With a successful leadership race in his rear view mirror, Justin Trudeau has finally taken steps towards forming a platform for the Liberal Party. A preliminary look indicated that he is trying to take the Conservative party's old right-of-centre spot on the ideological spectrum.
Trudeau used his debut Question Period battle with the prime minister on April 15 to frame himself as the defender of the middle class. He called on the government to explain heightened tariff barriers, calling it a "$350-million tax on the middle class."
Then, in an interview with the CBC's Peter Mansbridge in the same week, Trudeau continued to push for a smaller, and smarter, government. Though the Liberals rallied against "jets and jails" in 2011, Trudeau supports the procurement of fighter jets, believing it's a necessary asset for a strong modern military. He also used the opportunity to establish himself as a staunch federalist, turning the table on Conservatives for associating with soft Quebec nationalists -- albeit three decades ago. Moreover, he attacked the government's Economic Action Plan by saying the economy doesn't need government stimulation. A Prime Minister Trudeau would also fight for minimum government involvement in the economy and support rigorous free trade, according to the interview. These are all things a young Stephen Harper would advocate.
Trudeau is trying to find a new niche for the Liberal Party. The Conservatives have slowly progressed to the centre of the ideological spectrum over the years, and even as their own rhetoric pushes for a small government, they continue to spend and interfere in the economy. They haven't even managed a balanced budget in nearly five years. Trudeau has filled in the missing gap, saying he would like to see deficits go down and create a surplus, as the Liberals accomplished in the late '90s. While it's a nice narrative, there's still no word on how he would get this done.
While space on the right opens up, the Liberals' traditional left-of-centre home is now vacated by a socialist-less NDP. Nothing quells a radical party like a real shot at forming the government, and the NDP seems willing to form government at any cost.
Trudeau realizes that his party has been squeezed out of the middle since 2011 and, really, lost political significance. If he wants a good shot at the prime ministership, or more realistically, the opposition's benches, he's going to have to rely on more than flowy hair and a positive attitude.
Until now, conservatives have been quick to dismiss Trudeau as a hollow candidate. All looks, no substance. And to some extent, their criticism is spot on. For much of the leadership race, he refused to even talk about policy positions, stating he would wait until he won the leadership race before choosing his direction - although one of the few policies he did tout during the campaign was in support of the oil sands, again encroaching on Tory turf. His stance on decriminalizing marijuana will also appeal to more libertarian voters.
Now that he's leader, many right-wingers continue to toss him aside, yet they should be careful. The most dangerous thing Conservatives can do now is ignore him as he effectively steals their economic positions. Attack ads on his image and past record won't work when Trudeau's more substantive messages start resonating with Canadians, and even with small-c conservatives. The easiest way to defeat Trudeau would be for the Tories to reclaim fiscal responsibility -- and that goes further than simple promising to balance the budget by 2015. Conservatives are right when they say that the economy is the number one issue for Canadians, now they have to decide if they're the ones who will continue to deliver.
With fewer differences between the two parties, Trudeau's youth and vitality may come as an asset in 2015 when Canadians go to the polls. The economy will still be the main issue, but it won't matter who they vote for between the Tories and the Grits.
With seven years actively working to make Canada a more conservative country, Stephen Harper may find that his work will be for naught if a newly revamped economically-conservative Liberal Party takes the upper hand.
That is, if Justin stays on the right track.
This article was originally published in the Prince Arthur Herald
Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay (left) is chased by Liberal MP Justin Trudeau in a motorized wheelchair during a wheelchair race relay on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, May 12, 2010. Twenty-five MPs and senators used a wheelchair for the day in support of the Canadian Paraplegic Association's Spinal Cord Injury and CPA awareness month.
Justin Trudeau trains at Pan Am Boxing Club in Winnipeg on Friday Feb. 1, 2013.
Justin Trudeau & co. making faces.
Justin Trudeau splits his pants while pushing the "scrum machine" in support of Prostate Cancer Canada in Toronto Thursday, July 21, 2011.
Justin Trudeau gets his geek on at Montreal Comiccon in September 2012.
Justin Trudeau has his moustache shaved off to raise money for the Judy LaMarsh Fund, that supports female candidates, at the Liberal Party convention in Ottawa on Saturday, January 14, 2012.
Justin Trudeau all dressed up for the Montreal Movember Gala in 2010.
Pierre Trudeau's sons, Sacha, left, and Justin, tackle their mother's paperboy in Ottawa in this undated photo.
Alexandre (Sacha) Trudeau delivers a right hook to his older brother Justin during a play fight in 1980 at Ottawa airport as the boys await a flight with the return of their father, then-prime minister, Pierre Trudeau.
Justin Trudeau strikes a pose with an adorable baby.
Justin Trudeau poses with his family on his 2010 Christmas card.
Former Liberal MP Ken Dryden, left, and Justin Trudeau play table hockey as they visit Sun Youth, a community organization, Monday, Jan. 14, 2008 in Montreal.
Then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau, left, watches as his 11-year-old son Justin swings on a chain during a tour of an old fort in the Omani town of Nizwa Dec. 2, 1983. Trudeau and Justin spent the day visiting the towns of Jebel and Nizwa 165 kilometres south of Muscat.
Justin Trudeau in Muskoka, Ont.
Liberal MP Justin Trudeau, centre, has his cowbay taken by his son Xavier, 4 years-old, while his wife Sophie Gregoire, second from left, holds daughet Ella-Grace, 3 years-old, while they attend the party's annual Stampede breakfast in Calgary, Saturday, July 7, 2012. This is the 100th anniversary of the Stampede.
Eleven-month-old Justin Trudeau, urged on by his mother Margaret Trudeau, crawls up the steps of an aircraft in Ottawa on Dec. 5, 1972 to meet his father, then-prime minister, Pierre Trudeau on his return from Britain.
Justin Trudeau dances with wife Sophie Grégoire before his speech at the Liberal showcase on April 6, 2013.
Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, wearing what someone called his "Mandrake the Magician outfit," walks down the grandstand steps to present the Grey Cup trophy to the victorious Montreal Alouettes in this Nov. 28, 1970 photo.
Pierre Trudeau leans over to kiss an unidentified young lady to the seeming surprise of his recent bride Margaret. Trudeau and Margaret spent Saturday March 27, 1971 at maple tree farm here near Montreal at a sugaring out party.
Pierre Trudeau accompanies Margaret Sinclair, at the annual Governor General's skating party for members of Parliament in Ottawa Jan. 14, 1970.
Pierre Trudeau looks through the scope of his rifle while on a seal hunting trip in Baffin Island's Clear Water Fjord, July 29, 1968.
Pierre Trudeau shoes off his frisbee catching style while waiting to board his plane in Vancouver May 16, 1979.
Pierre Trudeau had no trouble keeping himself occupied during a break from a boat trip down the Northwest Territories, Nahanni River, Monday Aug. 4, 1970.
Pierre Trudeau takes a wary look at an ice crevice, decides to chance it and makes the leap successfully during a midnight seal- hunting expedition at Clearwater Fjord in Canada's Arctic, July 29, 1968.
Pierre Trudeau receives a kiss from his wife Margaret during a tour of St. Pierre, France, Aug. 1971.
Pierre Trudeau in Guayana 1974.
Pierre Trudeau sticks his tongue out to Canadian Press Photographer Peter Bregg during the 1972 election campaign. This photo was taken aboard the campaign plane where such antics were considered off the record. The photo was not made available until after the death of the prime minister
Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau dances in Montreal Oct. 21, 1979.
Pierre Trudeau sprints away from a crowd of female admirers in Ottawa April 22, 1968. They surrounded him outside the Parliament Buildings on his third day in office.
John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono, meet with Pierre Trudeau Dec. 24, 1969 in Ottawa.
Pierre Trudeau looks on as Cuban President Fidel Castro gestures during a visit to a Havana housing project in this Jan. 27, 1976 photo.
Pierre Trudeau pretending to strangle himself with a tie given to him as he was presented with honorary membership in the National Press Club in Ottawa Sept. 17, 1968.
Pierre Trudeau amuses a group of people in Fortune while on tour through Newfoundland, Aug. 3, 1971.
Pierre Trudeau takes a ride on the Bluenose, Aug. 1972.
Pierre Trudeau works out at an Oshawa health club during a break in his 1968 election campaign.
Pierre Trudeau, with a garland around his neck and a Hindu greeting symbol in paste on his forhead, rides a camel Jan 12, 1971 in the village of Benares, India, where he dedicated a water well.
Pierre Trudeau kids around with a carnation while waiting for voting results at the Liberal convention in this April 7, 1968 photo.
Pierre Trudeau tries cracking a dog sled whip while visiting Baker Lake in the Arctic, March 10, 1970.
Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Sheik Yamani, left, and Pierre Trudeau, right, dance a traditional Arabian dance while camping out in the desert in Madein Saleh, Saudi Arabia, Nov. 18, 1980.
Pierre Trudeau, seen here taking part in Maori ceremonial dance in Wellington, New Zealand May 13, 1970.
Pierre Trudeau does a dance after his campaign bus broke down in Montreal June 6, 1968.
Wearing a "feather in his cap," Pierre Trudeau attended the official opening May 20, 1983, of an archaeological excavation in Hull, Que.
Pierre Trudeau, shown performing his famous pirouette during a May 7, 1977, picture session at Buckingham Palace in London, England.
Pierre Trudeau, in a moment of joy over patriation of Canada's constitution, preformed his now famous pirouette at Uplands Airport on April 18, 1982 following the Queens's departure for London after the 4-day state visit which climaxed with the proclamation of the Constitution Act.
Pierre Trudeau is saluted by RCMP Officer as he carries son Justin to Rideau Hall in 1973.
Prime Minister Trudeau and his then-wife Margaret leave the city's Notre Dame Basilica Sunday afternoon after the christening of their 22-day old infant Justin Pierre James, Jan. 16, 1972. Tasseled shawls kept the baby hidden from photographers and the 10-degree-below-zero weather.
March 1979 photo of the Trudeau children: Michel (front), Alexandre (Sacha) and Justin (rear).
It was a big day for Dad, but a long day for the three Trudeau children. Left to right, Justin, Michel and Alexandre (Sacha) Trudeau attended the swearing in ceremonies of their father Pierre Elliott Trudeau as Prime Minister March 3, 1980 at Government House.
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