A condensed version of Justin Trudeau’s speech to the Liberal convention last Saturday might read as follows: “We want to give middle-class Canadians who work hard a real chance at success, through a growth agenda that creates good jobs so they can pay off their debts and retire. We’re also all about freedom, opportunity and did I mention Laurier?”
OK so it was light on specifics, heavy on the buzz words. But that doesn’t mean it was without content. Slowly, by stages, we are beginning to get a sense of Trudeau’s thinking on the economy. There will be time enough to get into the specifics of policy closer to the election, when presumably the party will favour us with a platform. What’s more interesting at this stage is the thinking behind it.
It is clear already that his staff is capable and they must all be aware that his opponents are counting on his being vulnerable when familiarity with the principal issues becomes critically important. There is no evidence that Trudeau lacks the intelligence necessary to get, as his father used to say, “on top of the dossiers,” and any strategy based on assuming that he will disintegrate in direct competition with his analogues would be hazardous.
After two terms, the public is apt to be tired of almost any government, unless there is an overwhelming issue where it retains an advantage, as was the case with Pierre Trudeau and the threat of Quebec secessionism, or unless the incumbent leader can fire the voters’ imagination with a new issue every four years. This was in part the secret of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s unheard of victories in four consecutive U.S. presidential elections.
The Harper government is not long on inspiration; it has put all its presentational eggs in the basket of prudent government. There is no flair, no panache, no humour, no vision, and not much charm or empathy. There have been no interesting initiatives, apart from the prime minister’s brilliant visit to Israel, for many months, and the government now looks merely like placemen, throwing raw meat to their more reactionary supporters with floggings of the dead horse of harsher sentencing and humbug about marijuana. The whole regime is starting to look like it is simply waiting to be defeated, manoeuvring to ensure that Nigel Wright doesn’t have to give evidence under oath, though its record in office has been adequate to avoid the creation of an unstoppable public desire to turn them all out of office.
As I have written here before, more than any other modern prime minister, Harper resembles W. L. Mackenzie King. But King always tried to strengthen his government, both in talent and in political support. And he always had the mighty tribal vote from Quebec that Sir Wilfrid Laurier had secured by opposing conscription in 1917, keeping Quebec out of the hands of the semi-separatist Henri Bourassa, accepting that his party would be defeated in the election that year but would thereafter have a huge electoral advantage, and governed for 52 years between 1921 and 1984.
This raises two interesting questions about what a Trudeau government might try to do. From the time of the establishment of responsible government, (i.e. all internal affairs determined by the provincial legislatures and not decreed by the colonial governors), and the installation of the Great Ministry of Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine in 1848, through to the patriation of the Constitution and the proclamation of the Charter of Rights under Trudeau, there was always a double majority for every major initiative of public policy — a majority in French and English Canada, and not just an English party imposing a majority on the country. Conscription in 1917 was the only exception, and Laurier saved federalism through his deft handling of it.
For most of that time, the political and cultural leaders of French Quebec called for real biculturalism, and not just a small group of bilingual French-Canadians to mediate Quebec’s participation in the whole country. The nationalist Quebec leader in the 1930s, Dr. Philippe Hamel said: “Conquer us with goodwill, my English friends. You will be astonished at the easy victory which awaits you.” Yet when this was put to the test, 30 years later, by the Pearson and Trudeau governments, the same elites and often even the same individuals rejected biculturalism as an assimilationist trick, a Trojan Horse.
It was never generally expressed in quite these terms, but the federalists felt betrayed and Trudeau patriated the Constitution without the Quebec government, though he seemed to have the support of most Quebeckers. Brian Mulroney tried valiantly to square the official equality of the French and English with the spuriously over-applied notion that all the provinces are equal, and the Meech Lake accord was rent by the premier of Newfoundland and a single native person in the Manitoba Legislature. The Charlottetown Accord, put to a national referendum, was rejected by the French of Quebec, offended at the desertion of English Canada over Meech Lake, and by most English Canadians, unwilling to make cultural concessions to a Quebec that was oppressing the English language despite liberality toward French outside Quebec.
Instead of the French and English-speaking populations of Canada having a reciprocal veto over major pan-Canadian policy initiatives, the Quebec nationalists have barricaded themselves into Quebec, abandoning the French outside that province. They are now trying to replace the unborn who result from their post-Catholic collapsed birthrate with Haitians and North Africans who, though French speaking, don’t care about the independence of Quebec, leaving the separatists to attempt to achieve independence in increments through trick referendary questions. Quebec was seduced by the Trudeau-Mulroney bribe of transfer payments to accept a white collar debtor economy and is now practically unable to secede, or even credibly to threaten to separate. The Quebec nationalists only represent about half the French Quebeckers, 40% of that province, 10% of all Canadians, and simply can’t frighten the whole country as they once did. Harper is the first person to govern effectively without significant support in Quebec since Borden. Canada is waiting for Quebec to come back to the party.
Whether Trudeau or the French Canadians realize it, he is their last ticket to resume the great role they played in the whole country from Lafontaine to Jean Chrétien Justin Trudeau is the last train leaving the station for the double majority of French and English in the whole country, and the alternating French and English Liberal leaders and governors-general (a completely anachronistic position that has become a semi-animated fig-leaf for ceremonious multi-culturalism).
Whether Trudeau or the French Canadians realize it, he is their last ticket to resume the great role they played in the whole country from Lafontaine to Jean Chrétien, including 37 out of 38 years with prime ministers from Quebec between 1968 and 2006. If he fails, the French Canadians will be just another group of hyphenated Canadians, semi-autonomously festering and playing house in their capacious and over-lyricized ghetto of Quebec.
The second intriguing aspect of a Trudeau government arises from the endless prattling at the Liberal convention about a “national strategy” for almost everything. Tiresome, evasive and vacuous as much of this undoubtedly was, it does reopen the possibility of public sector-private sector co-operation that has been responsible for most of the grand projects that have built the country, including the railways, the great hydro-electric projects, the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, Air Canada, atomic power, the Trans-Canada Highway and pipelines, and most large cultural initiatives. As I have written here before, this will be what is needed to make Canada a proprietary, as opposed to merely a branch-plant, country in the automobile business and to take our defence and aero-space industries to a level appropriate to a G7 country. The Conservatives have cloth ears on the subject.
The government has a year to show that it still has some ideas and deserves a renewed mandate. In all of Canadian history, only Macdonald, Laurier and King have served over 10 years consecutively, and they did great things to do it. Harper will have to raise his game radically to join that eminent fraternity.
Conrad Black is the founder of the National Post. His columns regularly appear in the National Post on Saturdays. For more opinion from Conrad Black, tune into The Zoomer on VisionTV (a property of ZoomerMedia Ltd.), Visiontv.ca. Mr. Black graciously allowed us to reprint this article on CFN.
This is the most interesting article on federal politics I have read in a long time. Conrad Black seems to have the most analytical view of Canadian politics of all the current pundits. Perhaps being an outsider now has it’s advantages.
Totally agree Reg. Maybe we should keep His Lordship in Canada if only for his political musings.
The Harper Cons must get a sick feeling reading something like this from an old hard-core conservative.
How this convicted criminal, who just had to give back his Order of Canada, still feels people want to read his views is beyond me…
He did more to destroy the Newspaper Industry in Canada than anybody alive
PS…I didn’t read one sentence of his drivel printed here
Just recently this buffoon helped spread the Mayor Rob Ford lie against a Toronto Star reporter
Conrad Black please return to England see if you can use your lordship title that you gave up Canadian citizenship for…to get yourself a real job
That’s too bad Peter, while I am not a big fan of Conrad Black I did find his article here very interesting. You may not like the man but his perspective on Canadian political history is well worth reading.
Whether you agree or disagree with Mr. Black I think it’s very gracious of him to allow us to repost his stories. We don’t post them all; but I hope our CFN viewers can challenge any story or comment with decorum and respect.
@ Peter Jenkin. I mostly agree with your assessment of Black’s character. And his predatory business dealings are legendary. However, his knowledge of history is phenomenal, and the many books he’s written on historical figures are amazingly well researched and worth the read. True, he may be an arrogant and sometimes nasty SOB, but we can still learn from his unusual genius.
Lest We Forget // His fathers record // 16 Years in power // Inherited nearly balanced Books //
Turned that around to 38.5 billion deficit // Increased the National debt by 1200% from $ 17 billion
to more than $ 200 billion . Some Record eh ! and you want to give his son a go at it ?
@ William E Beattie. You figure that JT is a clone of his father and will mimic his every move? I’m not a Justin fan yet, but like most Canadians, I think he’d be a refreshing improvement over our current Dear Leader. BTW, Harper inherited a huge surplus from Chretien/Martin. Where did that go?
I am trying to remain respectful but pls don’t give conrad black props for allowing a reprint
He is desperate for everybody to forget what a truly low human being he is despite his knowledge of history This man renounced Canada in order to become a Lord in England but somehow managed to get back into Canada after he finished his JAIL sentence in United States.
Many of my journalist friends had their careers cut short and were thrown to the curb by this man with no regard for anything but his wallet.
While wailing and crying about the injustice of the USA justice system Conrad Black used his TV show to continue the Rob Ford lie that my Toronto Star reporter friend was a pedophile.
This disgraceful conduct by sir Black, in my view, totally negates any of his supposed knowledge of history and many find his views suspect.
CBC asked conrad why he allowed Rob Ford to libel Torstar reporter Daniel Dale on his Vision TV show and black had no HONEST response for his actions. A few hours after this disgraceful tv showed aired it was pulled off the station website and later under threat of court action mayor ford issued an apology.
In one sentence black boasts about all the in depth research he does but asked why he didn’t do even the tinest bit of research on Fords LIE..he tries to scam his way out of the mess he helped create.
Yes people have a lot to learn from reading about this guy and when you are finished…you feel the need to wash your hands.
Asking me to look past his criminal past and believe his words on ANY Subject just isn’t going to happen
This man continues to engage in conduct that is wrong and disgusting
At least Zoomer TV realized they had posted a lie against a great guy and outstanding Journalist Danny Dale…Conrad…as i said before..pls go to England
“However, we sincerely regret the part ZoomerMedia played in broadcasting the offending words spoken by Mr. Ford, and apologize for that. We can confirm that those words will never again be broadcast on any of our television outlets or websites.”
Black himself took considerable heat for the segment. Most notably, CBC’s Carol Off went after him on As It Happens two days after the interview aired. She pressed Black — someone who has launched numerous libel and slander lawsuits — on why he let Ford say what he did.
“It’s not my duty to debate with the mayor, I was asking questions and he was giving the answers,” Black said. “At that particular place, Zoomer, I have a function. I do the function. I’m paid to do the function. I’m not paid to edit it.
So Peter Jenkin, because you consider Conrad Black an ass-hat, nobody should be allowed to read his columns? Not sure I want you filtering what I can or cannot read. Here’s an idea for you in case you have never thought of it. If you don’t like a particular journalist or columnist, don’t read what they write. It works for me and just about everyone else.
Furtz, maybe you could direct Peter to an anger management class. You seem to have mellowed over the last year. 😉
No Reg, I haven’t mellowed at all. It’s just that a certain moderator has tightened down the lid a bit on my raging anger. 🙂