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.
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.