Don’t underestimate Justin Trudeau

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Article: Liam Fitz-Gerald

Some Thoughts on Darrell Bricker’s and John Ibbitson’s The Big Shift

For those interested in Canadian politics, Bricker and Ibbitson’s The Big Shift provides a
thought-provoking read. In brief, the authors contend that the 2011 election was a political sea
change for Canada. First, the “Laurentian Consensus,” which strongly influenced twentieth century Canada, has collapsed. The authors define this as “the political, academic, cultural, media, and business elites … along the … St. Lawrence River.”

These individuals, who range from Charles Taylor to Pierre Trudeau, dealt with Canada’s issues, ranging from relations with the United States to Quebec separatism. Second, the Conservative majority exists because of a voter alliance ranging from middle-class
immigrants, suburban voters in big cities, and rural communities throughout English Canada. Third, in a chapter titled “The Conservative Century” the authors claim the aforementioned points have given the Tories an underpinning to dominate the political scene. Hence,
the “big shift” is the Tory coalition of voters and the loss of influence of Central Canadian elites.

With their book, Bricker and Ibbitson hope to start a debate. Indeed, the assertion that the next
century is a Conservative one is likely to provoke such deliberation. They give three factors for
their claim. First, the possibility of an NDP government could drive more centrist Liberal voters
to the Conservatives.  Moreover, thirty new seats will be at play in the next election and these will
mostly be city suburbs–districts that currently favour the Tories. Third, the Tories could build a
small electoral base in Quebec, especially with small-c conservatives in the Quebec City region.

However, the authors contend that a progressive coalition will eventually defeat the
Conservatives. They argue the NDP is in the best position to lead a progressive coalition by
building an “anti-austerity movement” in major cities and the Maritime provinces.
Concurrently, they must woo over city suburbs that prop up the Conservative government.

As for the Liberal party, the authors write “parties die” and discuss political parties banished to the textbooks of Canadian history (Social Credit, United Farmers, etc). The authors appear skeptical about Justin Trudeau’s chances and even muse about a Liberal merger with the NDP to create a progressive alternative to the Conservatives.

Enter the great senate scandals of May 2013. I do not have space to repeat these here but I will discuss poll numbers. Bricker and Ibbitson argue “a few good polls will not cure what ails the Liberal brand,” but a few good polls are better than nothing. According to CTV news, 36 per cent of voters would vote for the Liberal Party, 30 per cent for the Conservatives and 27 per cent for the NDP. Yes, the 2015 election is two years away and the polling will change numerous times between now and then.

Yet, Mr. Trudeau and the Liberals should not be underestimated.  In 2015, Mr. Trudeau will be forty three, the same age that John F. Kennedy was in 1960. He is youthful, vigorous and likeable. If the polls continue to favour the Grits, and turn out to be accurate, the Tories and NDP could be in trouble. Yes, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair are more experienced politicians, but so was Richard Nixon in 1960. The authors underestimate the Liberal party too much and the allure of youthful candidates. A progressive alternative could just as easily be led by a young Justin Trudeau than Mr. Mulcair, who is the oldest leader in the three major parties.  So, I disagree with Bricker and Ibbitson when they claim the biggest danger to Mr. Harper is Mr. Mulcair. The biggest peril to the Tory majority is Mr. Trudeau.

Still, Mr. Trudeau has not made gains in all cases. As far as trustworthiness in leadership
is concerned, he has dropped from 42 per cent to 38 per cent in the polls, while the Prime Minister’s
trustworthiness has remained at 32 per cent. Mulcair’s trustworthiness amongst those polled rose
from 26 per cent to 30 per cent. Yet, as mentioned above, polls are unpredictable and it’s hard to know what could occur.

However, The Big Shift is well worth reading, whether you agree or disagree with  Ibbitson and Bricker. The success of the book is marked by the questions and ideas posed by the authors and its ability to “start a debate.”

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