The federal Liberal Party of Canada rolled (excuse the pun, more on this later) into Montreal for their Biennale and yours truly had a ball reconnecting with a few old friends still playing the game on Parliament Hill and a few others who weren’t quite so partisan. So instead of relaying boring quotes from various Liberal party types or regurgitating the already lame scandal of General Leslie’s moving expenses (72 grand must get you the champagne and caviar service while you move into your new digs), I thought I would give you my personal and highly subjective impressions of what went down this weekend.
When I arrived at the Palais des Congrès on Thursday afternoon, the place was dead but that changed when Trudeau took the stage for his first speech to the convention, generating some buzz with his much anticipated appearance. The speech had a few key themes among them a somewhat dubious tying together of the rise of xenophobia in Quebec as a result of the Charter and the decline of the middle class. This is questionable on both an economic and political level. I suspect that most economists probably disagree with the assertion about Canada’s disappearing middle class (real median incomes have been stagnate since the ’80s in Canada). Besides, are economics really the driving force behind the so called “Quebec Charter of Values” debate or is it something more insidious that would occur even if Quebec was a more prosperous place?
As for specifics in policy, it was conspicuous by its absence, though Huffpo’s Althea Raj (boy does she ever seem to be smitten with JT) and corporate pundits like Bruce Anderson were suggesting on the CBC At Issue Panel that it’s premature to be releasing too many details at this stage of the game, what with the country still basking in his noble charm and an election 18 months away.
On Friday NDP operatives distributed bingo cards with the pictures of Liberal Senators (minus former disgraced Senator Mac Harb) who technically still belong to the party even though they may no longer be welcome at caucus meetings on the Hill. The stunt didn’t get a lot of attention from the media, but served its purpose in highlighting the obvious discrepancy between Trudeau’s dramatic, but ultimately empty gesture of banishing his former senators and the political baggage that he and the party must still carry as long as the current senators identify as Liberals and participate in party functions.
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Trudeau’s speech on Saturday afternoon was meant to be the climax of the convention but didn’t quite live up to the excessive expectations created by Grit spin doctors. For starters, taking a page from other politicians (i.e. Obama), Trudeau asked us to imagine a middle class Montreal mom named Nathalie who was feeling the economic pressure from the rising household debt and cost of living in Canada. It soon became clear that the Liberal’s had just fabricated the story entirely rather than finding a real person to sit in the crowd during the speech in order to illustrate their point, as is customary in this type of situation. It didn’t take long for the online community to react with fake Natalie twitter accounts (I suspect Tory black-ops were behind this one) and other snarky comments. This basically set the tone for the rest of the speech, which was punctuated by the odd clever line comparing or contrasting himself to Harper mostly and occasionally Mulcair, whom Trudeau seems to think will be running for the Bronze medal in 2015.
The policies of the next Liberal election platform were virtually non-existent again, with only a hint of a taxation policy (no hikes on the middle class) and a few other pronouncements of investments to increase the post-secondary graduation rate to 70% and an increase in spending on infrastructure to 1% of GDP. He did mention the BC wing’s proposal that the party adopt a pro euthanasia stance, although he didn’t endorse it personally and has been extremely cagey about the matter when he’s been asked directly by journalists if he agreed with the resolution (odd, when you look at its popularity in Quebec).
The speech was drawn-out (40 minutes!) and not nearly bilingual enough, considering where the convention was being held. And shockingly for anyone who has been following Trudeau’s ascent in Canadian politics, no references to climate change.
At this rate, it’s a safe bet that Trudeau’s strategists are telling him to keeps his cards close to his chest and give nothing away until it’s absolutely necessary (probably just before the writ drops in 2015). As if to emphasise this point, JT canceled any post-speech press conferences and was nowhere to be seen on the last day of the Biennale.
The most interesting schmooze of the weekend I had the pleasure of being invited to was the Legalization Canada held at the Greenlight Gallery devoted to lobbying the membership of the LPC to carry on with their crusade to legalize Marijuana in Canada. Free beer and being surrounded by pot paraphernalia, as well as some first rate drug policy literature (courtesy of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition), made for a highly stimulating atmosphere. My quest for the fabled Trudeau inspired zig-zags finally came to an end when I bumped into Dana Larsson, Director of the SensibleBC campaign to decriminalize cannabis and disenchanted Dipper (though still a member of the NDP) ,who has run in British Columbia for the NDP among others, who very kindly offered me a pack of the coveted rollies with the Liberal Leader’s likeness on them. Thanks man!
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