ONE OF THE ADVANTAGES/DISADVANTAGES OF GETTING OLD(ER) is that you begin to see patterns in the randomness of life—even if, perhaps, likely, almost certainly, those patterns are more random than patterned.
Before we go there, cast your mind back 51 years to 1968—a time of great political, economic and social ferment. The assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, war in Vietnam. From an Expo ’67 afterglow to a country-shaking cry of “Vive le Quebec libre,” Canada had come to the end of the muddling, middling nothing and everything Pearson-Diefenbaker decade.
We longed for something new, better, different, hopeful.
And along came Trudeau. Trudeau the Elder. Pierre Elliott, the mythic, mythical “hipster Montrealer,” as author Robert Wright called him, “who drove up to Ottawa in his Mercedes in 1965, wowed the country with his dictum that ‘there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation,’ rocked the new medium of television like no one since JFK, and in scant months rode the crest of Canadians’ centennial-era euphoria into power.”
If it was myth—and it was—we wanted to believe, not only about Trudeau but about ourselves: we were more interesting, more significant, more exciting because of him.
And then, reality.
Something similar happened in Canada in 2015. After a decade of pinched pennies and squeezed ambitions under Stephen Harper, we longed for someone who spoke to our better selves—welcoming Syrian refugees, forging new relationships with indigenous peoples, recognizing it was time to invest in Canada again, appointing a gender-balanced cabinet “because it’s 2015.”
Justin Trudeau was charismatic in a very different way than his aloof, intellectual father but he captured the zeitgeist in a way no one had done since, well… since Pierre Trudeau.
And then along came reality.
For Pierre Trudeau, it was, as the Toronto Star recently catalogued it: “a failed Indigenous policy, rising regional tensions, a tough new Premier in Alberta and a new nationalist party in Quebec…”
For Justin Trudeau, familiar echoes: an ambitious Indigenous policy that failed to live up to its ambitions, regional tensions ratcheting up as populist right-wing governments take charge in Alberta and Ontario and challenge Ottawa’s approach to climate change and other key issues.
And, of course, J. Trudeau’s Liberals have kept shooting themselves in the foot too, unnecessary scandal by own-goal screw-up by…
Which brings us to 1972. And 2019.
In the blush-is-off-the-rose 1972 federal election, P. Trudeau’s Liberals ended up with a deserved comeuppance, a hanging-by-a-thread minority government that gave the NDP, the Social Credit and two independents the balance of power for the next two years.
Trudeau could have resigned but chose not to, as author George Radwanski noted, because he “did not consider the ambiguous election result an outright rejection.”
Most historians will tell you his minority government was a pale imitation of many more productive ones, but it did at least give Trudeau the rare opportunity of a do-over. In 1974, the Liberals returned with a restored, if reduced majority. And the universe unfolded…
What will happen on October 21, 2019? Will J. Trudeau’s Liberals get their own deserved electoral leash-tug—and a chance to make a better second impression? Will the NDP or the Greens hold the balance of power and hold the left-speaking Liberals to actual account for their rhetoric? Or will Andrew Scheer slip the bonds of his smiley-faced, Harper-lite image and become our real leader for the 2020s?
Perhaps we should leave the last word to Pierre Trudeau, 1972-election-night channeling Desiderata: “Whether or not it is clear to you… the universe is unfolding as it should.”