As Premier McGuinty outlined in his speech at the 2012 Biennial Convention, the Liberal Party needs to elect a young leader and give that leader more than one election to rebuild the party. Liberals need to burn the phrase “two election strategy” into their minds. No one seriously believes that we can form the government after one election, and we need to show Canadians that we are a humble, substantive alternative to the divisive bullies Harper and Mulcair. This will take more than one election and we need a leader who can grow with the Liberal Party. Justin Trudeau is 40 years of age as I type this. In 2015, Prime Minister Harper will be 56 (with a full head of grey hair) and Thomas Mulcair will be 61. Justin Trudeau’s youth would bring a new energy to the Liberal Party. While his name evokes a nostalgic connection to the past, the fact that he was elected in 2008 would give the Liberal Party a clean break with the sponsorship scandal. Trudeau is fluently bilingual, but the fact that he grew up in politics makes him fluent in the political language of both French and English Canada.
Trudeau does have a ways to go before he is prime minister material. He is great at giving speeches (when I saw him speak in Parkdale-High Park there was a real electricity in the air) but he needs to speak with a substance and gravity that can only come with time. His name recognition is a great strength. I would also argue that the fact that a certain (small) percentage of Canadians who have a predisposition for/against Trudeau because of his name is another advantage as that good will will bring some Canadians back in to the Liberal Party and Trudeau will get to prove those who irrationally dislike him wrong when he enters the national arena. Becoming the leader the Liberal Party needs will be a lot of work. Justin has shown his strong work ethic on a number of occasions. Running and winning (twice) in Papineau was no small feat. Trudeau has also been a loyal liberal soldier traveling the country for the party. One specific example that I believe shows his commitment was his boxing match with Senator Brazeau. Trudeau saw that he was outgunned, so he spent months training and preparing himself. This is the kind of commitment the Liberal Party needs from its next leader.
The 4 pillars of a winning political campaign:
In the past, Canadian political parties have relied on a combination of three elements to win: a strong leader, strong policy,a strong political machine and disorganized opponents. Under Jean Chretien the LPC focused on having a strong leader, a strong political machine and disorganized political opponents.
In the last few elections the Conservatives have relied on their leader, their political machine and a disorganized opposition. The NDP have gone all in with their leader in 2008/2011 and are trying to play organizational catch up while keeping the Liberals weak. In 2011 the Liberal Party tried to go all in with policy with disastrous results.
In 2015 the Liberal Party needs to have a strong, charismatic leader who campaigns with a solid machine and a solid set of unique policy proposals. We have done a great job explaining why Harper is bad, we need to do the same with Mulcair while always saying what we would do if elected.
Trudeau’s magnetism is not something that a politician can necessarily learn, as is his ability to promote progressive policies in the language of the centre-right and the values of fiscal and personal responsibility in the language of the left.
Justin Trudeau doesn’t fit into the CPC or NDP paradigm:
One distinct advantage that Mr. Trudeau has is that his reality is frustratingly foreign to the Conservatives and New Democrats.
Conservatives purged their party of the genuine grassroots energy and principled policy positions of the old Reform Party and have become solely the party of their leader, Stephen Harper. The CPC’s divisive, slash and burn politics would see an election against Justin Trudeau as the opportunity they’ve always wanted to against Justin’s father. The NDP have a different mindset. New Democrats do not care about getting real results for Canadians, they only care about getting more NDP seats in parliament. When Jack Layton decided to betray the progressive budget that Paul Martin had negotiated with him in 2005, he did so because the NDP only had 18 seats in parliament. In the NDP worldview Jack Layton, who has no major accomplishments at the federal level, is a hero simply because he helped elect 103 NDP MPs. The NDP and CPC both seem to believe that the Liberals would try and run Justin Trudeau on his father’s accomplishments. They would both be trying to attack the Liberal Party from a perspective that would not be accessible to the majority of Canadians who aren’t as blindly ideological as the CPC and NDP.
Justin Trudeau still has to prove himself as a leader, as does any candidate running for that position. He may be the unique blend of charisma, substance and hard work that the Liberal Party needs. However, one thing he needs from Liberals is patience.
Liberals need to stop panicking. We aren’t going to die out in one election–but we aren’t going to rise from the ashes like a phoenix, either. Every single Liberal needs to be working hard to rebuild the party. No political party can win solely on the strength of their leader.
Justin Trudeau has been thoughtful and contemplative in his approach to entering the Liberal leadership race. He is a serious candidate and should be treated as one.