On October 19, 2015, Canada elected Justin Trudeau and his Liberal party to form a new majority government. While some conventional analysts have interpreted the defeat of the Harper government as one that had run its course after nine years in power, others observed that the 44 year old Trudeau represented the advent of a new generation of politician with a new approach in the conduct of power. It’s not unlike that of his illustrious father—Pierre Elliot Trudeau—back in 1968.
Since his election victory, Prime Minister Trudeau has been participating in multiple international forums and meetings such as G20, meeting with U.N. Secretary General, APEC, COP21 in Paris, clearly articulating a return to a more proactive, principled, and multilateral approach in foreign affairs. The state dinner with the Obamas in Washington, D.C. last March contrasted with the previous, more distant relationship between Harper and the U.S. president. Coming in June, the so-called summit of the Three-Amigos—Obama, Enrique Peña Nieto (of Mexico) and Trudeau—will take place in Ottawa and could usher in a different relationship from the past between the three countries.
It should be noted that Trudeau won a decisive victory (39.5 percent of the popular vote, 184 seats in Canada’s House of Commons), and combining his results with that of the New Democratic Party (NDP, a progressive, and many would say, socialist party obtained 19.7 percent), the election clearly indicated a shift to the left in Canada’s politics.
Change is not limited to the new Prime Minister and his party. Outgoing Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced his departure as leader of Canada’s Conservative Party the night of his electoral loss in October. Arguably the most conservative Prime Minister in Canadian history, his party will now embark on a leadership race that will involve not only a change of leader, but also a debate on the nature of Canadian conservatism.
How the Conservative Party (the official opposition with 32 percent of the popular vote in the October 19th election) will fit in the new Canadian electoral dynamic will certainly be felt in the upcoming party leadership race scheduled in 2017. Will it shift closer to the political center than it had been under Harper’s leadership?
Beyond Trudeau’s rise to power and Harper’s departure from the scene, change was also reflected in Canada’s NDP. On April 10th, at the Leadership Review convention held in Edmonton, Alberta, the NDP rank and file decided to withhold their confidence in party leader Tom Mulcair, and vote for a leadership convention. Mulcair graciously accepted the verdict, and indicated he would stay to lead his party in the House of Commons until a new leader is selected.
To many political observers, the decision to change the NDP leader was nothing short of a political earthquake. Mulcair was definitely one of Canada’s most effective opposition leaders in modern history, and some polls had him as a distinct possibility to replace Harper before the last campaign, and become the next Prime Minister. After all, as recently as 2011, the NDP had finished second in seat totals to become the official opposition in the House of Commons.
As evidence that the individual campaigns matter, the NDP and its strategists chose a cautious, some would say lackluster, course in this most recent campaign and were outflanked on the progressive scale by the young Trudeau, who was then leading the third party in numbers of seats in the House of Commons. The fact that the NDP not only failed to go from the second party to the first, but returned to its traditional political posture of being the third party in the House, goes a long way to explain the April 10th vote and the decision to change leaders. Expect a more ideological shift to the left from the NDP rank and file as more centrist-minded Mulcair is replaced.
Mulcair, a Quebecer and highly responsible for the NDP incursion in the province of Québec, will soon leave the political scene. Will his departure mark more than the passage of a leader: possibly the end of the NDP as a force in Québec?
The October results saw the number of NDP seats go from 103 to 44 nationally. It can be argued that the Quebec-based NDP seats (down from 59 to 16) will now become even more vulnerable when Mulcair leaves the scene and especially if he is replaced by a leader from outside Québec. This could also represent an opportunity for the Trudeau government to expand its presence in Québec, thereby consolidating its potential hold on power.
Generational change at the government level, some ideological shifts expected within both the Conservatives and the NDP parties, and new leaders in Canada’s second and third parties illustrate a changing of the guard in Canada, and definitely a new direction in our politics.