Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau provides an update during the leaders’ debate in the French-language federal elections, Wednesday, September 8, 2021, in Gatineau, Que. (Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press via AP)
To hear some reporters say it, the re-election of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last week was in fact a defeat. “Justin Trudeau’s snap-election bet backfires,” CNN said in a headline. “Trudeau’s campaign bet fails,” the Associated Press said. The prime minister, they noted, called an early election in hopes that his liberal party would secure an absolute majority in parliament. In the end, Trudeau only won a few more seats and must continue to rely on the (also left-wing) New Democratic Party to rule. This underperformance, the PA hypothesized, “may well spell the end of his demise in the future.” PoliticsThe Ottawa “Ottawa Playbook” agreed: “Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will now have to call an election and his C $ 600 million prize, and face a new set of questions about his leadership. “
Among the media, predicting Trudeau’s defeat and discussing his weakened appeal is a proud tradition. In August 2019, for example, The GuardianThe correspondent for Canada is the author of an article entitled “Justin Trudeau: The Rise and Fall of a Political Brand”. He concluded that Trudeau faced “an extraordinary challenge” in the next October competition because, among other things, he pressured his attorney general not to sue a major Canadian engineering firm accused of corruption. His reputation took an even bigger hit the following month when photos of him emerged at the brown-faced age of 29. His party lost its absolute majority in the following elections.
But reports of Trudeau’s disappearance are greatly exaggerated. A win is a win, and when it comes to winning, Trudeau did quite a bit. His third electoral victory almost ensures that he will be the rich world’s oldest progressive leader. Of all the OECD countries with left-wing heads of state, only Swede Stefan Löfven has been in office longer and, barring a massive and sudden scandal, Trudeau will soon overtake him (Löfven will retire in November). The Canadian prime minister remained in power at a time when much of the world shifted to the right – in many cases, like the United States under Donald Trump, far to the right. This fact alone makes him one of the most successful progressive leaders on the planet.
Power, of course, is only as good as what you make of it. Trudeau’s tenure produced a long list of political achievements. The Prime Minister expanded Canada’s version of social security, known as the Canada Pension Plan, by increasing the amount of income the system replaces from one-quarter to one-third, a change that has thrilled unions. He increased the Guaranteed Income Supplement by 10%, which the government offers to particularly poor seniors. His parliament created the tax-free child care benefit for poor children. He launched and then increased the country’s very first carbon tax. It passed a broad infrastructure package, which is larger as a percentage of GDP than the bipartisan infrastructure bill that the US Congress is currently considering. (It’s greener too.) He legalized weed. After a mass shooting in 2020, it banned 1,500 different types of firearms. He plans to increase the number of immigrants to Canada to levels not seen since 1911. Last May, his government began budgeting tens of billions of federal dollars to reduce child care costs to less than $ 10 per year. day.
“This is perhaps the most left-wing government in Canadian history,” Canadian journalist Stephen Maher wrote last week, commenting on both the progressive achievements of the Liberal Party and its third electoral victory. The Prime Minister’s record is what you might expect from the Democratic Party if he had won a landslide victory in 2020, with Elizabeth Warren leading the way
Trudeau’s policies seem to have worked well. Poverty – which was increasing before he took office in 2015 – declined during his tenure, from 14.5% to 10.1% in 2019 (the most recent year for which data is available). This is at least in part attributable to the Child Care Benefit, which experts say reduced child poverty by 20 percent in the two years since its enactment. Deep poverty, meanwhile, fell from 7.4% to 5.0%. The share of Canadians earning less than half the median income was increasing before Trudeau’s victory. Since his first victory, he has declined by 15%. The share of after-tax income accruing to the poorest 40 percent of wage earners, largely stagnant under its predecessor, has increased. It remains to be seen how COVID-19 will shape its economic legacy, but the Trudeau government has put in place an aggressive tax response. The pandemic has complicated government efforts to bring in immigrants, but Canada has remained one of the friendliest countries for foreigners. Of all the refugees who resettled globally in 2020, nearly half went to Canada. This is the third consecutive year that the country has been the world leader in resettlement.
The Prime Minister nevertheless came under heavy fire from the left. “Trudeau’s Blackface is appalling, and so are his policies,” wrote The nation in 2019, shortly after the scandal broke. “The mainstream media,” the article said, “are finally realizing how thin the liberal leader’s progressive veneer has always been.” Around the same time, a Guardian The columnist criticized the Prime Minister for “basking in a progressive image that he does not deserve”. Last week a Jacobin history has described Trudeau as a “fake” and a “champion of the status quo”. We have come a long way since 2015, when the Prime Minister’s charismatic and openly awakening campaign made him an international celebrity. There is no more stan Trudeau.
Not all critics are wrong. Trudeau has done almost enough to make up for the generations of oppression suffered by Indigenous communities in Canada, and he has done far too little to address discrimination in the country’s criminal justice system. He renounced an important commitment to reform his country’s electoral system. It has supported the construction of pipelines for the fossil fuel industry, seriously undermining the country’s ability to tackle climate change. These are obvious failures, and it is important that progressives challenge him.
But Trudeau has, by and large, kept his Liberal promises. Indeed, an independent 2019 assessment of the Prime Minister’s record by 24 academics found that Trudeau had fully delivered over 50 percent of his campaign pledges and partially fulfilled 38.5 percent, the highest number of any government. Canadians since 1984. He is certainly an imperfect leader. . But he does not rule, as Jacobin says, “to the right of the conservatives”.
In fact, Trudeau’s accomplishments become particularly impressive when you consider the Tory he first defeated in 2015. Under Stephen Harper’s nine years, Canada – never quite the progressive paradise that many American liberals imagine – was in decidedly right-wing territory. Harper cut social services for the poor, including making it harder to access unemployment insurance. It pulled Canada out of the Kyoto Protocol and systematically weakened elements of the country’s environmental protection regime. It closed 12 of the 16 regional offices operated by Status of Women Canada, a federal government agency dedicated to promoting gender equality, and cut its independent research fund. He deleted a database that tracked possession of assault rifles. Harper’s control was so complete that he succeeded in pushing through legislation to raise Canada’s retirement age to 67 from 2023, something the Republican Party was never able to accomplish in the United States. (Upon taking office, Trudeau quickly repealed the age increase.)
VSthe anada, with a more progressive population and a parliamentary electoral system that does not systematically stifle liberals, is different from the United States. There are clear limits to what the country can teach us.
Nevertheless, elements of Trudeauism are making their way within the Democratic Party. They are most clearly evident in the Biden administration’s multibillion-dollar Build Back Better bill, hugely ambitious progressive legislation that could bring the United States much closer to its northern neighbor. Parts of the plan, including the billions of dollars that would go towards lowering the cost of child care, resemble some of Trudeau’s accomplishments.
Other elements of the Prime Minister’s political formula are evident in the behavior of progressives in the Democratic Party. The Canadian left clearly does not like the Prime Minister, but over the past six years it has swallowed up its disagreements enough to keep him in power. American progressives may not worship Biden, and they wish he did a lot more to advance their agenda. But they’ve consistently aligned behind Build Back Better because they recognize it for what it is, not what it isn’t.
Whether that is enough is another story. The more conservative representatives of the Democratic Party have not been so sympathetic to the president’s policies, and several are in open revolt against the many facets of the reconciliation bill.
It would be too simplistic to tell moderates that, based on what is happening in Canada, they would be sure to get re-elected if they voted for a boldly liberal agenda. But if these politicians really care about helping the marginalized and creating a better political climate, Trudeau should at least inspire them. Not only did he pass popular and progressive legislation, but he shifted the political center of gravity in a more liberal direction. In an attempt to defeat him, Erin O’Toole, the most recent challenger to Trudeau’s Conservative Party, has adopted a host of progressive policies. He is committed to maintaining the carbon tax. He spoke out loudly as “an ally of the LGBTQ community” and told voters he would work to keep abortion available across the country. In his post-election speech, he criticized Trudeau for not doing enough to help Indigenous Canadians.
“Ours is a conservatism that does not reside in the past, but draws lessons from it to secure the future,” he told voters. “It’s a conservatism that revere strong communities and compassion for one another, for our environment and for those in need, at home and abroad.” Hearing the speech, I remembered Margaret Thatcher’s famous (and perhaps apocryphal) statement that Tony Blair was her greatest triumph. It is rare that a prime minister can list the ideology of his opponents as an accomplishment. Justin Trudeau, like Thatcher, can now make that claim.