Justin Trudeau Newly Elected Canadian Prime Minister
Reflections on the Canadian Election
We Canadians know only too well how rarely U.S. citizens think of us. In fact, we’re pretty much convinced that you’re only mildly aware of our existence. A friend who played hockey in the States was travelling north to Canada on a bus full of U.S. players who seemed sure that they would cross the border to immediately encounter snow squalls and moose crossing the streets in major cities. We’re quaint, but honestly, living in Toronto is much like living in New York, which is one of my favorite cities.
We’ve just finished a major election which will bring sweeping change to the ethos of our whole country, and as your neighbor, I thought you might like to know what’s going on up here. Canada’s Parliament, modeled on the British form, is made up of locally elected Members from many districts across Canada. For a national election like the one we just held on the 19th of October, 2015, when you vote for a local Member of Parliament, you’re voting for the leader of his or her party, and the leader of the party that gains the most seats in the House of Commons becomes our Prime Minister for four years.
Conservatives are blue, the New Democratic Party, or NDP, are orange, and the Liberals are red. Last night, a crimson tide swept across our nation with an unprecedented number of people flocking to the polls from East to West as the day went on. Advance polls saw a 70% increase from the 2011 election. First Nations people from many tribes, who have traditionally avoided voting, showed up in car pools. Muslims, immigrants and the young people of the nation raced to their polling stations by the busload. Justin Trudeau, the Leader of the Liberal Party became our Prime Minister, utterly ousting the Conservatives. Trudeau’s Liberals, coming from third place, got 4.2 million more votes than in 2011. We were desperate for change, and I’ll tell you why….
First Nations Peoples of Canada
They turned out and helped drive the right-wingers from office
For the past 10 years, our Prime Minister (Canadian code for President) Stephen Harper of the Conservative Party has led Canada down a dark road of increasing exclusion, lightly veiled homophobia, racism and passive/aggressive Islamophobia, all the while pumping out a rhetoric of fear of anyone other than whites of European descent – a rhetoric that has Canadians locking their doors.
Did you watch Bowling for Columbine? If you did, you’ll know that we’re usually more trusting than that up here. He’s infamous for muzzling journalists and scientists, for making Canada the laughing stock of international efforts to improve the environment, and for openly stating that the 1,182 First Nations women who were murdered or went missing in recent years was not a priority for him. He was too busy protecting us from evil foreigners to demand action on resolving the cases of these women; cases which had been tossed aside and neglected for years.
Stephen Harper’s Last Hurrah…
He got Smacked down by the Liberals
Harper insulted Muslims by insisting that a woman should not be allowed to wear her Niqab while being sworn in as a Canadian citizen. He openly used code phrases like “Old Stock Canadians” to assure those Old Stock Boys that his consistently divisive leadership would continue to favor them above others. He put forward laws to decrease health benefits for refugees, and the list goes on. Ralph Nader, in a guest spot last week on CBC Radio, said that he hardly recognized Canada any more – it used to be a leading country in quality of life and evolved compassion, but that he now felt embarrassed for what we had become under Harper’s regime of fear. This is not the country I grew up in – this is a country I no longer recognize. Let me tell you why this election was so important to Canadians.
I was a little kid sitting in the back seat of the family Volkswagen, and to my father’s astonishment, I was writing an election campaign speech. I had caught “Trudeau-mania”. For the course of my young life, politics had been austere, gravely serious and mostly about men making decisions for the rest of us. And along came Trudeau. Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Prime Minister from 1968-1979 and from 1980-1984, is the late father of our new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. We called him PET. Trudeau created a country that welcomed immigrants from all over the world with open arms. America represents itself as the famous “Melting Pot,” where people of other cultures blend in, but Canada became a “Mosaic” where other cultures, languages, customs and traditions were accepted and celebrated.
Canada was a fabric made of thousands of individual brightly-colored threads representing nations far and wide. That was our trademark – you could come here and feel welcomed, but you didn’t have to give up your culture or heritage – you could still benefit from the blessings of democracy, an advanced Medicare system and endless natural resources. PET was a breath of fresh air, bringing a forward-thinking new platform on women’s rights, equality and inclusion. PET put us on the map internationally, gaining the friendship and respect of foreign leaders. He brought us in leaps and bounds into a future of promise, where people of all races and religions worked together in harmony and felt safe. That’s the Canada he built. That’s the Canada I knew and loved. That’s the Canada Ralph Nader remembers.
Pierre Elliot Trudeau
Pater-familias of Todays victorious Liberals
An acquaintance from Iran who fled to Canada in the 1979 Revolution, often spoke of his alarm and dismay at how complacent and indifferent he found North Americans in terms of their engagement with politics. In a world where many have to walk miles, dodge bullets and navigate devious practices in order to place a vote, I tend to agree with him. But in yesterday’s election, my faith in Canadian citizens was restored. In the final weeks of the campaign, we waited, almost in a quiet panic, to see how this election would turn out. Various groups sprung up across the country to study the trends and provide local statistics on the best way to unseat the Conservatives.
People all across the country shared social media posts and links to tell the truth about Conservative policy and approach, and thousands upon thousands realized that no commentary was needed – one needed only to post the actual decisions, laws passed, policies and quotations, to tell the story of how Harper attempted to turn trusting, open-hearted Canadians into frightened, racist and suspicious people who thought they saw a terrorist hiding at every corner. The truth spread so far that even generally indifferent Canadians became fed up with this reign of fear, and they too wanted their Canada back.
Justin Trudeau Courts Muslim Vote
Building a winning Liberal Coalition
The Liberal Party sent out volunteers in droves, and during the 78-day campaign, I was telephoned at least once a week by Liberal Party members looking to answer any questions, make sure I would vote and offer me a ride to the polling station. They were out on the streets in droves, knocking on doors and giving solid, clear answers to peoples’ questions. My experience in my own riding of Etobicoke South / Lakeshore left me deeply impressed with the integrity and hard-working team of local Liberal Candidate James Maloney, who won the riding. A casualty of the landslide vote in favor of the Liberal Party was the New Democratic Party, which lost many good Members of Parliament to the strategic vote.
In areas where a Liberal win was likely, staunch NDP members abandoned their representatives – the lesser evil if it meant ousting the Conservative Party, which was the goal of so many Canadians. I was moved. It was like going to church last night, watching the Conservative blue disappear in a sea of Liberal red. I marveled at the well-oiled machine composed of dedicated Canadians who loved their country enough to work together as one to reclaim it from the reactionary conservatives.
Justin Trudeau, our new Prime Minister, is only 43 years old, and the campaign television ads used to try and diminish Trudeau said, “He’s just not ready.” But they were dead wrong. There was much negative speculation about how this very young man would handle the first debate, but the morning after, the pundits and journalists were singing his praises, impressed and inspired by his strength, knowledge, confidence and political savvy. During the weeks of the campaign, his opponents often suggested that Trudeau would run out of steam, not being used to the rigors of the road. Again, they were dead wrong. Justin’s energy and vitality increased as he continued to rise to every occasion. He was in good physical, mental and emotional condition and he remained consistent.
Justin Trudeau makes his Case
And the Canadian people put the reins of power in his hands
Here’s the thing – Trudeau has not been mindlessly spouting some party line. He grew up immersed in the kind of belief system and world view of which the Liberal Party is so proud – a world view that is inclusive and positive and that welcomes the stranger and embraces the ‘other’ – a belief system that chooses to challenge the increasing gap between the rich and the poor – an outlook that values the hard-working middle class and resists favoring corporate giants at the expense of the ordinary person. Young Trudeau has already made some statements that are commanding our attention. He wants to focus on the important environmental issues which the Conservative government put on the shelf. He promises that he will name an equal number of men and women as Cabinet Ministers. Already, there are 26% more female representatives in the House of Commons than in the previous House.
Indigenous people who have been ignored and side-lined have hope that they will be included in infra-structure improvements that will finally bring them clean water and a trustworthy safety net. The list goes on, but the point is this: Canada lived through an increasingly negative decade wherein our progressive identity was insidiously being eroded, and we finally woke up.
Our new leader has a heart, and we can sense that he genuinely cares about the average Canadian. It’s in his DNA to have compassion. He got it from his parents. As he joined his supporters for his speech, with his beautiful wife, Sophie on his arm, they chanted his name in ecstatic joy. And he promised to give Canada back to the Canadians who love it and serve it. He restored hope to an increasingly cynical nation. He closed with a reminder that the Conservative Party members are not our enemies, but rather, they are our neighbors, and he urged us to work together to make Canada stronger. And there it is – there’s the big difference we worked so hard to bring back.
So why should you, my dear American neighbors, care about this Canadian election? First, you should probably know about the unprecedented shift that has taken place in a country that is attached to you for thousands of miles along your northern border. And second, you too have a major election coming. You too have an opportunity to raise awareness of the issues that are most important to you. What kind of a country do you want to be? What is it that other nations say about you? Is that okay with you? Would you like it to be something else?
I’m no politician – I’m not even a journalist. I’m a divorced Anglican (Episcopalian) Priest, a proud mother of two young adult women, and – yes, I have to own it – a sort of middle-aged hippie. I have always believed, like Jesus, Gandhi and Mohammed, that the sign of a truly good country is how well it cares for its most vulnerable citizens and brings justice to all people. I want to remind you of the dynamic power of one; because the action of the one, when added to the actions of many, becomes an immensely powerful force for change. We did it – we changed the whole ethos of our country, and you can too.
Reverend Susanne McKim
October 20, 2015