Trudeau bears the most famous name in Canadian politics, but a name loaded with multiple meanings for his party and his country. His father, Pierre Trudeau, dominated Canadian politics from 1968 to 1984. Cerebral, tough, and openly contemptuous of his intellectual inferiors—who numbered more or less the entire human race—Pierre Trudeau plunged Canada into ultra-statist experiments and massive debts from which his successors struggled for more than a decade to rescue her. He resigned in 1984, just months before voters handed the Liberals the worst defeat in the party’s history.
Justin Trudeau has reshaped his father’s legacy. He has styled himself as winsome where his father was chilly, as approachable where his father was aloof. In unscripted remarks that have appalled critics and unnerved even some of his admirers, he praised China’s “basic dictatorship” for leading the way on combating climate change and derided Canada’s contribution to the anti-ISIS military campaign as “whipping out our CF-18s.” He was conspicuously absent from press briefings on his economic policy, explaining that he was vanishing from the campaign trail a month before election day to spend “quality time” with his family. NDP leader Tom Mulcair taunted Trudeau on this front: “You don’t like debates because your staff has to write all your lines for you. I write my own.”
But scripted and unscripted, Justin Trudeau has conveyed a consistent message: The government he leads will repudiate the legacy not only of the incumbent Conservative prime minister, Stephen Harper, but the neoliberal Liberals of the 1990s.
Chretien-Martin balanced budgets. Trudeau has committed himself to a policy of deliberate deficits in an attempt to stimulate growth. Chretien-Martin eschewed redistributive taxes. Trudeau campaigned on a promise to increase taxes on wealthier Canadians to a new combined federal-provincial top rate above 50 percent. Chretien-Martin signed the North American Free Trade Agreement. Trudeau has squirmed to avoid committing to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
The turn to the left is as much cultural as economic. Trudeau has vowed to cancel the Harper government’s F-35 jet contract, insisting that Canada does not need such an advanced fighter plane. He has pledged full legalization of marijuana. He’s pledged to increase Canada’s intake of Syrian refugees from 10,000 by next year to 25,000 annually effective immediately—and to spend an additional $250 million a year to resettle them.
Harper brought Canada and Israel closer. Trudeau has signaled greater distance to come. In the most important and memorable speech he gave in his pre-prime ministership, he repeatedly downplayed the uniqueness of the Jewish holocaust—and characterized the demand of some Muslim women to cover their faces during Canadian citizenship ceremonies as the moral equivalent of the doomed voyage of German Jewish refugees on the St. Louis in 1939. (Tellingly, one of the very few seats in the greater Toronto area to remain Tory blue last night was the heavily Jewish riding of Thornhill.)