citizenship elsewhere.
That, in a country where about 20 percent of the population is foreign born, was just plain wrong, Trudeau told voters. “A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian,” he said.
(Editor’s Note: In an earlier version of this story, we said that Justin Trudeau’s father, Pierre Trudeau, spoke English with a heavy French accent. Spurred by an alert reader, we went back and listened to Pierre Trudeau’s accent. He may have had a “Montreal lilt” in English, but like his son, he was bilingual. Want to hear both Trudeaus? You can hear and see father Pierre here, son Justin here.)
Janet Guttsman has spent almost three decades in international journalism. She was based in Germany as the Berlin Wall came down, in Moscow as the Soviet Union fell apart and as a financial correspondent in the United States during the economic crises of the late 1990s. Most recently she was Reuters bureau chief in Canada.