Surely Justin Trudeau knows about the unofficial 10-year rule: The one that says Canadians allow prime ministers a decade or thereabouts at the helm, before they want change. The latest example was Stephen Harper, who tried to extend his stay in 2015, only to be sidelined by Mr. Trudeau.
A 10-year time frame is fair. It is a lot of time – more than enough, actually. It gives a leader ample opportunity to put his or her priorities in place. Then fatigue tends to set in and the time-for-change chorus grows.
Mr. Trudeau’s own 2015 campaign emphatically channelled the change theme. Yet he doesn’t seem to get this. He’s now in his ninth year and it’s clearer than ever that Canadians’ fatigue with him is deep and pervasive, greater than it was with Mr. Harper. Support for the Trudeau-led Liberals, which has been low for a long time, dropped into the twenties, according to a new Leger survey. The degree of animosity toward him personally, as registered in poll after poll, is palpable.
People are fed up, and it’s not just conservatives. Senator Percy Downe, a former chief of staff to prime minister Jean Chrétien, wrote Wednesday that the party should replace Mr. Trudeau before the next election. Many progressives agree, saying that it would be folly for Mr. Trudeau to succumb to hubris and power lust and run again.
But he’s insistent he will seek another mandate. Three terms in the Prime Minister’s Office isn’t enough; he wants more. Besides ego, he appears to loathe Opposition Leader Pierre Poilievre and the populist version of conservatism he provocatively preaches, and wants to take him down. He doesn’t seem to think another Liberal without anywhere near his own amount of baggage – like Chrystia Freeland or Mark Carney or Dominic LeBlanc or François-Philippe Champagne – would stand a better chance.
With desperation moves, such as a carbon-tax exemption for home heating oil that is being pilloried left, right and centre, Mr. Trudeau feels he can somehow turn the tides. But the climate is different now than in years gone by. Voter hostility and fatigue is more intense owing to the communications revolution. The vast changes have created a culture in which everything is politicized. The leader of the day is in your face all day every day, to the point of exasperation.
We’re hating politics more because we’re inundated by politics by our smart phones, which glue us by the minute to the latest controversy. By social media, which buries us in political bile. By around-the-clock cable news channels, and by political fringe groups, which have never had the bullhorns they do now.
Nowadays there’s what is known as the permanent campaign – a federal voter drive that never stops. Partisan political ads come at you no matter how distant the election. Nowadays there are hundreds of pundits, whereas before there were only a few. Nowadays there’s online space in media for thousands to post attacks and insults; before there was only space for a few letters to the editor.
The comms revolution sparked populism. It’s served to diminish respect for and increase distrust of government and institutions.
Mr. Trudeau should realize, then, that fatigue with a leader in this new all-politics-all-the-time dynamic comes far more readily.
Even back in the day before the arrival of television, leaders used to be worried about being overexposed. “It is time for me to disappear for a while,” U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt would say after being repeatedly in the news. To create the aura of leadership, he wanted to keep politics from intruding on people’s regular lives. The modern-day dynamic affords no such possibility. Mr. Trudeau can’t hide and he can’t reinvent himself: It’s too late for that. Voters today are more locked in to their party allegiances.
As he lingers in office, the fatigue with his leadership stands to grow. Time for change will find even greater decibel range.
The clock is running down. Mr. Trudeau needs to call a party leadership convention before long or the new leader won’t have any time to establish himself or herself before an election.
There are some who believe he will do this, that he’ll announce he’s stepping down in the first week in January. They’re in the minority. Most think the lust for yet more power won’t let Mr. Trudeau see the realities as they should be seen, and that he’ll foolishly try and defy the sensible 10-year timeline. At his and his party’s peril.