It was a practised act of conciliation. Members of the Liberal caucus came into a postelection meeting echoing a message of humility.
Now in a minority Parliament, the Liberals were talking about working with other political parties. They were arguing that it’s important to work for unity in the country – just after a campaign where they notably pasted a couple of provincial premiers. They said the government needs to ensure that strong regional voices are heard in Ottawa. It’s time to show a little humility, they said.
It was repeated so often by Liberal MPs that it was obviously in the script. This was the new tone chosen to kick off a minority government.
The Liberals have been doing some planning. Before Wednesday, Justin Trudeau had not been out talking in public for a full two weeks, an unusually long time for this Prime Minister. He spent much of it in transition meetings – a transition from majority to minority. The song of humility and co-operation was part of the reboot.
This was a bit of a correction. In his first news conference after the Oct. 21 election, Mr. Trudeau had said he wasn’t looking for coalitions, formal or informal, and talked about moving ahead with his agenda by finding issue-by-issue support. On Thursday, he was talking about his plan to meet individually with each opposition leader next week, and the need to “address the choices of people who chose different parties.”
The whole event was also designed to send the message that the Liberals knew they would have to fix some things. They lost their majority; Liberal Whip Mark Holland said they’d have to work with other parties co-operatively. They had lost all MPs between Winnipeg and B.C.; defeated Saskatchewan minister Ralph Goodale said they’d have to listen to other voices across the West to address the frustration. Their Quebec hopes were set back by the revival of the Bloc Québécois; Transport Minister Marc Garneau said they’d have to strengthen Quebec voices in the government, particularly from the regions outside Liberal-dominated Montreal.
But the tone was about conciliation, not an act of contrition. There was no real examination of Liberal mistakes, no real identification of where Liberals went wrong, either in government or in the election campaign.
There wasn’t really talk of Mr. Trudeau taking responsibility for the Liberals losing their majority, or why it happened. The PM has the luxury of being the leader of a party in power, not in opposition.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer must be jealous: He had to announce a postmortem of his election campaign to ensure his party there would be an accounting. Not Mr. Trudeau. Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez, the co-chair of the Liberals’ Quebec campaign, told reporters his team had done a postmortem, but it was clear he was not going to reveal its conclusions.
And there wasn’t really any substantive prescription for solving any of the big political conundrums the Liberal government faces. There wasn’t some grand idea for soothing Western alienation. Or for reconciling Alberta and Saskatchewan’s desire for support for the oil patch with a message from voters to act more aggressively on climate change. Mr. Goodale said that’s a circle that has to be squared.
What emerged was strictly about the tone. And it was smart politics to try to reset the tone. Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals ended their first term with an aura of arrogance and they played their part in a divisive campaign. A lot of Canadians probably want to see them knocked down a peg. They want to see politicians co-operate in Parliament – and will blame the party they think isn’t trying.
If the Liberals are smart, they’ll take the tone of their reset much further. There’s no honeymoon like the one Mr. Trudeau enjoyed after the 2015 election. Most of his biggest governing problems are about reconciling competing interests in an atmosphere of regional divisions and political mistrust. His disillusioned former voters would probably be keen to see him become a conciliator in practice. But that would take more that just a quick change of tone.