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Justin Trudeau Is No Rock Star

11/19/2015 04:34 EST | Updated 11/19/2016 05:12 EST
GEOFF ROBINS via Getty Images
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at a press conference at Rideau Hall after being sworn in as Canada's 23rd Prime Minister in Ottawa, Ontario, November 4, 2015. AFP PHOTO/ GEOFF ROBINS (Photo credit should read GEOFF ROBINS/AFP/Getty Images)

Apart from its 1948 call of a Dewey win over Truman, the Chicago Tribune usually gets it right. Except last month when it editorialized about the victory of Justin Trudeau in Canada's recent federal election.

The editorial proclaimed that there are three basic traditions in Canadian federal politics: Liberal, Conservative and rock star. According to the Tribune's editorial board, the October 19th result was due to the third tradition, namely the coronation of the rock star candidate Justin Trudeau.

To attribute Mr. Trudeau's ascendancy to a rock star phenomenon such as his father Pierre Trudeau experienced back in 1968 is to misread current Canadian politics. What happened, in fact, was less a cult of personality than a national plebiscite on the rule of the much-hated incumbent, Stephen Harper.

When the Tribune says: "there was no big anti-incumbency push or political revolution to explain the victory", they are dead wrong and out of touch with the Canadian electorate. After experiencing ten years of right-wing, anti-democratic rule, Canadian voters were chomping at the bit to vote out Stephen Harper, the most conservative prime minister in Canada's history.

Harper is a man who broaches no dissent. His cabinet ministers were on a short leash and typically had to clear any action through the prime minister's office. He repeatedly showed contempt for Parliament and even went so far as to publicly berate the Chief Justice of Canada's Supreme Court for decisions he didn't like.

Harper's decade in power saw a rightward trend in Canada with reduced corporate taxes, diminished social services and a decimation of government regulation. Harper's views tended to run contrary to the majority of Canadians as he supported the Iraq War and aped the Republican right in the U.S.

In the last few years, Stephen Harper's Conservatives grew ever more strident in their calls for American-style governance. Like many aging governments, his also got caught up in political scandals such as voter suppression in the previous election and Conservative Senate appointees caught financially abusing their positions.

When this lengthy (by Canadian standards) election began more than three months ago, it was a tossup between Canada's three main national parties: the Conservatives, the Liberals and the New Democratic Party. Despite Harper's unpopular record and his divisive personality, thanks to our first-past-the-post parliamentary form of government, there was still a chance that he could win and form at least a minority government.

What happened over the next eleven weeks was not the rise of a rock star but a shift in voter intention based on a dislike for Mr. Harper. As time wore on, the electorate (roughly 70 per cent of whom did not support the Conservatives) realized that the only way to ensure a Harper defeat was to vote strategically and cast their ballots for whichever opposition party seemed to be on the rise. In this case, it was the Liberals and that is why Justin Trudeau won.

That's not to say there wasn't a small element of rock stardom at play here. After all, Justin Trudeau is the young, handsome son of the original rock star Pierre Trudeau and his attractive young wife and family undoubtedly helped his chances.

But I was around in 1968 when Trudeaumania swept Canada and this year's election campaign didn't qualify. Unlike that race of almost fifty years ago, there were no screaming crowds of adoring, young women.

If the nation was swept up in an emotional wave of political sentiment, it was not Trudeaumania but rather anti-Harpermania. The primary goal of most Canadian voters was simply to vote the guy out and get back to more typical, moderate Canadian governance.

Canadians were happy to vote for Justin Trudeau or the NDP's Tom Mulcair so long as their vote ensured that Stephen Harper was banished to the political wilderness. When almost 70 per cent of the electorate votes against you, that's not merely an accident of charisma; it's a giant mandate for change.

For the Tribune to characterize this election as an instance of a "very able guy" getting swept out of office by an emerging rock star is to misread the Canadian political landscape. This may not have been a political revolution but it was pretty close.

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