Watching the daily onslaught of articles coming out of Canada’s right wing media machine regarding the Liberal leadership bid of Justin Trudeau, one would think a national election was looming.
The National Post has devoted more front page and opinion space to the very early days of a simple party leadership selection than any other comparable contest in recent memory. Before Mr. Trudeau even officially entered the race, article upon article upon article was published assessing this would be candidate, his possible policies, many weaknesses and numerous negatives. Since the announcement of his candidacy, they have pumped out even more.
Yes, Mr. Trudeau is the son of one of the most revered – or reviled – Prime Ministers in modern Canadian history. He is a highly articulate and confident young family man who is flawlessly bilingual.
But the real answer is that Mr. Trudeau has the Conservatives in Canada scared silly. In fact, their own internal polling shows that he is a grave danger to their continued electoral success. Public polling shows that he would win a majority government, if an election were held today. So, not even waiting for him to be selected as Liberal leader, which is not guaranteed, they went on the offensive.
Not to be outdone, Canada’s Sun Media, known as Fox News North, uncovered a 2010 appearance on the television program Les francs-tireurs (The “free shooters”), in which Mr. Trudeau is heard, in french, assessing that in his opinion, the most successful Prime Ministers in modern history were from the province of Quebec. He even includes Brian Mulroney, a conservative on his list. He also says:
“Canada isn’t doing well right now because it’s Albertans who control our community and socio-democratic agenda. It doesn’t work.”
The timing of this video re-release is curious, given that three by-elections were underway nationally, the tightest of which was in Alberta’s Calgary Center, where the Liberals had a very legitimate and unexpected shot at winning. Despite losing by a narrow four percent, the race was far more competitive than expected and one can speculate that Sun Media was doing its best to help the conservative team.
But just what did he say that was so wrong?
That he feels the best Prime Ministers of the past century have come from Quebec? That is a view likely held my many, many others and in any case is just an opinion.
The Alberta comment is the more politically troubling one, and Mr. Trudeau quickly apologized and clarified that he was clumsily attacking the current Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, who is from Alberta.
But remember, it was more than two years ago. It was for a french audience where Mr. Trudeau was addressing Canadian unity and Quebec’s place within Canada.
Yes – context matters.
And I could easily write an entire series of articles that would illustrate that the political and social views widely held in Alberta are in fact not shared by the majority of Canadians. I think most Albertans would also agree, as they spend plenty of time themselves pointing out exactly the same thing with regard to the rest of Canada, and Quebec in particular. (Albeit from the opposite perspective!)
But from the standpoint of fairness, this whole manufactured episode fall flat and reeks of unnecessary desperation. Moreover, Canadian conservatives absolutely hate it when old quotes of Prime Minsiter Stephen Harper are trotted out as examples of his “real philosophy” and “hidden agenda”. Gems like:
“I think in Atlantic Canada, because of what happened in the decades following Confederation, there is a culture of defeat that we have to overcome.” (Anti-Atlantic Canada)
“As a religion, bilingualism is the god that failed. It has led to no fairness, produced no unity, and cost Canadian taxpayers untold millions.” (Anti-Quebec)
“The fundamental strategy of the Liberal party for the last 30 years remains screw the West, get the rest.” (Pro-Western)
“We [Alberta] are the only province in Canada keeping pace with the top tier countries in the world. Now we must show that we will not stand for a second-tier country run by a third-world leader with fourth-class values.” (Pro-Alberta)
“Whether Canada ends up as one national government, or two national governments, or several national governments or some other kind of arrangement is, quite frankly, secondary in my opinion.” (I’d like to know what is primary…)
“You’ve got to remember that west of Winnipeg the ridings the Liberals hold are dominated by people who are either recent Asian immigrants or recent migrants from eastern Canada: people who live in ghettoes and who are not integrated into western Canadian society.” (Yikes!)
Given Mr. Harper’s past ramblings, I would advise the Conservatives to be careful with this strategy. It could easily backfire. Alternatively, I would strongly advise Mr. Trudeau that if chosen as leader, he should assemble a team that can use this sort of thing to their advantage in a way the two previous Liberal leaders did not.
More importantly, one can easily surmise that these attacks on Mr. Trudeau are nothing more than a continuing Conservative trend that pits region against region and Canadian against Canadian for political gain, with the long term goal being a more decentralized and less unified Canadian federation.
Canadian voters would be wise to keep this in mind.