Trivia hunter alert: Next year’s Canadian election will be fought on the 50th anniversary of George Grant’s futile attack on Canadian Liberalism’s then-unbounded awe of American power and technique.
In 1965, Lament for a Nation ridiculed the country’s solemn Liberal leadership as philistines, with adolescent arms outstretched in love. Events and opportunities such as Watergate, the Tea Party, and the Iraq wars, not Grant’s scolding, however, put that love on ice.
Justin Trudeau’s father and every Liberal leader since have taken care to appear to never give Washington the benefit of the doubt. In addition, they conceived within their own intellectual circles a new nationalism that emphasized Canada’s worldliness, its multilateral associations, and not its North American alliance. They never missed a chance to display proper distance from and concern for the vitality of American governance.
Liberals, in fact, designed highly effective election campaigns against Conservatives who could be suspected of being too influenced by Ronald Reagan’s charm, too optimistic about America’s future, or brainwashed by every wave of American rightwing extremism.
Last weekend’s Liberal policy convention and Justin Trudeau’s formal policy address, however, signaled an empathic return to their earlier passion: a heartfelt concern for America’s respect for us and a less-than-pure-hearted confidence that Harper’s problems with Obama can be exploited electorally.
Less noteworthy was their unselfconscious recruitment of American political and intellectual stars. Lawrence Summers is as appealing to Canadian conservatives as he is to liberal audiences, and Obama’s deputy campaign manager, Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, didn’t offer ideas on campaign tactics that winning US consultants aren’t already being paid to sell to audiences in other foreign democracies.
The most striking display of their reawakened American infatuation was the utterance of and audience response to two Ottawa-Gothic assertions by Trudeau:
“It is a fundamental economic responsibility for the Prime Minister of Canada to help get our resources to global markets. More and more, the way to do that is with a robust environmental policy that gives assurances to our trading partners that those resources are being developed responsibly.”
Analyst and author Paul Wells singularly noted that these statements received an exceptionally enthusiastic standing ovation.
Audiences of Canada’s "natural governing" party, of course, admire qualified sentences and are easily excited by expressions of concern for the good regard of governors elsewhere. Still, Trudeau and his audience last Saturday weren’t thinking about polluters in Beijing or inconsequential bureaucrats in shrinking European resource markets.
They’re convinced that as prime minister, Justin Trudeau would better impress Barack Obama and his administration than Stephen Harper. Also, they’re likely sure that the rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline would grievously hurt Harper, especially in the growing affluent West that he absolutely must sweep to get re-elected.
(This issue, for Liberals, unfortunately, has nothing to do with political integration; it’s strictly about sophisticated head-off government relations — the chemistry of two capitals, not the common qualities of their citizens.)
These new Liberal calculations may turn to dust if, eventually, Obama decides to go with the pro-pipeline majorities in Washington’s Republican and Democratic caucuses. Nevertheless, what’s historically interesting is the now-palpable eagerness of Liberals to attack Harper for not being cool in Obama’s bunker in Washington.
They seem sure that “standing up for Canada” with this President is counterproductive, unsophisticated, and embarrassing.
Is it inconceivable that Harper could turn and do to Justin Trudeau what Jean Chrétien did to Progressive Conservatives in the '90s?
Could, 50 years later, the least red Tory conservative since Lament for a Nation suffer at the fate of Grant’s doomed hero: John G. Diefenbaker?
Can those Trudeau Liberals just keep rewriting the rules?