With the election Monday, the bold right-wing experiment ends and the traditional Canada – a Canada of moderate big-tent governance – is reborn.
The country moved from a Trudeau to a Trudeauphobe and, with this election, back to a Trudeau again. If you go by the number of progressives in Canada, it means that two-thirds of the population get their idea of the country back.
The Trudeauphobe, Stephen Harper, made some big strides in shifting the culture away from its moderate values. He moved the policy yardsticks rightward on foreign policy, on criminal justice, on taxation, the environment, civil liberties and in other domains. No other conservative prime minister had pushed that far. None had Mr. Harper's driving desire to re-engineer the political culture.
On policy, we can expect prime-minister-designate Justin Trudeau will undo many of Mr. Harper's initiatives. But his first priority, as he made amply clear in his victory speech, will be to end the era of negativity. He must have hammered the point home a dozen times. Leadership is about bringing people together, not driving wedges, he said. You don't have to do politics with a billy club. No need to govern, to use Conrad Black's description of Mr. Harper, like "a sadistic Victorian schoolmaster."
In essence Mr. Trudeau was calling Mr. Harper a divider. In essence he was saying that this is why the Harper party lost. And in essence he was right. The conservative policies did not cost Mr. Harper the election. It was about him. I concluded a book I wrote on Mr. Harper with the line from Heraclitus: "Character is fate."
Mr. Harper's anti-democratic bent, his mean-spiritedness, his putting political expediency before everything else finally caught up to him. He set the ethical bar so low – the culture of his government was "rotten," this newspaper editorialized – that Mr. Trudeau should have little problem in clearing it.
That's not to say the new Liberal prime minister will be successful. He faces formidable odds. He inherits a stagnant economy. The resource sector is ailing. Forecasts are for more slow growth. And his planned new stimulus will likely not be enough to turn things around.
There will be a honeymoon, but it will be short-lived. Whereas Pierre Trudeau governed Canada in a period when the media was liberally inclined, his son faces the opposite. Two-thirds of the country may be progressive, but at least two-thirds of the media are not, as evidenced by the vast majority of newspapers which endorsed a Harper re-election.
But Mr. Trudeau may surprise in office the way he did in the campaign. The idea that he is unprepared for the job is invalid. His experience which includes growing up in the home of a prime minister is certainly no less than that of Mr. Harper when he first came to power.
Mr. Harper rang up several achievements. He will go down in history for having three victories in five electoral tries, as the prime minister who brought the West in, as a significant tax cutter and, if the agreements ever come to fruition, for his work on free trade. He gets credit for guiding the country through the big global economic downturn, though it need be remembered that the stimulus program he reluctantly put in place was forced upon him by the opposition. He had almost lost his government for showing no interest in such a plan.
He will go down as the leader who unified conservatives but there is a big caveat here. His union had no place for traditional, progressive Tories like the Joe Clarks or Brian Mulroneys or the Jean Charests. The progressive side of the party was all but vanquished. Rather than big tent, Mr. Harper was rabbit hole.
Justin Trudeau will change that. He will be more inclusive, there will be less pandering to prejudice, there will be none of the anti-intellectualism, the populist fear of erudition which festered in the Harper camp.
With this election the re-engineering of Canada is over.