The days of Justin Trudeau’s “sunny ways” may be over.
The jejune Canadian prime minister’s cocky gambit to call an unnecessary election in the midst of a stubborn pandemic has proven to be a strategic miscalculation of blunt, historic proportions.
Like any vapid politician more interested in seizing a parochial political dividend than pursuing the national interest, Trudeau abandoned – faster than Usain Bolt dashed to Olympic gold – a flimsy pledge not to hold a national vote while a lethal virus gripped Canada.
Trudeau had one aim: win a majority. He failed. Last night’s sharp rebuke is the second time in less than two years that many Canadians have, in effect, told him that his youthful, inconsequential sheen has lost much of its allure. As such, they were disinclined to grant him the broad mandate he was, no doubt, confident he would secure.
So, today, the Canadian Parliament mirrors, almost to a seat, the Parliament that was dissolved a touch over a month ago to satiate Trudeau’s irresistible yearning for the elusive prize of a majority.
While he may still be prime minister leading a minority government, Trudeau, I suspect, understands that the Liberal Party’s only attachment is to absolute rule, unperturbed or constrained by other parties it considers little more than irritating obstacles to its rightful destiny.
Trudeau’s defining hypocrisy is that he claimed to represent a departure from the old, tired modus operandi. He was the embodiment of a new kind of politics that put country over party, people over power, modesty over hubris.
It was a slick, hollow mirage. Trudeau was motivated by the petty impulses he insisted his “sunny ways” were meant to reject. Canadians may, on occasion, be somewhat complacent peoples, but they are not blind.
The lie that Trudeau is became apparent throughout a short, cynical campaign that most Canadians did not want and did not need.
On the eve of the election, the Liberals’ abiding cynicism prompted the party to dangle before voters – like a confection-filled piñata – what amounted to a universal day-care plan that was needed by struggling families years earlier.
Trudeau made more promises on the seminal test of climate change when he should have acted long ago with the urgency the escalating heating of the earth demands.
If this gratuitous election constituted, as Trudeau said unconvincingly, a “referendum” on his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, then Canadians delivered their verdict: the prime minister scored a C+, edging towards a B.
The “referendum” was code, as I explained in a column last week, on whether enough Canadians loved Trudeau to reward him with two years of unconditional authority. Turns out that their affection for him is, to put it charitably, lukewarm.
The upshot is that Trudeau likely knows that he is confronting the sunset of his tenure as Liberal leader. He will be afforded the opportunity to make a “dignified” exit within a year or so. All the while, his possible successors, including Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and former Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney – who is whispered to be interested in the job – will quietly design unofficial leadership plans.
It will be a sad but, frankly, fitting denouement to Trudeau’s facile, undistinguished career.
As for the pablum-spouting Conservative Party leader, Erin O’Toole, denying Trudeau his vaunted majority and a return to the parliamentary status quo may not only keep rivals at bay but permit him to retain his job as opposition leader for a spell.
O’Toole sought to refashion his party’s identity as a more empathetic, less draconian version of Stephen Harper’s ugly, retrograde administration.
As I noted, Canadians may be complacent, but they are not blind. O’Toole’s history as a loyal, faithful member of the tainted Harper alumni club, had lots of Canadians doubting his calculated designs to move the Conservatives to the so-called “centre” of the political spectrum.
O’Toole’s blatant duplicity on gun control and his obtuse, shifting views on social issues had the effect of making voters wonder what, if any, convictions he held. This ambiguity also sapped the party of the surprising momentum it enjoyed as Trudeau faltered early on.
Traditional, rural Conservatives supported him. Beyond that, O’Toole failed to widen his appeal. He is stuck, like his predecessor, in a sort of political no-man’s land, grasping frantically for a route back to the prime minister’s office that is as far out of reach today as it was yesterday.
O’Toole will be pressured to re-capture the insular, xenophobic faction of the party that defected to the (Pestilent) People’s Party of Canada, led by an unapologetic anti-reason, anti-humane demagogue, Maxime Bernier.
That is a prescription for even deeper, debilitating losses.
The pretend socialist party of Canada, the New Democratic Party (NDP), returns, yet again, as the “conscience of parliament”. It is a trite pantomime.
The NDP is a party of cliché. Led by Jagmeet Singh, it lacks the will to reclaim – honestly and openly – its fast evaporating socialist roots in order to appear more “reasonable”.
It has not worked. It will not work.
Singh and the NDP are facing the proverbial Rubicon: continue being nice and palatable or finally share, in an intelligent and unabashed way, the radical solutions necessary to address the entrenched, systemic injustices and inequalities that blight the lives of scores of Canadians.
If it fails to pursue the latter strategy, the NDP will slip further into irrelevancy.
Annamie Paul, the Green Party head, should recognise the inevitable. She needs to go mercifully away and allow a once-promising environmental movement to regain the ingenuity and enterprise she has deserted out of a selfish and corrosive stubbornness.
The intelligentsia insisted this election was about nothing. That is not true. It was clarifying.
Trudeau and the age of colourful socks and sophomoric antics is, hopefully, over soon.
Canada needs to get serious to meet the challenges of these serious times.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.