What have we learned from all of this?
More importantly, what has Prime Minister Justin Trudeau learned?
After the last five-and-a-half weeks of rough and tumble trash wrestling there are probably some things to take away. But I fear whatever lessons there are here for the Liberal Party to learn will be cast aside.
They’ve beat expectations rather handily. And while not a total victory, beating expectations has a funny affect on people. Particularly people with a built in level of smug. And so after pulling out a plurality of seats—at the time of this writing 157, to the Tories’ 121 — Trudeau and the Liberals have frittered away a majority, but still pulled out a win.
It’s quite the rebuke of a government handed power only four years ago.
At the same time, its a failure of an opposition unable to capitalize on a wounded Trudeau who left many wanting. The ugliness of the campaign was pretty apparent. The cynicism, even more so.
Justin Trudeau came to be prime minister on the back of not just a wave of optimism, but cresting atop the idea that government could be different. But the first four years of his reign as prime minister proved that hope is an illusion, hard work will only break your spirit.
Trudeau’s incantation of Wilfrid Laurier’s “sunny ways” only put into sharp focus how truly cynical he was. When he brought up Laurier this Monday night, Trudeau was no longer invoking sunny ways, instead he was invoking Laurier’s commitment to “patriotism and the unifying power of common goals and aspirations.”
No longer can he pull from the loftier goals of high rhetoric, instead he was forced to look to pragmatism with a rosy gloss. He no longer holds an iron grip on Parliament, so he must intone for the need for co-operation.
His government, reduced to a minority, has a broader public to answer to. No longer can the whims of the Prime Minister’s Office be the sole directors of the nation’s course. Instead, the prime minister has to keep in mind the wishes of the other parties.
In theory, this means keeping the NDP and their 24 MPs happy enough not to blow the whole thing up. In practice? Who knows.
When his government had that unfettered reign, what did they do with it? Those last four years were something of a waste.
I want to use one issue, one that at the time wasn’t one that was particularly important to me, but all the same shows the problem: electoral reform. Trudeau made a crystal clear promise, “We are committed to ensuring that the 2015 election will be the last federal election using first-past-the-post.”
Of course, it wasn’t the last first-past-the-post election. Monday’s will probably not be the last first-past-the-post election. Neither will the next one. It was a promise that was tossed to the ditch, and left to die an ignoble death.
And the betrayal of that clear promise, with a clear mandate to follow through on it, has only bred more cynicism into the process, in a way that goes beyond just the typical “politicians always break their promises” refrain.
This is perhaps our own fault for believing him in the first place. But what happens when the next guy comes around the corner, saying “No, I’m really a change from the usual, promise!” Who believes that guy?
Maybe every generation has a grand disappointment. Maybe Trudeau is that disappointment. We should have known better — I should have known better.
When it came down to it this year, when the closing days of the campaign came around, the core cynicism of Trudeau was made clear. The pitch was not even to “Choose Forward” — an awful, empty slogan they’d made their core pitch — but to vote good enough. To vote not-Conservative, by which they meant Liberal. Because, gosh, otherwise you might get a Tory government.
In the end, that was enough to hang on.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer proved himself on a number of occasions to be unserious, at times loose with the truth, and generally a bit too enamoured with his own base. I’ve knocked on this point a few times, but one of Scheer’s biggest problems was assuming people loathed Trudeau and the Liberals as much as he did.
Where a few days ago Scheer was making grave proclamations that the party who won the most seats should get the first chance to sit in the big boy chair, today he was forced to talk about how great it was to shave a few seats off the Liberals, and cut them down to a minority. Decisive victory, this was not.
So now we are left with the wretched detritus of a wretched campaign. It’s unlikely any of this falls apart for some time, so this is what we’ve got.
It will be interesting to see how Trudeau governs after limiting his rhetorical ambition through the campaign, but at the same time kept in place by parties to his left. It might turn into a situation that eliminates the sort of grim complacent and flippant attitude his government took with their first kick at the can.
But there is no sense getting your hopes too high. I’m reminded of a common refrain in the books of Stephen King: Wish in one hand, shit in the other, see which fills up first.
Me, I’ve stopped wishing.
Photo Credit: Times Colonist
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