Oct. 19, 2015 marked a Liberal Party victory in Canada and the first shift from the nation’s Conservative Party in nine years. The Pop & Politics section of E News was quick to report with a headline blaring, “Canada’s New Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, Is a Smoking-Hot Syrupy Fox.” The article provided an in-depth analysis of the Prime Minister-elect, comparing him to Ryan Gosling, imploring readers to send in a life-size poster of Trudeau, and citing tweets with phrases such as “low key hot” and “hot damn Canada.”
The son of perhaps the most popular and among the most effective Canadian Prime Ministers, Justin Trudeau clearly already has recognition for his family connections and his looks, but is criticized for being unprepared. Trudeau will be the youngest Prime Minister apart from Joe Clark, but, having served in public office for only eight years, he has even less political experience than Clark did when he entered office.
Trudeau’s lack of experience in the public sector gave voters little look into his political background, however Canadians knew exactly what they would get with Trudeau’s most formidable opponent, nine-year incumbent Stephen Harper. He ran the country like the ideal conservative America, cutting taxes, creating a government surplus, and writing a tax code that encouraged business investment. However, by the time this election season began, his public persona had been marred by scandal. With approval ratings dropping to 32% approval the summer before an election, the Canadian aversion to Harper led to an aversion of the conservative policies he implemented and defended. Trudeau capitalized on this public perception, and, by pulling the Liberal Party to the left, gained 148 seats in the House of Commons to achieve a commanding majority. While Israel and Ukraine are undoubtedly sad to see their champion go, the environmental movement Harper largely ignored and the President of Russia he openly insulted celebrate the loss. How the rise of Trudeau and the Liberal Party will affect America, however, is unclear.
The most prominent contemporary US-Canadian issue currently is the Keystone XL pipeline, an oil system that would connect Alberta oil basins to refineries in Texas. Democrat disapproval of the pipeline and Canadian insistence that it be built has been a source of tension between the Harper and Obama administrations. Though Trudeau also supports the building of the pipeline, his stances on the environment are much different than Harper’s and may open more conversation between the two countries.
Canada has never had a federal policy on emissions, as that power has been left to the provinces. Trudeau plans on creating a carbon pricing scheme in which the federal government would set emission targets and provinces would discern how to meet them. If Canada does become more firm on environmental policy, open talks between the next US President and Trudeau may begin and a Keystone solution may be reached.
Trudeau’s environmental shift certainly does not only affect the Keystone pipeline, but global climate change as well. While Canada only emits two percent of the world’s carbon emissions, Trudeau’s win is still a victory for the environmental movement. Harper is, among major state leaders, one of the most open skeptics of climate change. His defeat proved that it is becoming difficult to keep high approval ratings while ignoring the risks of climate change. Neil Sroka of Democracy for America asserts the liberal win is indicative of a global leftward shift, and Al Gore tweeted he hopes Canada will now be a leader in environmental policy.
Reporters have likened the Canadian uproar over Trudeau’s return to Canadian liberalism to the “night, back in 2008, when American liberals were weeping with happiness.” Like Obama did in 2008, Trudeau focused on optimism and hope. These messages and those of change that inspired American Democrats in 2008 are currently failing to do so in the American 2016 presidential election. Hillary was decided the frontrunner years before filing her candidacy paperwork, and while Bernie is exciting a youth movement, he fails to attract the numbers Obama did. Perhaps these Democrats should look to the Canadian PM-elect, an extreme underdog story.
It is hard to draw too many comparisons between the American Democratic candidates for president and Trudeau. He shares with Hillary a political heritage and with Bernie a tendency to pull his party to the left, but, unlike the American candidates, he ousted a party that had been in control for nine years by utilizing major ideological shifts from the norm. The American Democrats are instead hoping to inherit a federal government from Obama with few drastic differences from the current system.
Though the election situation is different in America’s 2016 than Canada’s 2015, candidates should still look to perhaps the most brilliant part of Trudeau’s campaign, an online ad entitled “Escalator: Hard to Get Ahead.” While on an escalator, Trudeau explained in a simplistic manner the importance of Keynesian economics while literally climbing toward a better future for Canada. While the ad did not offer much policy substance, it was simple and optimistic, the exact ideas that worked for Obama’s “Change” seven years ago.
America wants to be inspired. Simple and repeatable phrases (like “Change”) are easier for the American public to cling to than complicated policy and legislation. Perhaps it is the need for a simple phrase that is catapulting Donald Trump and “Make America Great Again” to the top of the primary polls while Marco Rubio and his extensive tax plan are still stuck polling less than 10%.
The Canadian election was won with extreme standpoints and eager optimism. Whether it is because of his likable persona and good looks or his bright hope for the future of his country, Canada is excited about Justin Trudeau, and American politicians should look to his examples of clear, simple messages. The democratic primary candidates have the ideology and policy down, but what they need is a bright look to the future, a clear vision for their party, and a little creativity, three things Trudeau captured in a thirty second video just before launching his third place party to a large majority.
This election was widely followed in the US (even being covered by C-SPAN) not solely because of the popularity of Justin Trudeau’s attractiveness and family history, but because it marks a turning point for Canada. An entire ideological shift is soon to take place, and Trudeau has proven to the world that even the largest underdog can win an election. With 2016 just around the corner for Americans, a look at the parallels between our politics and those of our neighbors to the north has never been more crucial.