Canada set for big changes following elections

Canada’s federal election on the 19th of October passed relatively quietly in the scope of world media. It would be forgivable to have missed the fact that Canada was having an election at all, especially in the midst of the continued hype over the distant US Presidential election. But to Canadians this was a monumental event nearing historic proportions. They saw the end of the longest election in modern Canadian history, lasting a total of 78 days (cue hysterical laughter from the Americans). It was an incredibly close race, the three main parties – Conservative, Liberal and New Democratic (NDP) – polling neck and neck until almost the very end.  A sweeping victory for the Liberals astounded the many who were predicting some form of coalition from such a tight race and ousted the incumbent Conservatives who had been in power for almost a decade.

Justin Trudeau’s liberal party ran a campaign on the key policies of promising to run a $10bn deficit to stimulate the economy, repairing Canada’s fraying relationship with Obama, withdrawal from the combat against Islamic State militants (replacing it with humanitarian aid and training), tackling climate change, legalising marijuana and increasing taxes on the rich whilst reducing them for the middle class. Trudeau has generated levels of hype from Canadians reminiscent of the ‘Obamamania’ of 2008 and it appears that the world media has become equally besotted. Son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, he marks the start of Canada’s first political dynasty and it’s not hard to see why he has received such a favourable reception from the press. There’s a lot to like about a 43 year old, ex drama teacher and amateur boxer, with a young family, good hair, a famous father and a really cool tattoo.

Although the results were surprising, many weren’t shocked (or sorry) to see the back of conservative PM Stephen Harper. The general consensus was that Canadians were ready for change. In a long campaign, most of his support was at best lukewarm. He was a safe bet if a bit boring. To his opponents, he was autocratic and bigoted – taking cheap and punitive stances to gain public support – such as his ban on Muslim women wearing the niqab while taking Canadian citizenship oaths. There developed in Canada a rhetoric of ‘anyone but Harper’ and it seems to be this – rather than fanatical support – that won Trudeau the election.

Trudeau’s critics echo the conservative’s line during the campaign – that he is inexperienced, a bad public speaker, and a pretty boy. Also while some find it endearing that the new Prime minister shall be moving back to his childhood home when he takes up office, others are repulsed at the notion of a Canadian political dynasty – a tradition they would rather be left to the US.

Trudeau’s list of promises – if kept – will have a great impact on a Canada slowly ‘Americanised’ under Harper for almost a decade. Canadians can expect a more transparent government, with a focus on liberal social values and a drastically different economic policy. As for the effect on a wider scale there surely be an improvement in relations with President Obama, especially on the issue of tacking climate change (though the same might not apply to Obamas successor next year). Some remain even more optimistic, suggesting that Canada’s new stance on the climate might set a precedent for the rest of the world.

Trudeau will no doubt experience a honeymoon period when takes office in a few weeks. But with such a close and hard fought election – Canada’s mood is much less triumphant than it is cautiously optimistic.

Trudeau announced at a victory rally in Ottawa that “on behalf of 35 million Canadians, we’re back.” There is a general hope among liberals that Canada will now move back towards the more positive, liberal values that it is traditionally known and admired for. But as the Guardian’s Michelle Dean astutely pointed out earlier this week – as we wait to find out how Trudeau will follow through with the promises make in his campaign – the excitement overwhelmingly belongs to those on the outside looking in, rather than the Canadian public.

Image: Alex Indigo

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