The federal Liberal Party does love its coronations and since he announced that he was running for the leadership position Justin Trudeau has been riding a wave of expectation that he would ascend to the position once held by his father, Pierre Trudeau.
During the Liberals’ mini-convention in Toronto on the weekend that gave all those competing for the party’s leadership one last chance to make their case for votes, Trudeau took the opportunity to remind those gathered that it was on that very date 45 years ago that Liberals chose the senior Trudeau as their party leader. Pierre Trudeau had a total of almost 16 years as Prime Minister and is an enduring part of the Liberal Party legacy.
For those not closely following the selection process it might have been difficult to realize that high profile Liberals Martha Hall Findley, Joyce Murray, Karen McCrimmon, Deborah Coyne and Martin Cauchon were also appealing for Liberal votes. Their presentations were as varied and as divergent as the Liberal Party membership itself, but it was clear from the presentation and the volume of noise from supporters that Trudeau will come out on top. The decision will be finalized this Sunday when all the votes are counted, but the fact that his campaign raised a reported $1.3 million – more than double the other contenders – says much.
Trudeau, the Member of Parliament for Papineau, was a teacher before entering politics in 2008. Like Dalton McGuinty, Ontario’s former Liberal premier whose name had been tossed up as a possible federal leader, Trudeau has been somewhat underestimated but, in his steady ascension, has shown canny ability as well as growth.
What we see is a politician who, when he has to, does his homework thoroughly, as was the case when he went up against Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau in a charity boxing match last spring to raise money for cancer research. The event was criticized as spectacle, but Trudeau, who as a youth had been taught to box by his father, prepared assiduously for that fight, and won. Some saw that as the beginning of his campaign, even before he had declared it publicly.
Similarly, the coronation may be a given, but he did his work during the eight months leading up to this week’s vote, and during his convention speech convincingly projected the image of a person ready to take the lead.
Yet, the big job is ahead of him. There is no doubt that the Conservatives have attack ads ready to launch as soon as the new Liberal leader is announced. More important, however, is the challenge to make over the Liberal party, to make it attractive enough to win back the national vote.
Outgoing interim leader Bob Rae made a note of this issue when in his parting speech he reminded Liberals of having to carry forward “a lesson of unity, not a lesson of uniformity”.
If the Liberals hope to have any chance to hold the reins of government again they will have to pay attention to this admonition in particular, since party in-fighting has cost them dearly. History has shown time and again that the Liberal Party puts itself at the losing end when its members are deeply divided. This recent exile by voters certainly has not been the first.
While Conservative leader Stephen Harper has been criticized for his tight control of his caucus, he clearly understands this.
Both Trudeau and the Liberal Party have another two-and-a-half years until the next federal election to turn things around and prepare themselves to take a credible run at governing this country. Before that, the party will hold a policy convention that will be significant in the rebuilding process and will require them to pull together. The survival of the party depends on it.
What the federal Liberals have going for them is a nation that does not fully embrace the Harper Conservatives’ agenda. What Canadian voters are waiting for, if they are to come out in their numbers for the federal vote in the fall of 2015, is a Liberal Party that is definitive about what it is. Liberals need to present a convincing plan for reclaiming Canada’s image as a forward-looking, social leader at the world table while also making a convincing case that they can uphold economic confidence in Canada.