LIBERAL HUBRIS WILL BE TRUDEAU’S BIGGEST THREAT
With roughly a year to go before the next federal election, Andrew MacDougall looks at what each of the three major party leaders must do in the next 12 months to have a shot at becoming or remaining prime minister. In today’s conclusion: Justin Trudeau.
With a short year to go until Canadians pick their next crop of MPs, Justin Trudeau no doubt sat at his table last weekend feeling thankful.
Donald Trump is in the rearview mirror. Jagmeet Singh is hemorrhaging MPs. Maxime Bernier’s vanity project is targeting the most rabid bits of Andrew Scheer’s base. Even Stephen Harper and Christy Clark’s huge LNG project has come online in British Columbia.
It all seems to be breaking Trudeau’s way.
At this point, Liberals could be forgiven for wondering whether the days of Natural Governing Party status are back. What’s between the Grits and another majority mandate, after all, especially with the prospect of a fractured right?
Well, there’s hubris, for one, something that’s creeping back into the Liberal playbook after a humbling year. Veteran Grits ought to be sounding the alarm. Because these pros know Liberals are never as vulnerable as when they’re filled to the back teeth with their own virtue. Smug isn’t a good look for any politician and Justin Trudeau happens to wear his self-contentment as a badge of honour. And he wears it often.
The irony was probably lost on Trudeau when he ambulance-chased reporters into an impromptu scrum to accuse the Conservatives of scrambling after emergency vehicles on the question of Tori Stafford’s murderer being assigned kumbayas instead of hard time, but the prime minister’s sly grin and haughty tone ultimately gave his game away.
Like most politicians, he doesn’t like being called out on his mistakes, but when Trudeau or his government are caught out, their instinct is to dial up the sanctimony to levels only Spinal Tap would recognize as art.
It wouldn’t grate as much if Trudeau hadn’t just — literally the day before, in this case — promised sunshine while warning the next election would be the nastiest in recorded history. It’s the same message Trudeau pushed at this year’s Liberal convention before slagging off Harper for 30 minutes. When the guy who has called an opponent a “piece of s---” and elbowed another MP on the floor of the House of Commons thinks it’s going to be nasty, we’re in for a wild ride. Not that Trudeau thinks the rules apply to him. According to the prime minister, the Liberals never “play politics,” they only ever experience it being played against them, something most Canadians find — dramatic pause — intolerable. In other words, Trudeau wants to quarantine himself from criticism.
Of course, the reason Trudeau wants to make critiques beyond the pale is that there remain many hurdles to clear, despite today’s clear track. Trudeau and his government might have avoided a steep defeat on USMCA, but Trump has been known to revisit himself on policy. One flip of the Trudeau mane to an insufficiently subservient degree and Canada could be hauled into the boardroom to be fired, most likely in the form of auto tariffs.
Then there’s the darkest cloud on the Liberal horizon: plans for a federal carbon tax, which are but one flesh wound away from becoming the Black Knight. Doug Ford’s Ontario is out. Saskatchewan and Manitoba, too. Even wee New Brunswick is having a change of heart. Add in a “no” from the oilpatch after next year’s Alberta election and Trudeau is looking at wearing most of the political damage of the carbon tax imposition. That’s a lot of potentially angry voters. The temptation for Trudeau will be to go full smug and try to power on through, but it would be a mistake to think smug will smite opponents of his climate plan. Angry premiers aren’t necessarily a rate-limiting step in any political equation, but when a key part of your political promise is that you play well with others, a game of “whose mandate is bigger?” isn’t one Trudeau will easily win, given his opponents’ mandates are fresher.
To sidestep this landmine, Trudeau will have to be humble and positive, not preachy and condescending. Not everyone opposed to a carbon tax is against action on climate change. To rally people to his cause, he will have to speak to the opportunity, not use the opportunity to whack his opponents. He might even need to show — heaven forfend — some flexibility by, say, offering a personal income tax cut to match. In short, Trudeau needs to go back to 2015 and rediscover his more self-aware side. The one that acknowledged his inexperience, promised to listen and was properly humbled at the prospect of governing the country. Trudeau’s worst errors — think electoral reform, the Aga Khan and India — were all unforced and fuelled by haughtiness. He needs to stay calm and govern well over the coming year. Because we know Canadians like a shiny, happy Trudeau. The prime minister shouldn’t want to test whether or not they like his more arrogant alter ego.
Andrew MacDougall is a Londonbased communications consultant and ex-director of communications to former prime minister Stephen Harper.
Canadians like A shiny, happy trudeau. The prime minister shouldn’t want to test whether or not they like his more arrogant Alter ego.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will need to ditch the self-contentment — and fast — if he wants a shot at another majority, writes Andrew MacDougall.