This morning at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, Justin Trudeau and his new Liberal government were officially sworn into office. Trudeau becomes Canada’s 23rd Prime Minister.
It was just over two weeks ago that Canadians ousted Stephen Harper’s Conservatives after nearly a decade in office in favor of Trudeau’s Liberals.
At 43, Trudeau becomes the second youngest Prime Minister in Canadian history. Joe Clark was 36 when his shortlived Tory government ousted Justin’s father, Pierre Trudeau in the 1979 federal election only for the elder Trudeau to come back 9 months later.
While I think many Canadians voted for Trudeau because of his purported youthful idealism, I think there was also a nostalgia behind their vote. Pierre Trudeau was a larger than life figure in Canada. When he became Prime Minister in 1968, Quebec poet Irving Layton wrote, “In Pierre Trudeau, Canada has at last produced a leader worthy of assassination.” Whether you loved him or hated him, Trudeau remained a towering figure in Canada long after he left office and remains so long after his death. The election of his son represents a link to the past of which many Canadians have fond memories.
Still, the younger Trudeau put some distance between himself and his father on his election night speech when he quoted Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Canada’s Liberal Prime Minister from 1896 to 1911, who said, “Sunny ways, my friends, sunny ways.” I wonder just how sunny Justin Trudeau’s disposition will be in a year from now after he’s had some time to deal with the realities of governing a country.
The other thing that stood out in that speech was his statement, “Conservatives are not our enemies, they’re our neighbors.” It’s a nice sentiment and I hope he actually means it. Especially when you consider Hillary Clinton’s recent statement in last month’s Democrat debate that Republicans were her enemies. But my skeptical side tells me that his government is not likely to be very neighborly towards conservatives on both matters of policy and personality.
When I wrote my lament for Stephen Harper following the election, I highlighted the former Prime Minister’s support for Israel and cited his speech to the Israeli Knesset in January 2014 in which he said, “We refuse to single out Israel for criticism on the international stage.” The fact that Trudeau made it known following a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that “there would be a shift in tone but Canada would continue to be a friend of Israel’s,” raises red flags. What form will this shift in tone take? Will Trudeau start singling out Israel for criticism? If Trudeau ends up being the kind of friend President Obama has been to Israel then who need enemies?
I am inclined to think that Canadians will have a long leash for Trudeau. Aside from any nostalgia they feel for his Dad, Canadians rarely turf off their governments after a single term in office. So Canadians, and the rest of the world, will have to get used to saying Prime Minister Trudeau again.