Justin Trudeau looks like the real thing, but we haven't seen him tested the way he will be come Monday morning by the Conservatives, NDP and factions within his own party.
At the Liberal leadership showcase in Toronto last weekend, it was hard not to be impressed by his ability to electrify the room. He has a palpable passion for Canada and an uncommon ability to project decency, as you can see from some of these highlights from his final speech.
The latter characteristic will help him with both younger and older voters who will enjoy his effervescence even more when it's put next to the flat demeanors of Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair. It has to be seen whether it will pass muster with the Tim Hortons crowd that the Liberals must bring back. Think about a software salesperson in Mississauga, Ont., or Richmond, B.C., and you will see the mountain Mr. Trudeau is setting out to scale.
In private, Liberal organizers are realistic about their prospects, which they admit rest on a two-election strategy. They're aiming to overtake the NDP in 2015 and reduce the Conservatives to a minority. A coalition is then possible, they believe, especially if Mr. Harper steps down. Or they can lie in wait for the next campaign to aim for a majority. To get there, Mr. Trudeau needs to chip away at NDP seats in Toronto, greater Montreal and the lower B.C. mainland and win back some seats from Conservatives in Atlantic Canada and suburban greater Toronto.
The strategy: go left and then right.
Here's what the Liberals worry about: Seat redistribution heavily favours the Conservatives, especially in suburban Ontario and the West. And Mr. Harper's approval ratings continue to track well ahead of historical averages. In other words, the Liberals and NDP will tear each other apart for second place, allowing the Conservatives to cruise through another election.
As the Liberals tack left, there is also a range of issues the Conservatives will use as targets on their backs. One of the "blue Liberals" in the leadership race, Martha Hall Findlay, e-mailed me Friday to express her concerns over the blank cheque the party is about to write Mr. Trudeau. With her permission, here's her full e-mail.
She comes from the Martin-Manley-McKenna wing of the party, and writes:
"There are, however, many Liberals who are economically protectionist, anti-'big corporations,' and anti-development environmentalists. We are all entitled to our views, something I greatly respect, and the Liberal Party has benefited in the past from being a 'big tent.' But the Liberal Party needs to clarify which of those rather fundamentally different directions it will take. Unfortunately, with a lack of real substantive debate, this leadership campaign has done little to get us there."
Get ready, Mr. Trudeau. The party's over. The biggest challenge of your life awaits, as we lay out our weekend editorial.
Advice from top advisers to prime ministers
There was a second liberal gathering in Toronto this week: the annual Public Policy Forum testimonial dinner.
The dinner is one of the best schmoozefests going, a rare chance for business, government and media to mingle. This year's honorees were former clerks of the privy council – the highest bureaucratic position in the land – and one by one they quietly kicked the federal Conservatives for their attack on the bureaucracy. (Interesting to see Kathleen Wynne sitting next to TD Bank's Ed Clark, the most Liberal of the bank CEOs. And unlike some previous years, barely a Conservative in sight, just in case anyone doubted the Harper government's distance from the bureaucratic elite.)
The former clerks gave some sage advice.
- Paul Tellier (1985-1992) said the bureaucracy needs to emulate performance-management techniques from the private sector and learn to fire fast. He regrets not focusing more on personnel issues when he was in the top job, especially developing people under him.
- Jocelyn Bourgon (1994-1999) said the most critical part of leadership is anticipation. Crisis management (firefighting) is a death trap for leaders.
- Mel Cappe (1999-2002) urged the crowd to find great mentors. But his most passionate words were in defence of government scientists being silenced by Ottawa. To much applause, he said it is an essential public good for scientists to speak publicly about their science and research (though not about policy, he added).
- Alex Himelfarb (2002-2006) rose to the defence of “bureaucracy.” Public service has been derided too much, he argued, saying it should not be considered “overhead.” “‘Public service’ has been replaced by ‘bloated bureaucracy.’ In fact, you’re not allowed to say bureaucracy without the word bloated preceding it.” He went further to suggest that political rhetoric against bureaucrats leads to defensive cultures, which inhibit reforms.
- Kevin Lynch (2006-2009) urged bureaucrats to reach beyond Ottawa to understand what Canadians are thinking and doing. Governments, he said, need to use their “convening power” to help Canadians take on global challenges and opportunities.
Enjoy the weekend,