Trudeau wins a majority government thanks to his personal popularity, as regular Canadians take to the streets to pose for photographs with him, swooning over his style.
This is a description of Justin Trudeau and the 2015 election, right? Sure, but the same words equally apply to the original Trudeaumania – the 1968 election that Pierre Elliott Trudeau won.
Canadians are relatively familiar with that historic election, where a once stuffy political scene took on all the energy of the swinging ’60s as a fashionable bachelor with a knack for one-liners captured the national imagination. It was the beginning of the Trudeau family mythmaking, the Canadian version of the Camelot-Kennedy narrative that was sweeping America.
People are less familiar with what came next. The expectations were high for the idealistic Pierre Trudeau. And he failed to live up to them. As he became bogged down in daily governance, his popularity shrank.
We think of PET as a political lion who governed for a period spanning decades – and he was, largely uninterrupted from 1968 to 1984. But it almost wasn’t so. The Trudeau legacy was almost cut short early on, during his first shot at re-election in 1972.
On the evening of the October 30, 1972 election the initial vote count showed the Liberals at 107 seats and the Progressive Conservatives at 109. Trudeau went to bed that night believing he’d lost. The PCs had a plurality of votes and could work to cobble together a minority government. But then a recount reversed one of those seats, putting the incumbent PM back on top.
Trudeau kept a minority government in place for two years before turning to the voters in 1974 where he scored a renewed majority mandate. The rest is history and Trudeau went on to win again.
But if Pierre Trudeau hadn’t narrowly survived in 1972, that would’ve been it. He’d be a one-hit wonder without an enduring legacy.
This is where Canada is at right now. Justin Trudeau was hugely popular at first but the polls show his support has dropped every year of his first term.
What is his true legislative legacy at this point? The legalization of marijuana. And the Canada Child Benefit. Maybe the carbon tax, if it survives. Other than that, he has few victories to campaign on.
If Trudeau loses now, he’ll be seen as a blip, a curious experiment about what happens when you elect a person to govern a G7 nation based on name recognition and selfie game alone. There will be no legacy. He won’t get to mingle with Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien and Stephen Harper at special events, but be assigned to the second row with Joe Clark and Kim Campbell.
But if Justin Trudeau is re-elected this October, it could be the beginning of a much longer legacy. Right now, the polls show anything’s possible (well, except an NDP victory) and political strategists on both sides of the aisle tell me they feel it’s 50/50 right now for Trudeau getting re-elected.
What seems most obvious is that Trudeau won’t secure the same level of support as he did in 2015. This could mean a minority government. And good luck with that. If Justin Trudeau doesn’t play well with others now – while he wields total control of the House of Commons – don’t expect him to suddenly learn to be a team player if he’s governing with a minority. Such a government would be short-lived.
Dust off the Canadian political history books, because 2019 is looking like 1972 all over again.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019