In 1962, Saturday Night, the quintessentially Canadian magazine, was bought by a right-wing zealot who immediately shifted its content. He could change the script but not the institution, and so, in a year, the magazine was collapsing. As Arnold Edinborough resumed control, he opened the next issue with the line: "Before I was so rudely interrupted..."
Capital-L Liberalism has certainly been rudely interrupted in Canada this past decade. It deserved to be, with its sponsorship scandal and the backroom anointment of Michael Ignatieff. But did our small-l liberalism deserve to be so rudely interrupted, and the red Tories marginalized too?
Hardly. Has not the world been seeing enough of the bullying of big office by the likes of Bush, Cheney, Netanyahu, Putin, el-Sisi, Erdogan, and so many others? Did Canada really have to chip in too? And within the country, did we really need an intensification of the mindless dogma that is now creating so much havoc across the world: that greed is good, markets are sacred, governments are suspect, and all the resulting entitlements are necessary.
The world needs quite the opposite, and Canada had been one of the few countries to buck the trends that have been destroying democracies and the planet. So it's good news that "Canada is back!", at home and abroad.
Of course, that Canada never really left; it just went into hiding. The resiliency of our truly liberal democracy is indicated by the facts that, at the end of the Harper decade, the CBC remains as indefatigably independent as ever, still a model of what non-corporate media can be; our Supreme Court stands in sharp contrast to that of the United States (and may turn out to be Harper's greatest legacy!); and only one of the ten provincial governments can be called conservative. No wonder our ex-prime minister has been so quiet.
Now Justin Trudeau is defining Canada, at home and abroad. But of course, Canada has defined Justin Trudeau. Can we imagine anyone who is more quintessentially Canadian, in his open, compassionate, and thoughtful style, thoroughly bilingual?
Leadership does not turn us into something we're not; it brings out the best within us. In Canada, that has been to see the world with decency and good sense, in the pursuit of balance in a strident, lop-sided world.
The new prime minister is off to a good start. Just look at that cabinet. Can he keep this up? Time will tell. But there is one especially encouraging sign: interesting ideas are bubbling out of this administration. Imagine that: A creative politician. How refreshing! Where were the schoolteachers -- this kind at least -- while we endured all those lawyers, economists, academics, and businesspeople? Don't we pride ourselves in our diversity?
We could have seen this coming, had we opened our eyes, even during the long election campaign. Thankfully enough Canadians did that, if not so many of the pundits. Even an old Liberal friend told me a couple of years ago that the Party will be doomed when the people find out the truth about Justin Trudeau. Well, we are finding out the truth about Justin Trudeau!
My partner and I went to have a look for ourselves early in the campaign. We attended an event in Montreal, to hear what this young, inexperienced party leader had to say. Plenty, all of it informed and sensible. Toward the end, someone made a rather long convoluted statement, ending with three questions. Trudeau commented for a while, and then the guy leapt up and claimed that his questions had not been answered. "You're right!" Trudeau replied, and then proceeded to tackle them one by one. We were impressed. He listens. Now other people will have to listen to him.
Of course, the honeymoon will soon be over. The devotees of democratic capitalism (notice what's the noun), having failed to stop the surge, are waiting in the trees, like panthers, ready to pounce. They will find reason, whether or not justified. Financial entitlements are what they want, not balance between social and economic needs.
I wrote in my 2013 book Simply Managing that people in positions of authority are flawed, like the rest of us. They succeed when these flaws are not fatal under the circumstances. But how to predict that? Spouses, of course, can tell us about the flaws of their partners (but she's not talking!). So we will have to wait and see. Some people succeed despite their flaws, while others are brought down by their flaws. (Remember Stephen Harper?)
Justin Trudeau took to the stage on October 19th to announce that "Canada is back!" Not a moment too soon. Small-l liberalism is back, and the world may be a prime beneficiary. Once again therefore, I am proud to express my Canadian patriotism, not because my country requires it, but because our world needs it. We, not God, need to keep our land glorious and free, so that thee, O Canada, can stand on guard for a better world.