President George W. Bush gave the world the Iraq War, environmental disasters, a stacked Supreme Court, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper for a decade. With the cutting of that umbilical cord, Canadians and progressive Americans should feel great relief, at least for the short term.
At 8 pm on Monday October 19th, the Liberals, lead by Justin Trudeau, had taken 184 seats, the Conservatives 102, the New Democratic Party 41, PQ 10, and the Greens one, evidence of a nationwide desire to throw Harper into the dustbin. The formidable effort of Lead Now to encourage “strategic voting” added to an anti-Harper consensus that was overwhelming.
From Vancouver, Canadian author John Gray summed it up in one succinct email: ”The Prime Minister eked out an MA in Economics with a lickspittle thesis under the tutelage of Hayek and Strauss. One thing about Strauss was that he had nothing but contempt for the voters and encouraged whatever it takes to gain power. Willie Horton, I think, was an instance of this. The kerfuffle over the Niqab is the same thing, only worse.’'
Trudeau’s program, after a honeymoon, will be that of a progressive centrist, but one of his promises could be transformative: the implementation of proportional representation system, which permits greater participation to a more diverse spectrum of voters. Another shift will be toward a better climate policy, since Harper has been close to the climate-denial camp. The Liberal platform promises a $100 million annual boost in clean energy spending and, as Marran Smith of Clean Energy Canada has commented, “When you look around the world, Canada has a clean energy advantage.We have renewable energy resources from coast to coast to coast, and the cost of renewables is falling." Canada is home to one of the most passionate climate justice movements, and Trudeau is likely raise the country’s climate standards consistent with the Obama administration and United Nations agenda in Paris this December.
Trudeau, 43, has the heritage and sensibility to be a major leader not only in Canada but also for Western countries weakened from a period of increasing austerity, anti-immigrant anxiety and right-wing extremism. He will have to navigate the country’s deep differences, ranging from Bay Street neo-liberals to environmentalists fighting oil pipelines and forest destruction, from the First Nations to the Quebecois with their differing sovereignty claims. He will inevitably disappoint the left, which will adapt to new strategies for making progressive gains based on social movements and coalitions. But that will be a complicated adjustment after years of being excluded completely.