Special Briefing: Is Justin Trudeau a Closet Moderate?

MONTREAL, QC - OCTOBER 21: Liberal Leader and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appears on stage to deliver his victory speech at his election night headquarters on October 21, 2019 in Montreal, Canada. Trudeau remains in power with a Minority Government. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)

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Why you should care

Because numbers aren’t everything.

This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.

WHAT TO KNOW

What happened? Despite being tarnished by several scandals over the past year, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will stay in office after his Liberal Party won a plurality in national elections yesterday. But having lost his majority, he’ll lead a minority government that’ll require other parties’ votes to pass laws and budgets. While Monday’s results serve as a reality check for the 47-year-old, they do not spell victory for Andrew Scheer’s Conservative Party: The conservatives picked up around 25 new seats but also largely failed to win new voters outside their base.

Canadians Head To The Polls For The National Election

ETOBICOKE, ON – OCTOBER 21: People vote a polling station at Alderwood Pool for Canada’s 43rd general election October 21, 2019 in Etobicoke, Ontario, Canada. Liberal party leader Justin Trudeau is neck and neck with Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, as they both attempt to be elected the country’s Prime Minister. (Photo by Brett Gundlock/Getty Images)

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Why does it matter? Analysts say this election was a political warning to both of Canada’s major parties. But it could also be a rare win for centrism: Trudeau’s support for non-liberal policies and his ditching of some other promises in favor of remaining more mainstream-friendly may have kept him in power. And they might also hold the key to the future. “I’ve heard your frustration,” he told Canadians who’d supported the rival Conservative Party. Now he’ll have to reach out to them — but it’s something he’s done before.

HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT

No more “Golden Boy.” Trudeau’s dashing looks and magnetic charisma, coupled with progressive policies like tackling climate change and promoting inclusivity, made him a liberal-democratic darling soon after his 2015 election. But that image gave way to multiple flubs that caused varying degrees of damage, from botched photo ops to accusations of pressuring a subordinate for political gain. The latest? Revelations that he donned blackface and brownface on multiple occasions. Yet none of that seemed enough to dissuade voters from backing the former high school teacher and son of a former prime minister. Still, Monday’s results mean Trudeau’s brand isn’t nearly as powerful as it once was.

Routine right. Although armed with plenty of ammunition against Trudeau, the conservatives clearly weren’t able to do much with it. Observers suggest that Scheer, a relatively unknown political commodity, focused too much on either attacking Trudeau’s character or promoting an uninspired economic platform of tax cuts — or both. For their part, the liberals appeared able to inflict pain on the 40-year-old Scheer by casting him as a humdrum social conservative. And while Scheer’s party appears to have won the popular vote, it’s mostly because of the predictably impressive showing in Canada’s western provinces. Meanwhile, the fledgling far-right People’s Party of Canada was denied even a single seat.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Holds Election Night Watch Party In Montreal

MONTREAL, QC – OCTOBER 21: Liberal Leader and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers his victory speech at his election night headquarters on October 21, 2019 in Montreal, Canada. Trudeau remains in power with a Minority Government. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)

Source Getty Images

New realities. Either way, not only is Trudeau the first leader in decades to have lost the popular vote yet won the election, but he’ll also navigate that new political landscape under more challenging circumstances. Progressive achievements of the past, like legalizing marijuana or having a gender-balanced Cabinet, may now pale in comparison to a shaken alliance with its southern neighbor or the growing sociopolitical divide with the oil-producing but economically challenged west. And while the Canadian economy remains strong and unemployment low, more than half of the population believes a recession is coming. So neither Trudeau nor his conservative opponents should rest easy. “Canadians should expect to be back at the ballot box before too long,” writes one local commentator.

Middle of the road. But there are also signs that Trudeau carefully tailored his policy to run straight down the center — and that it worked. Take, for instance, his $3.4 billion purchase of an oil pipeline to boost Canada’s oil industry, while also implementing a carbon tax. Or his promise to scrap the first-past-the-post electoral system, in a nod to leftists, only to flip-flop two years later. And so far, it’s not like that hurt him much: One independent observer found that Trudeau kept (or is still sticking to) a staggering 92 percent of his promises. Taken together, such a hybrid approach, even if it means breaking policy pledges, may have served as both a political lifesaver and a blueprint for the future.

WHAT TO READ

Canada Sleepwalks Into the Future, by Ryan Heath in POLITICO

“Young Canadians obviously care, but don’t appear to see electoral politics as a means of shaping their future.”

The Liberals Didn’t Win the 2019 Federal Election. They Just Lost Less Than the Conservatives, by Andrew Coyne in the National Post

“Never before have both major parties taken such a small share of the vote. Never before, in my memory, have both declined steadily and together throughout a campaign.”

WHAT TO WATCH

Justin Trudeau’s Full Victory Speech

“Regardless of how you cast your ballot, ours is a team that will fight for all Canadians.”

Watch on CBC News on YouTube:

Is the Election a Referendum on Trudeau?

“If one of these candidates just answered a question as asked, maybe people would respond to that — instead of what seems so scripted.”

Watch on CTV News on YouTube:

WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER

Fake faces. People’s Party leader Maxime Bernier suggested a Conservative-linked public relations firm helped field a rival candidate with the same name, but representing the Rhinoceros Party, in order to confuse voters in his Quebec district. That candidate snagged 1.8 percent of all votes there.

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