Anyone who actually analyzes the dramatic uptick in Liberal fortunes, both in the polls and in voters in the recent byelections might conclude that there is in fact an ongoing, well thought out incremental strategy which may well position Justin Trudeau as a real threat to Harper in the next federal election.
Most observers in the Ottawa press gallery, the major source of federal news and opinion for Canadians, haven't gone much beyond crediting him with "celebrity status." They believe his rock star status will fizzle. No less a national pundit than Jeffrey Simpson devoted a column recently to deconstructing his policies on Keystone and the legalization of marijuana, and concludes he has to put a lot more substance behind these pronouncements to "avoid the impression of shallowness." Michael den Tandt of Postmedia news makes the most simplistic conclusion of all: "It's...possible Mr. Trudeau's charismatic personality has simply charmed voters -- for now."
It falls to L. Ian Macdonald, a former Mulroneyite, now editor of the highly regarded Politics Magazine, and a Montreal Gazette columnist to hint at what is in fact the Trudeau strategy: "...his strengths are out on the hustings, and the byelection campaign played to that. And in a way, he may be benefiting from Tom Mulcair's dominant performance in question period over the Senate scandal. As one of Trudeau's advisers recently put it about Mulcair: 'He's killing Harper, but that makes him a killer.'"
Pretty basic. Let Mulcair be the killer in the house -- that has little impact on ordinary voters -- and leave the Ottawa bubble for where Canadians live: be positive, hopeful, take a few swipes at Harper and answer what is indeed a desire for change with youth and energy. Show wherever you go how starkly you contrast with Harper. Be open, accessible, listen, show personality. And of course fill rooms to capacity, work the crowd.
Above all show demoralized Liberals that this is a renewed party. That means not more of the same, but rebuilding its values to some extent. Hence his support of the Chinese acquisition of Nexxen, and guarded support of Keystone -- all deliberate moves to separate him from his father's hated National Energy Program and to rebuild support in the emerging west. There will be more, and the pundits will be surprised.
They should also be surprised by the fact that over 300,000 Canadians receive Liberal emails -- constantly I may say -- that there are over 12,000 volunteers recruited across the country, and that the party has more individual donors now than any other party. This is the result of a relentlessly effective strategy of dozens of people signing up members at Justin's events, and his daily social media presence.
There is also a new and welcome strategy of forming alliances with provincial Premiers, an option only open to Harper in three provinces. Justin has taken this new strategy very seriously indeed, especially recently in Ontario and Nova Scotia. A Toronto Star headline the weekend before the byelections said it all: Trudeaumania good for provincial Liberals -- Justin's energy and Wynne's experience "a match made in heaven."
Premier Wynne was beaming at his side campaigning in Toronto Centre, and he will campaign for her in provincial elections expected in the fall. Trudeau's enthusiasm and room-filling ability already was seen to play a role in the October victory of Liberal Premier Stephen McNeil. They campaigned so much together that the Huffington Post called it a "bromance." Justin even figured in Liberal campaign adds.
Bottom line: Fully taking advantage of Justin's immense grassroots appeal to build the party and its bankroll and not mounting too many detailed policy targets for the Conservatives to demolish. A sound strategy two years out from an election.
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