USA TODAY US Edition
Nicer Justin Trudeau wins over Canadians
He now takes Canada back to the future
What might have been the final straw for Canadian voters was the shocking photograph of the body of a Syrian child washed up in September on a Turkish beach. His family’s asylum request had been turned down by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party government. Without hope, the family took to the seas in a flimsy boat that foundered in the Mediterranean before reaching the promised land of Europe — or Canada.
Of course, there were many other reasons why Canadians ended Harper’s nearly 10-year rule Monday, all cautionary tales for American voters just embarking on the process of choosing a new president next year. Part of it is a reflexive turn-the-bums out attitude, which Republicans in the U.S. are counting on. But most of the reasons Canadians opted to install the little-tested Justin Trudeau, 43, boiled down to one fundamental: The Liberal Party leader was simply nicer than his opponent. And most Canadians believe they are, too.
Harper was too tough on terrorism, on migrants, even on Muslim women who want to wear the veil. He did little to prop up a sagging economy or shelter his oil-rich nation from sagging oil prices. He put the Keystone pipeline among his top priorities and was a firm supporter of a host of U.S. military initiatives. Few were popular in a Canada that hardly considers itself in terrorists’ crosshairs.
So begins a political dynasty north of the border — Justin Trudeau following in the footsteps of his father, the politically canonized Pierre Trudeau, who served as prime minister twice for a total of more than 15 years in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.
Young Trudeau’s win reflects something extraordinary that is finding resonance far beyond Canada’s borders. First, there’s the shift to the left. Canada has been a political counterweight to American trends: Trudeau’s right-wing predecessor served throughout most of President Obama’s administration, with considerable friction.
But what’s especially interesting is that Canada has now definitely gone back to the future. A study by two American researchers found that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, ratified during the reign of Trudeau’s father in 1982, is the most emulated model of government chosen by new democracies. While the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights might have set the standard in the past, Americans are no longer seen as a people to be emulated, nor is our system of government, which has become in all but dysfunctional.
While we Americans might not think about Canada a lot, we could probably learn quite a lot from them. The previous Conservative regime began going off the rails some time ago. Now it’s up to Canada’s Liberal Party to set it straight again.