Partisans spend so much time in Canadian politics objectifying the past. At what point, in this country of so little history and too much geography, can history actually be history?
Justin Trudeau seems the epitome of this retrospective, partisan pornography. His entire political career and now leadership candidacy are framed by his father’s legacy.
But Trudeau the Younger isn’t the second coming. He is actually the cure to the party’s obsession with history. True, what the snide call a weakness, voters consistently perceive as a strength; he has that old art of oratory perfected. Justin is his own man: stylish, confident, charismatic. He’ll invoke enthusiasm in excess.
The MP from Papineau brings a winning record – from hard-fought, door-to-door local campaigns, to, yes, a boxing match – his dad didn’t boast when he became leader. Justin earned his seat, and held it; PET inherited his seat. The father was the epitome of the natural governing party: he won simply because he was a talented, qualified Liberal. His son has done the opposite: he won despite a sinking ship – in two campaigns.
In an era when the two other parties are led by boring career politicians, Justin Trudeau is automatically a foil. And from fundraisers to campaign offices, he knows how to find the inspiring words and uplifting cadences to rally people to his cause.
His values, articulated across the country this past decade in high-school auditoriums to intrigued kids like me, will be at the heart of a vision of a Big Canada.
Canadian partisans may look to the past with reverence. In hard times, it’s not surprising we look to better days. We may wish our leaders to be like King Arthur, the once and future king. But it’s easy and a cheap trick to hope we can return to yesteryear.
Because, as the Lion King teaches, the past is in the past. Pierre Trudeau is gone. His son gave his eulogy, saying, “He left politics in ‘84. But he came back for Meech. He came back for Charlottetown. He came back to remind us of who we are and what we’re all capable of. But he won’t be coming back anymore. It’s all up to us, all of us, now.”
The time to take solace in retrospection is over. But partisans seem to live for it.
The Liberals are the worst. Party president Mike Crawley and I often lament that if Barack Obama spent as much time celebrating Roosevelt and LBJ as Liberals do applauding Pearson and PET, Obama would be a junior senator with a funny name.
Liberal blogger Theresa Lubowitz made a series of images online: Liberal prime ministers, their accomplishments listed with #nbd (Twitterspeak for “no big deal”). As she explained, the irony was twofold: of course health care, the Charter and the flag are big deals but they’ll be nothing more than relics if Liberals don’t create a new party.
The Tories try to cast themselves into the drama of building Canada, calling themselves “Canada’s founding party,” tracing the merged party formed in 2003 back to Sir John A. MacDonald.
The NDP also plays the nostalgia game. The ongoing hagiography of Jack Layton adds to a long history of arguing with Liberals over who truly built progressive Canada. But their partisans’ bright idea to put on “Layton mustaches” at events and rallies is simply creepy. Canadians can cherish a man’s memory but, at some point, we have to let the dead bury their dead and be dead in peace.
Canadian voters, worried about the future, likely tune out this political self-gratification, occasionally with disgust.
Mr. Trudeau’s speech to launch his leadership contained a call against mindlessness.
Quoting St Paul, Mr. Trudeau extolled to an overflowing crowd of five hundred cheering supporters: “‘When I was a child, I spoke as a child. But now that I am a man, I put away childish things.’ It is time for us, for this generation of Canadians to put away childish things. More, it is time for all of us to come together and get down to the very serious, very adult business of building a better country for ourselves, for our fellow Canadians, and for our children.”
It’s time to think about the future once again and to put off childish dreams.
Jonathan Scott is the president of the University of Toronto Liberals.