Justin Trudeau’s coronation-like victory, combined with a few encouraging polls, has infused Liberals with hope for better days ahead. They forget the internal contradictions of their own party.
This callow youth inherits a tarnished crown. In the last election, fewer than one voter in five supported a Liberal candidate. The party itself estimates that about a third of all ridings are moribund, with no effective organization in place. Vast swaths of the nation have abandoned the Liberals – in some cases for decades.
If Mr. Trudeau is to restore the once-mighty Liberal brand to respectability, he must win them back. And yet, convincing one tranche to return risks further alienating another.
In some cases, the new leader will be courting progressive voters who had abandoned the party of the so-called radical centre for the New Democrats. In other cases, economically prudent voters who once trusted Liberals on the economy now count on Stephen Harper’s Conservatives to mind the store.
How can any party or leader appeal to both groups at the same time? The easy answer is: govern. That is how Liberals brokered their uneasy coalition for decades.
Mr. Trudeau is not yet able to credibly offer the promise of government. And yet he must rebuild the party.
Here are five groups of Canadians essential to that reconstruction.
Quebeckers haven’t supported the Liberal Party since Justin Trudeau’s father was prime minister. Anyone else would do: Progressive Conservatives in the 1980s, the Bloc Québécois after that, and most recently Jack Layton’s NDP. Each election Liberals convinced themselves that this time things would be different for them in Quebec. Each time Quebec broke their heart.
Is Justin Trudeau finally The One? André Pratte thinks not – or at least, not yet.
“I would say there is a polite curiosity about him,” says the editor-in-chief of La Presse. Quebeckers are far from enamoured of a young leader with little experience and fewer policies. “But they’re willing to take a look at him.”
Mr. Pratte suspects the time might be right for the Liberals to make gains in Quebec. Yes, some still seethe at the memory of Mr. Trudeau’s father repatriating the Constitution without Quebec’s signature, but they are a diminishing minority.
The taint of the sponsorship scandal is finally fading, overwhelmed by the stench of municipal corruption. The NDP has yet to sink deep roots in the province, despite having a preponderance of MPs. And separatist impulses are at a low ebb.
“We’re at a period now where Quebeckers simply want good government, both at the provincial level and at the federal level,” Mr. Pratte believes. If Mr. Trudeau can put together a package of economic and environmental policies that are (a) credible, and (b) contrast with the deeply unpopular Conservatives under Mr. Harper, “then they have a chance,” he believes.
Over the past two decades, Canada has imported nearly two Torontos-worth of immigrants, most of them from Asian and Pacific nations, profoundly altering both the demographic and political landscape. Many of them now live in the sprawling suburban cities that surround Toronto. While new Canadians used to support the Liberals – traditionally the party identified with multiculturalism and open immigration – polls show this generation of new arrivals is more economically and culturally conservative than those who came over from Europe in the last century. They worry about the economy and safe streets and are inclined to believe that activist governments make things worse instead of better. In the last election, middle-class, suburban voters in Ontario – including middle-class, immigrant voters – strongly supported the Harper Conservatives. Justin Trudeau’s single greatest priority must be to win them back.
The problem, observes John Wright of Ipsos Public Affairs, is that the sort of pitch Mr. Trudeau must make to take supporters from the NDP in Quebec and Atlantic Canada – the Liberals will provide a strong national government that expands postsecondary education and protects the environment, among other things – is likely to turn off those suburban, immigrant voters in Ontario and elsewhere who currently support the Conservatives.
Mr. Wright predicts that economic concerns will continue to trump all other issues for at least a decade. For middle-class immigrant voters living in suburbs in such an environment, he believes, “hope is one thing, but having a fatter wallet is more important.”
According to Elections Canada, 61 per cent of eligible Canadians voted in the last general election. But only 39 per cent of Canadians between the ages of 18 and 24 and 45 per cent of those 25 to 34 cast a ballot. The so-called millennials are more disengaged from politics than any previous generation.