It is sometimes said that it’s hard to attract good people to the cutthroat game of politics. But with the election of Justin Trudeau as leader of the Liberals, Canada now has three federal party leaders who are proof the maxim isn’t always true. Mr. Trudeau, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair are all strong contenders, each with his own momentum and style. The result for Canadian voters can only be positive.
Prime Minister Harper is the person who led the Conservatives back into power after the collapse of the Progressive Conservative Party in 1993. Love him or hate him, he is unquestionably a first-rate political tactician whose talents helped bring his party its coveted majority in the last election. As prime minister, he guided the country through the 2008 financial collapse relatively unscathed, and has proven to be a strong statesman in foreign affairs. His weaknesses include a demeanour that no one would call charismatic, but what he lacks in charm he makes up for by coming across as a serious-minded and steady leader.
Mr. Mulcair, the leader of the NDP and Opposition leader, took over the NDP after the death of Jack Layton. He inherited a party that was propelled into Opposition status by winning 59 off its 101 seats in Quebec (they subsequently lost one seat when an MP crossed the aisle to join the Bloc Québécois). Mr. Mulcair is a brash, ambitious and well-spoken leader who just this past weekend successfully saw his party finally strip language out of its constitution that, while vital to the NDP’s socialist roots, was preventing it from being a serious contender to govern the country. His main weakness is his party’s dependence on the fickle Quebec voter, but he has now positioned the NDP to better attract left-wing support in other parts of the country.
And then there is Mr. Trudeau, the scion of one of the most famous names in the history of Canadian politics. Charming, handsome and determined to be a uniter, he shouldn’t automatically be dismissed on grounds he lacks substance. When he originally went into elected politics, Mr. Trudeau could have accepted a nomination in a safe Liberal seat in Montreal, but instead he chose to run in a working-class riding held at the time by the Bloc Québécois. He won the seat back for the Liberals. He also showed political chops in his landslide victory as the new Liberal leader. His weakness is his relative inexperience, but no opponent should ignore how quickly he learns or how self-aware he is.
The only other federal leader with a national profile is the Green Party’s Elizabeth May, who has also proven to be a tough and knowledgeable political fighter. The Conservatives, NDP and Greens are well-defined in terms of image, and hopefully that will be the case for the Liberals soon as well. It will make for an interesting election in 2015.