“Well, welcome to the 1980s!”
These were the words that sprang forth from a triumphant Pierre Trudeau, forty years ago on the evening of February 18, 1980, after he secured a resounding victory in the election polls that day.
It was a significant moment for the elder Trudeau.
After serving as Prime Minister for an impressive 11 years, Trudeau had been defeated the year previous by the Progressive Conservatives, under the leadership of the young and untested Joe Clark.
Up until the point in his career, Trudeau Sr. had not proven particularly transformational.
He had implemented important legislation like the Official Languages Act and provided the country unshakeable leadership during the FLQ crisis. But he also proved quite listless at times, and to many observers, including even some of his own supporters, he had proven something of a disappointment.
As a result, few historians would have ranked him along the likes of John A. Macdonald, Wilfrid Laurier, Mackenzie King and even Lester Pearson, as one of Canada’s great Prime Ministers.
However, after the Conservatives bungled their first budget, resulting in a vote of non-confidence which defeated their government, Trudeau was given the second chance he so desperately needed to leave his personal mark upon the country.
He returned from his brief stint in political retirement to face off against Clark at the polls, winning handily. After that, he wasted precious little time in enshrining his legacy.
Almost single-handily, he held the separatist forces at bay in Quebec’s provincial referendum later that same year. And most importantly, he successfully repatriated the country’s constitution, complete with a Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
It was these feats in his final term which cemented his place in Canadian history as one of Canada’s most important and influential prime ministers.
Fast forward 40 years, and it is now his son’s turn to ring in another decade.
Like his father, Justin Trudeau has the unique opportunity to leave his own mark on the country.
So far in his tenure, Justin has overseen a far more activist government than that of his conservative predecessor.
For starters, his Liberal government legislated upon physician-assisted suicide. They also streamlined the approval of safe injection sites, which have helped save the lives of thousands of Canadians who struggle with opioid addictions.
Furthermore, under the Trudeau Liberals, Canada became the second country in the world to legalize cannabis.
What other achievements deserve mention?
Countless Syrian refugees have been resettled. The country’s first federal gender balanced cabinet has been instituted. And while progress remains on several policy fronts, the Trudeau government has proven to be the most supportive ally of the LGBTQ community in Canadian history.
Not only this, but the Canada Child Benefit was reformed to bolster payments for working class families, helping to uplift hundreds of thousands out of poverty.
All of this was accomplished whilst ensuring the responsible management of the country’s finances. Right-wing critics may fear-monger all they like, but Canada’s federal debt-to-GDP is holding steady and far from the worrying levels witnessed in other G7 countries.
However, while these achievements deserve acclaim, Justin has not proven himself a particularly transformational leader. He has yet to leave his signature mark upon the evolution of the country in a way that his father has.
After all, electoral reform was shamefully abandoned. The Trans Mountain Pipeline has yet to be built. And despite lofty promises to the contrary, national pharmacare remains elusive.
Furthermore, while Trudeau has admirably championed harm reduction practices, his government has yet to take the bold step of decriminalizing the possession of drugs. And while a federal carbon tax has been introduced, Canada remains a long ways off from meeting its emissions targets.
Finally, on Indigenous reconciliation, the best that can be said is that it remains a work in progress. Annual funding has increased, and boil-water advisories have been lifted. Yet still, massive socio-economic disparities remain in place.
Now, what with the escalating railway blockades and protests in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, progress on reconciliation appears even further strained.
It is evident then, that so far in his tenure, Justin remains a transitional Prime Minister.
As another decade begins, he might want to look back in history at his father’s example. If he too wants to be a transformational Prime Minister, he best not dawdle any longer to leave his own mark on the country.
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