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.

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