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Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente.

Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente.

margaret wente

Justin Trudeau: A leader with no parade Add to ...

The President of the United States adores you. He throws a state dinner in your honour and cracks friendly jokes. He gives you a 19-gun salute. The mainstream media are in a swoon over the bromance. They hail you as the anti-Trump. You get your picture on the front page of The New York Times and The Washington Post. As the Canadian press corps giddily take selfies in the White House, influential think tanks call you a global leader in the progressive movement.

It doesn’t get better than this. As Barack Obama said, “What’s not to like?”

Justin Trudeau should savour the moment while it lasts. A year from now, Mr. Obama will be working on his library and someone else will be in the White House – God only knows who. The reality is that the progressive movement is in crisis around the world. Things aren’t looking all that sunny back home, either.

As Mr. Trudeau gushes on about refugees and climate change, Canadians have grown anxious. Economic confidence has plunged to its lowest point in 20 years, according to a new Ipsos poll. Last July, 65 per cent of us were optimistic about the economy. Today, only 36 per cent of us are optimistic. Broad swaths of Canada are on the ropes. Alberta has been badly wounded. Newfoundland is a basket case again. New Brunswick is being likened to Greece, without the charm. “The collapse of commodity prices, particularly oil, is starting to dig into people’s own lives,” Ipsos chief Darrell Bricker told Global News. “This is now having a real impact on individuals.”

Mr. Trudeau may be determined to make Canada a world leader on climate change (by imposing carbon taxes when the United States has none). But most Canadians have other priorities – the economy, health care and taxes, to name a few. Climate change is way down the list.

The energetic idealists who are eager to turn Canada into the most climate-friendly, inclusive, feminist, diversity-positive country on the planet need to keep in mind that most Canadians don’t care much about any of these things. They didn’t elect Mr. Trudeau to be the new face of global progressivism. They elected him because he looked like a credible alternative to Stephen Harper. They’re not all that excited about his Syrian refugee project, either; Mr. Trudeau deserves credit for refugee resettlement, but he needs to stop the moral preening. If we were in Germany’s shoes, we’d be reacting the way they are.

In Europe, progressive leaders are under siege because they have failed to manage the challenges to national identity from immigration and terrorist threats. On the weekend, a far-right party delivered a stinging blow to Chancellor Angela Merkel in the German regional elections – yet another sign of the angry populism that is sweeping across Europe. The European Union is no closer to managing its refugee problems than it was last fall, and no appeals to the generosity and tolerance of the populace have done the least amount of good.

The progressive movement in the United States is also in disarray. The widespread appeal of Bernie Sanders, as The Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne writes, is a rebuke to the moderate Third Way policies of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, who believed that capitalism could deliver the goods and could be balanced (as Mr. Blair wrote) by a “competent public sector, providing services of quality to the citizen and social protection for those who are vulnerable.”

That’s what Mr. Trudeau believes, too. He is a model Third Way politician. His ideas still have plenty of appeal in Canada, which was spared the worst of the post-2008 slump. But they have increasingly been rejected elsewhere, because progressive politics did not, in fact, deliver the goods. Progressives have had no answers to the recession of 2008, to the wildly uneven effects of globalization, or to a new era of slower growth that may now be a long-term fact of life. In Britain, the Third Way was washed away by a left-wing leader who’s a lot loonier than Bernie Sanders.

As charming as he is, Mr. Trudeau has no answers. His entire approach to these dilemmas is to assure us that if we all pull together and make everyone feel included, everything will be okay. I don’t blame him for that – no one else has the answers, either. But no one should mistake him for the face of the future. He’s the face of the past.

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