05/15/2013 12:31 EDT | Updated 07/15/2013 05:12 EDT

We'll Get the Trudeau We Deserve

Justin Trudeau is our ink blot, a psychological device that lets us project our beliefs onto him, letting us think he stands for us. While he speaks in broad platitudes, his name is also a powerful symbol of Canada, so he is able to bring along voters regardless of substance.

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TORONTO, ON - APRIL 6: Justin Trudeau holds his hand to his heart as he walks off stage at the federal Liberal showcase at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. (David Cooper/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Recently, I had a blog forming in my head, but Damien Gillis beat me to it. Rats, I thought at first, but then found myself pleased that somebody else did the work, and better than I could have.

The topic was Justin Trudeau's capture by the kind of political advisors who may simply put a gentler face on the disastrous pathway Canada is now on with regards to energy, trade, and undermining the conditions that make our planet habitable.

This can be done because Trudeau is our ink blot, a psychological device that lets us project our beliefs onto him, letting us think he stands for us. While he speaks in broad platitudes, his name is also a powerful symbol of Canada, so he is able to bring along voters regardless of substance.

At the same time, something surprising was needed to establish leadership-aspiring Trudeau with gravitas on Bay Street, so the decision was made to come out in favour of China's takeover of Nexen, and in favour of the Keystone XL pipeline -- equivalent in climate pollution to 51 coal fired power plants. Incredibly, Trudeau criticized the Harper government for not doing enough to promote it. Trudeau even followed Alison Redford into the dark place of advocating censorship by going after Thomas Mulcair for talking about Canada's awful environmental record while in America.

I'll leave for another time whether the Trudeau brand can sustain the dissonance that comes with trying to simultaneously be about "hope" while pushing projects and policies that run the other way, particularly with the younger demographic Trudeau is associated with. We are now at that dire point where those promoting more fossil fuels are simply on the wrong side of history.

Ultimately, we'll get the Trudeau we deserve.

As with all politicians, but perhaps more so in Trudeau's case, they follow rather than lead, and unless we organize ourselves to lead, other forces will step in, chief among them those with a vested interest in keeping Canada on the destructive path it is on. And this leads to a conversation about building a progressive movement and progressive infrastructure in Canada, something conservatives figured out a decade ago, and something that we are just waking up to now.

Ironically, the Harper government sees itself as dismantling the progressive infrastructure that Pierre Elliot Trudeau put in place during his time in office while it sets about putting its own in place. Several years ago in the bookRescuing Canada's Right, Tasha Kheiriddin and Adam Daifallah called for conservative infrastructure to compete with what they then saw as a state-funded progressive infrastructure network in Canada.

So now we have the Harper government's aggressive push to shut down or weaken groups or initiatives that could be considered part of this progressive network, for example the Court Challenges Program, Status of Women Canada, Rights and Democracy, KAIROS, Katimavic, the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, and many more. Not content to stop at government-funded groups, the Conservatives have also gone after NGOs and unions to weaken them.

Meanwhile, conservatives have been putting in place their own infrastructure. In addition to the Manning Centre, there is the National Citizens Coalition, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, the Civitas Society, the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, the Fraser Institute, the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, the Montreal Economic Institute, the Society for Quality Education, Merit Canada, Ethical Oil, and the political science department at the University of Calgary. On the media side, there exists the National Post, the Sun TV and newspaper outlets, as well as various talk radio stations.

In short, Canadian conservatives have successfully put in place an infrastructure that is used to hold politicians of all stripes -- including Conservatives -- accountable to right wing causes and ideals, while eviscerating or weakening entities that could do the same on the other side.

Into this political environment step Justin Trudeau and other leaders. We've already witnessed the coordinated pushback whenever Mulcair dares to question the oil agenda. So, for an ink blot like Trudeau, what do you think he will do? Tellingly, his advisors have presented relatively little target for the right wing infrastructure to go after, but have safely risked presenting a target for progressives, because they know we are weaker. This is a pattern that is unlikely to change much until we get our act together.

Politicians follow, not lead. Canadian conservatives have organized a movement and an infrastructure to lead. Unless Canadian progressives do the same, we will continue to get the Trudeau -- or any other leader - that we deserve. We can continue to complain about what our elected officials do or don't do, but in the end it's up to us. We need to organize.