Now that the NDP convention has wrapped, the Liberal leadership race is set to catch fire. But even after Canada’s two opposition parties have leaders, Liberal scion Justin Trudeau doesn’t see them coming together the way the right united last decade.
“You have two parties that are simply ideologically based, whether it’s a party on the left or a party on the right,” Trudeau told The Huffington Post during an interview a few weeks ago at the We Day youth rally in Montreal. “The NDP and the Conservatives both function with an ideological positioning to motivate a whole bunch of very strong activists to vote against something -- and the mainstream is in very much a cynical mode where people like to vote against something. The Liberal party’s difficulty is we’re not really encouraging people to vote against something or an ideology so much as to trying to vote for something, trying to vote for a set of solutions that bring in economic responsibility with social justice and opportunity for all.
“You have to believe that government can play a role in building something if you’re going to vote for a party that is not positioning itself as the opposite of something else,” he continues. “So I think that’s where there’s been a dip in the Liberal party.”
As for the argument that the NDP and Liberals split the vote of a majority of Canadians, thus ensuring the Conservatives’ electoral victory, Trudeau is not buying it.
“I don’t think there’s going to be a need to unite the so-called left. I see over the next three years Canadians will make a choice between who they want of the different parties that have a chance to replace Stephen Harper -- and people aren’t going to misfire this time,” he says, dismissing the electoral math that drove the Reform Party and the Progressive Conservatives together in 2003.
“You have to understand that the Reform was not a different party from the Conservatives -- it was people who were dissatisfied with the Conservatives in this country, broke off and then 20 years later came back together when they got to take over the party. That’s a very, very different path than where the Liberal party and NDP come from, so it’s a very, very different thing to unite those two bases. I’m all for working together and the Liberal party and the NDP have always said, ‘Look, when we form government, whichever one it is, we will work with all parties to try and pass the right things for Canadians.’ But will a formal alliance work? I just don’t see it."
So what makes Trudeau so sure that progressive Canadians will rise up in enough numbers in the next election to vote the Conservatives out of office despite a two against one race? He says the cynicism he credits for Harper’s election will recede.
“People don’t believe in government to do the right thing or to deal with any big issues, so if you’re choosing between people who you don’t think are going to do a very good job you might as well pick the person who you think is going to at least be minimal in his impact. ‘Stephen Harper doesn’t have any big plans, he just wants to run a strong economy’ was the perception people had. Now that he has his majority, people are a little more concerned about some of the ideologies and some of the directions he’s bringing the country in. I think that’s allowing us to have an awakening that you can’t sort of sit back and expect that things will unfold as they should in Canada. People have to take their role seriously and make their voices heard and let people know when they’re unhappy with their government.”
Though Trudeau is lacing on the gloves in a literal boxing match with Tory Senator Patrick Brazeau, he has declined to put his own hat in the metaphorical ring for the Liberal leadership. Not that his decision has quelled the widespread belief that Pierre Trudeau’s son will eventually take on the mantle.
“I’m not in politics because I want my name on the door. I’m in politics because it’s a powerful way for me of making a difference. I can make a strong difference as an MP, I can make a bigger difference if I was on the government side and a bigger difference if I was in the ministry and even bigger difference if I was the prime minister of Canada. I’m not going to turn away from any of those tools, but that’s not the point of the game for me. For me to focus on some eventual finish line would be a pretty good guarantee that I’m not doing the kind of work that I need to be doing right now.”
Still, don’t expect the Liberal’s celebrity MP to stay out of the spotlight, even without a leadership run this year.
“I don’t believe in treading a safe road. I like Martin Sheen’s story about coming to the pearly gates and St. Peter asking ‘where are your scars? Well then, there mustn’t have been something worth fighting for.’ I have a lot of scars, I have recent scars and I will keep accumulating them because I say what I think and I fight for what I believe in. Sometimes it’s messy, sometimes it’s sloppy and a lot of times it upsets people, but I believe in this country and I believe the biggest challenge we’re facing beyond the environment, beyond poverty, beyond economic challenges, beyond global issues, beyond conflict and war is the cynicism and disenfranchisement of citizens that prevents politicians from being able to tackle all those issues in a real meaningful way.
“If people step up and get involved, everything else becomes possible.”