It was a smart move by the governing Liberals to restart the parliamentary sitting with the ratification of the new NAFTA. It demonstrated that they have plenty of room for the Trudeau 2.0 reboot, and very little opposition to get in the way.
There’s symbolism there: U.S. President Donald Trump’s threat to tear up the North American free-trade agreement was the biggest thing that knocked Mr. Trudeau off his agenda in his first term. Sealing the new deal in the early days of his second is a way to turn the page.
More than anything, the limp ratification debate is a sign the Liberals have time and space to rework their image, from a government that revolves around a glamorous PM image to one that takes its business seriously.
In theory, every party lined up across from Mr. Trudeau in the House of Commons has a gripe about the new trade agreement, which Mr. Trump dubbed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). But those parties not only can’t afford to block it, they can’t find a voice for their critique.
Outside the House of Commons, the biggest question for Conservatives was whether leadership candidates Peter MacKay and Erin O’Toole can speak French well enough to be head of a national party. (The answer, from uncomfortable Quebec Conservatives, was that they hope that one day they will.)
In Question Period, the new NAFTA didn’t even come up until 16 questions in, when Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet, who feels the deal doesn’t have enough protections for Quebec aluminum, asked mischievously if the PM was exploiting the Conservatives’ weakness to pass a flawed trade deal.
But Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, who will be fielding a lot of questions now, knocked Mr. Blanchet back by noting that Quebec’s popular Premier, François Legault, has said the USMCA is in the province’s interests.
This sure looked like a toothless minority Parliament. The Conservatives are distracted by their leadership race, and neutered because they can’t defeat the government and trigger an election. Mr. Blanchet purports to speak for Quebec, but Mr. Legault actually does, and the Bloc leader politically can’t stray too far. Jagmeet Singh’s NDP has enough seats to be the balance of power, but Mr. Trudeau doesn’t need one yet.
It’s not Mr. Trudeau’s government has nothing to trouble it. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer called on the PM to approve Teck Resources Ltd.'s proposed Frontier Mine, a huge oil-sands project that will one day force the Liberals into a controversial decision. But on Monday, in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister brushed it off with wait-and-see answer.
Instead, the Liberals have the freedom to rebrand themselves from first-term activist Liberal change agents to second-term down-to-work serious government.
That’s not just about Mr. Trudeau’s beard, although that’s not incidental in a government where the PM’s personal image has been a carefully tended focus.
On Monday, Mr. Trudeau himself was in a dark suit – fitting for a day on which he would deliver a memorial to the victims of Flight 752 – and answering the first round of questions in earnest, serious, low-key style. After that, he sat down and put on reading glasses, going through papers and looking through his phone while other ministers fielded questions about the coronavirus or the new NAFTA.
That’s part of the image change, too: pushing forward other ministers, especially Ms. Freeland, so Mr. Trudeau isn’t the face of everything.
There is less high-sounding rhetoric and more photo ops of work at meetings. In the coldest, crass political terms, handling the tragedy of Flight 752 probably helped Mr. Trudeau shift his image. He displayed his characteristic empathy, but also serious focus. That’s the message of Trudeau 2.0: less glam and more government.
Typically, in a minority second term, a prime minister would find it hard to reboot the government’s image. You would expect the parties that just pegged him back in an election would pin him to past flaws, corner him into concessions and make him focus on political survival. But Mr. Trudeau has time and space and is using it to gradually recast his government’s image.
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