Canada takes a left turn. What will it mean for Catholics?

That cry of “Lazarus, come out” we heard north of our border on the evening of Oct. 19 was the Canadian electorate reviving the fortunes of the long-thought-moribund Liberal Party. In a stunning coast-to-coast triumph, the Liberals won 184 of the country’s 338 seats in the House of Commons—the largest increase in seats in a single election in Canadian history. Led by Justin Trudeau, the idealistic son of the late premier, Pierre Trudeau, the Liberals capitalized on a widespread perception among Canadians that the federal government had become too arrogant, too centralized and too ideological. By contrast, the Liberals, writes Bob Rae of Toronto’s Globe and Mail, were seen as “the hardest working, most compassionate, most willing to listen, and most capable of learning.” 

The new prime minister, who has spent most of his 43 years out of the public eye, was considered a lightweight and a long shot by most Canadian pundits. Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney said as much on election night, telling CTV News, “I think that in some quarters he was underestimated and he got a real big bite tonight, and that’s what happened.” There are bigger bites to come as Mr. Trudeau turns his attention to forming a government. In a situation not entirely unlike that of the United States in 2008, the immensity of the country’s challenges is outweighed only by the expectations of the voters. Mr. Trudeau has promised successive rounds of annual deficit spending in order to rescue Canadians from the vestiges of recession. His policies will provide an interesting test case for neo-Keynesianism and a clear alternative to the austerity policies of his European counterparts. 

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The Liberals also promised a shift in Canadian foreign policy, to align it more closely in Mr. Trudeau’s mind with the country’s traditional peace-building role in global affairs. Look for a less bellicose Canadian presence at the United Nations, a more critical view of Israeli policies and Canada’s support for the nuclear treaty with Iran. Above all, expect a resurgence of the sort of hopeful Canadian nationalism so identified with Mr. Trudeau’s father, the Canadian political titan who changed the course of history with his dogmatic belief that “it is in our future in which we will find our greatness.”

In many ways, however, the son is a different man. While charming and telegenic, Justin Trudeau lacks his father’s distinctive style, what Quebecers might call his élan, an effective mixture of celebrity and statesmanship, which he could deploy rhetorically to great effect. Yet while the elder Trudeau was warm and devout, his chronic workaholism destroyed his marriage. There then followed a number of high-profile relationships with Barbra Streisand and Margot Kidder, among others, which put Mr. Trudeau on the cover of People magazine and put Canada on America’s pop cultural map. The younger Trudeau, the Liberals are keen to stress, is in every way a devoted family man, a product of Jesuit education and Quebec’s post-modern but still Catholic culture. 

Nevertheless, it was Canada’s Catholics who were in all likelihood the most reluctant to pull the lever for the Liberals. Mr. Trudeau is an unapologetic pro-choice politician, even going so far as to deny pro-life Liberal members of Parliament a free vote on the question. That move is disturbing, not simply for what looks like callous disregard for human dignity, but for its undemocratic impulse. In the words of his late father, “a society which emphasizes uniformity is one which creates intolerance and hate.” On victory night, Mr. Trudeau told his jubilant supporters that “you can appeal to the better angels of our nature and you can win doing it.” Let’s hope that’s true. 

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Bill Collier
3 years ago
When the "pro-choice only" test was imposed by Trudeau in 2014 on Liberal Party members interested in running for Parliament, even some pro-choice legislators were surprised because there had been recognition that an issue like abortion is often rooted in a person's deepest moral convctions and/or religious faith. Canada has by far one of the most liberal abortion regimes in the world--no restrictions under the law on abortions right up to the time of birth--but before Trudeau's party edict, there was at least some sense within the party that abortion was something reasonable people could disagree on. I'm not optimistic that PM Trudeau will be more tolerant of dissent on abortion than party leader Trudeau was.
Vince Killoran
2 years 12 months ago
Of course, in a parliamentary system the hammering out of policy is done in party circles, not the pages of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox News, et al. This is a much more discipline form of government.
William Rydberg
3 years ago
This is a well written article. As a Canadian Catholic I pray for our Prime Minister every day, irregardless of Political Stripe. Though I would have preferred Mr Thomas Mulcair of the New Democratic Party. He also happens to be a Catholic...
alan macdonald
3 years ago
Yes, Mr Trudeau is pro-abortion, but with Canada's socialist medical model where even abortions are free, the taxpayer becomes complicit in this crime.
FRANK BEAZLEY MR
2 years 12 months ago
The lights are on but the house is very dark. I have my doubts that the Liberal majority under Justin Trudeau will be doing their jobs any differently from the previous government. There is no Liberal government, this will be a Justin Trudeau government.
Cody Serra
2 years 12 months ago
Good article. What somewhat disturbs me is that in the comments, and likely inspired in the article, the only issue that appears to be a negative for the new elected PM is his pro-choice stand. Is it abortion, that is legal in Canada, and has been so for a long time, the .most outstanding and apparently the mainly political character issue to judge a national politician? What about other national societal and economic positions should be considered to measure the overall qualities of a political figure?

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