Pierre Trudeau’s reputation as a battling liberal intellectual is an impregnable pan-Canadian memory. It will outlast Montréal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport and is as imposing as Mount Pierre Elliott Trudeau in British Columbia. It has been a spur and, often, a crutch for a generation of Liberal politicians.
Now his son will try something Dad never tried: run an election against a conservative incumbent on behalf of liberty.
Justin Trudeau’s prepared speechfor the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada asserts immediately that it’s “time Liberals took back liberty” and concludes 40 minutes later on an optimistic note: “If we resist the urge to impose our personal beliefs upon our fellow citizens … we get back Canada in return.”
Only a Canadian Liberal, in third place, could suggest that Canada has gone missing, that liberty can be both the brand of Canada and the brand of his political Party as well.
Most high-minded speeches are diminished by partisanship. This speech is propped up by its extravagant hostility toward the government of the day. Pundits report in whispers that the speech was in the works for months and that it reflects intense electoral calculation as well as Trudeau’s rising personal alarm about the vulnerable state of liberty in Harperland.
That Trudeau’s accusations are taken seriously isn’t a tribute to the morning logic of his beautifully written speech but the bile within our politics and punditry toward the Harper government. As he spoke, Trudeau ducks any discussion of legislation that does affect our liberties, legislation that is actually being worked on in committee, by working MPs. According to the same quality of dot-connecting employed by paranoids on the left now as well as the right, Harper’s hidden agenda, apparently, isn’t neo-liberal but neo-fascist.
The notion that successful applicants for Canadian citizenship should show their faces at their citizenship ceremonies is a betrayal of Canada’s brand and is unleashing dark impulses in the citizenry worthy of a drama class but nowhere else.
Our globally renowned liberal Constitution does grandfather Aboriginal treaty rights and certain regulated educational rights for Catholics. However, it doesn’t favor any god, cult, collectivity or tribal practice. We are—and we are seen to be—a rather godless sectarian country by friends and foe alike.
Surely, Muslim immigrants aren’t coming here to enrich their faith. They expect to enjoy, yes, reasonable accommodation. And they keep applying for residence and citizenship by the tens of thousands on that basis.
Plausibility applies in “core value” elections as well as elections decided on such pedestrian grounds as middle-class concerns about the future and executive competence.
Pierre Trudeau, by the way, won his three majorities by promising to be tough on disruptive Western decentralists, weak-kneed federalists, and Quebec nationalists and separatists—and, lest we forget, by promising to not raise taxes on gasoline or introduce wage and price controls. His opponents were caricatured as wobbly and less competent, not less committed to liberty than he was.