An Antidote to Cynicism in Canada

Posted on in Governance Debates – Opinion/Editorial
Nov. 12, 2015.   By The Editorial Board

It has become common to bemoan the sorry state of politics, what with all the big money, dirty tricks, image molding, partisan gridlock and general cynicism. Yet voters seem never to cease longing for a leader who can restore pride to high office and rekindle the national spirit.

Sometimes it actually happens. John F. Kennedy will be remembered for his youth and his inspiring call for sacrifice in his Inaugural Address. For all the tribulations of his presidency, Barack Obama’s election was a shining moment for Americans. Now Canada is having its moment with Justin Trudeau, the new prime minister.

Since his election victory, in which his Liberal Party soared to 184 seats from 34 in the Canadian Parliament, the 43-year-old Mr. Trudeau has exuded youthful exuberance. He rode a bus to his swearing-in, he walked through the streets carrying his kids, he mixed with the crowds. He introduced a stunningly diverse cabinet, half of it women and including two indigenous Canadians; three Sikhs, one a military hero; the first Canadian in space; and two ministers with disabilities.

His intent, he explained simply, was to “present to Canada a cabinet that looks like Canada.” When asked why an equal number of men and women, his response was even more refreshing: “Because it’s 2015.”

After a campaign in which his Conservative opponent, Stephen Harper, raised Syrian refugees and the Muslim veil as divisive issues, Mr. Trudeau named a Muslim woman born in Afghanistan as his minister for democratic institutions. The minister for citizenship and immigration was rechristened minister for immigration, refugees and citizenship, and charged with resettling 25,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees by the end of the year.

There is an almost involuntary reflex at euphoric moments like this to warn that it cannot last. Political passion can be polarizing and no aura lasts forever, as Mr. Trudeau’s father, Pierre Trudeau, learned when the extraordinary excitement he generated in his day, dubbed “Trudeaumania,” began to wane. There are many conservative Canadians, of course, who already resent Justin Trudeau’s brand of liberalism.

Mr. Trudeau is inexperienced in politics and given to slips of the tongue. Canada’s economy is being buffeted by the fallen prices of oil and other commodities, and he will have to balance his promises against the realities of Canada’s dependence on its natural resources. On another front, Mr. Trudeau has already notified Mr. Obama that he is withdrawing Canadian warplanes from the American-led raids on Islamic State terrorists in Syria.

Yet for a majority of Canadians, Mr. Trudeau and his cabinet symbolize a renewed sense of national identity rooted in diversity, in humane and inclusive social policies at home and in humanitarian service overseas. The thrill of the moment may be fleeting, but it is invaluable for awakening new generations to public service and as an antidote to the cynicism about politics that has sadly become the norm in established democracies.

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