Justin Trudeau, son of former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau has, without much fanfare in the UK, been elected the new Liberal prime minister of Canada. Understandably, the relatively routine change of government in a moderately sized democracy will take a back seat to the long-standing geopolitical drama of the Syrian Civil War. Trudeau’s election however, could potentially be the most important political story of the decade, by acting as the precursor to the rise of progressive politicians Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn in the English-speaking world.
The Liberal party in Canada have traditionally been a left of centre party, ideologically similar to our own Liberal Democrats. Unlike our Liberal Democrats however, Trudeau’s party increased their seat count in the Canadian parliament by nearly 400% to win an overall majority, the scale of this victory cannot be exaggerated.
Despite the Liberal Party’s traditionally centrist ideology, Trudeau won on a message of ‘positive politics’, borrowing money and running a deficit in order to invest in public infrastructure, drug reform and a promise to house more Syrian refugees. Sound familiar? Trudeau adopted this more progressive policy platform as he was severely behind in the polls and needed a new approach in order to change course. The positive politics message, combined with the Canadian economy falling into recession in September, saw Trudeau’s Liberals jump 10 points in the polls in half a month and record this stunning victory. Trudeau managed to position his party in a niche that dismissed the rhetoric surrounding public spending cuts being necessary to achieve deficit reduction as a fallacy, and through the onset of recession, he was able to politically capitalise on the opportunity presented to him.
Despite criticism from some on the left that Trudeau’s progressive positive politics is a dressed up continuation of neo-liberalism from a traditionally neo-liberal party, it is undeniable that the progressive socio-economic vision presented in the Liberal’s manifesto would not look out of place in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party. Trudeau’s victory could therefore be seen a precedent for a victory for fellow progressive’s like Jeremy Corbyn or Bernie Sanders. A victory such as Trudeau’s in a country that shares such a historical affinity to Great Britain and America like Canada, displays that there is an appetite for change to the ‘deficit cutting’ discourse espoused by the Western political establishment.
A catalyst, such as the recession that occurred in Canada, could be enough to unleash a desire for change that could crush conservative deficit rhetoric in the UK and provide Jeremy Corbyn with the ability to win in 2020. Caution should be exercised however; both Corbyn and Sanders face much more formidable domestic pressure in terms of print and television media bias respectively. The public image of Sanders in a presidential system as an elderly out-dated socialist gives him a significant handicap when compared to the young and charismatic Trudeau elected in a parliamentary system.
Even Corbyn will suffer from this problem in 2020 and part of the reason why Trudeau has been so successful is because of his ability to use his image to create a perception of a new approach. However Corbyn and Sanders’ politics are old style socialism and their media image reflects that. For the progressive left to win against the divisive dogma advocated by the right it may be that, like in Canada, it needs a new, younger and fresher face.