What others thought of our election


The Conservatives’ campaign highlighted Mr. Harper’s role in leading Canada relatively unscathed through the financial crisis and recession, and their ads described Mr. Trudeau with the phrase: “He’s just not ready.”

Mr. Harper’s claim to economic stewardship was tarnished by a recent commodities-driven economic slump severe enough to lead the economy of the US’s biggest trading partner to contract in the first half of this year.

Amid the faltering economy and a string of controversies surrounding the Conservatives, Mr. Trudeau’s newcomer status may have played into a deep-seated desire for change. Polls found 70% of voters said they were tired of Conservative rule in surveys near the end of the campaign.


The sweeping victory of Justin Trudeau in Canada’s elections on Monday shows how ready Canadians were to emerge from a decade under the Conservative government of the secretive and combative Stephen Harper. Mr. Trudeau clearly benefited from voters’ memories of his father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who rose to power 47 years ago on a platform of liberal reforms and a wave of personal popularity that came to be dubbed “Trudeaumania.” To those memories, Justin Trudeau, 43, added his own charisma and the promise that, as prime minister, he would return Canadians to the tradition of liberal and humanitarian values that his father championed.

In his nearly 10 years in office, Mr. Harper pursued a conservative agenda of lowering taxes, cutting government programs and taking a tough line on security, including the passage of broad antiterrorism laws. His government also banned women from wearing face coverings at citizenship ceremonies.

Mr. Trudeau, by contrast, has pledged, among other things, to legalize marijuana, revise the antiterrorism laws, stop the purchase of F-35 fighter jets from the United States and end Canada’s combat role in the American-led fight against the Islamic State. While both men backed the Keystone XL oil pipeline, Mr. Trudeau is open to addressing environmental concerns. To many voters, that was the major appeal of Mr. Trudeau — that he would return the Liberal Party, and Canada, to the country’s core values, like a generous safety net, active participation in international organizations like the United Nations, a humanitarian foreign policy and an inclusive concept of nationhood. Mr. Harper’s conservatism was at odds with that identity.


Mr. Trudeau benefited from considerable voter discontent with Harper, who until Monday was one of the West’s longest-ruling leaders. He held power for nearly a decade, overseeing a shift to the right in a country famed for its North American-style of social democracy.

An opinion poll last week found that 71 percent of Canadians wanted to see a change in government. In a controversial, somewhat confusing editorial last week, the Globe and Mail, a leading Canadian daily, endorsed the Conservatives but not Harper, who would inevitably remain prime minister should his party win.

Harper’s critics attack the prime minister on numerous grounds, including his pandering to Islamophobes and his conspicuous opposition to climate-change measures.

Under Harper’s watch, Canada’s economic growth became increasingly yoked to its mining and energy industries. And the country has been hit particularly hard by the recent drop in global oil prices. Of the Group of Seven, or G-7, nations — some of the world’s most advanced economies — Canada was the only one to report two consecutive quarters of decline in 2015.


The election had become essentially a referendum on Mr Harper’s rule, and on what detractors saw as a cultural conservatism that was too hard line. The country shifted centre right under Mr Harper, who lowered sales and corporate taxes, avoided climate change legislation, and strongly supported the oil and gas extraction industry. The Conservative leader also made his attempts to ban the wearing of the face veils known as niqabs during citizenship ceremonies a central policy of his tenure.

The election campaign focused on the government’s handling of refugees – in particular the tiny number of Syrians accepted by the country, a scandal over Conservative senators’ expenses, pensions and anti-terrorism measures. In a further blow to Mr Harper’s rule, Canada’s economy has stagnated in recent months under the weight of plunging oil prices.

Friends of the former prime minister said the election result was personally devastating for Mr Harper, whose long-term goal was to kill the widely entrenched notion that the Liberals are the natural party of government in Canada. “The people are never wrong,” Mr Harper told supporters during his concession speech in Calgary, Alberta. “The disappointment you all so feel is my responsibility and mine alone.”


Canada’s progressive style of social democracy, long contrasted with the politics of the US, had taken a turn to the right under Mr Harper, a neoconservative who cut taxes and took a more aggressive approach to foreign policy than his predecessors. His stimulus package helped Canada to emerge relatively unscathed from the global financial crisis, but more recently the country’s economy, closely tied to plummeting oil prices, has contracted.

The government’s ungenerous handling of the refugee crisis and the passage this year of a controversial anti-terrorism law – which the Liberals intend to amend – proved unpopular with many Canadians. The Conservatives were also accused of stoking anti-Muslim sentiment in a row over whether women would be permitted to wear the niqab when they took the oath of citizenship.


Deux ans après avoir pris les rênes des libéraux, Justin Trudeau, 43 ans, a relevé un parti laminé aux dernières législatives, entaché par les scandales et les conflits d’intérêt. Rien ne laissait prévoir, au début d’une longue campagne de 78 jours, que Justin Trudeau, initialement troisième, s’imposerait avec une aisance et une assurance peu communes pour ses premiers débats télévisés, face à des adversaires rompus à l’exercice. «Justin, juste pas prêt», c’est en ces termes que les conservateurs l’infantilisaient en le moquant dans des publicités.

Justin Trudeau a patiemment mené sa campagne, débutée en août, en gardant une ligne claire, caressant la classe moyenne avec des promesses de baisse d’impôts en allant taxer les plus riches. Après avoir donné naissance à une nouvelle trudeaumania, ces mots d’ordre qui vont lui permettre de retrouver, un peu plus de 30 ans après, la résidence du premier ministre à Ottawa où il a passé toute son enfance quand son père, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, dirigeant ayant marqué le Canada, en était le locataire.

L’économie, socle sur lequel le premier ministre sortant a voulu capitaliser, a finalement souri aux libéraux. Avec une récession sur les six premiers mois de l’année, en raison de la chute des prix du pétrole, Justin Trudeau a promis au prix de trois prochaines années en déficit budgétaire, de relancer l’activité avec un programme d’infrastructures et des emplois à la clé.

Autre moment important de la campagne, la crise des réfugiés en Méditerranée avec une offre immédiate des libéraux et des sociaux-démocrates d’accueillir les Syriens fuyant la guerre quand Stephen Harper défendait l’idée de combattre le mal à la racine, soit de poursuivre les frappes aériennes contre le groupe État islamique. La participation du Canada à la coalition internationale va se reposer, Justin Trudeau s’étant engagé à mettre fin aux frappes aériennes tout en restant dans un rôle d’assistance aux forces irakiennes et kurdes.


Pour les conservateurs, cette lourde défaite est avant tout celle de leur chef, le premier ministre sortant Stephen Harper, réélu à Calgary mais démissionnaire dans la nuit de la direction du parti.

Humaniste et pragmatique. Dans un discours rassembleur, Justin Trudeau a appelé les Canadiens de toutes tendances politiques à « avoir foi en eux-mêmes et en leur pays », se donnant le mandat de « faire croître l’économie, de créer des emplois et d’améliorer la situation de la classe moyenne ». Son gouvernement sera « ouvert et transparent », a-t-il promis, protecteur des droits de tous les Canadiens et misera sur « l’espoir » plutôt que la peur.


After the change in the office of Canadian Prime Minister, there will be a change of policy. Stephen Harper’s “Americanism” is over. Under Justin Trudeau, Canadian traditionalism returns.

Three reasons are likely to have played a role.  Many voters were not only dissatisfied with the Conservative government of Stephen Harper, they were clearly tired of him too. After more than nine and a half years in office, this was not especially surprising. Also playing a role was the current recession in the Canadian economy resulting from the decline in commodity prices. And thirdly, Trudeau was able to use the long election campaign to neutralize the charge that he was inexperienced and attract voters alienated by the left-wing populism of the New Democrats. The result is the end of an era, a Liberal majority, and the resurgence of the ruling party.

What is the future prime minister, son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, planning to make of his new power? He will pursue a social democratic policy, with tax cuts for the middle class, tax increases for high-income earners, more spending on infrastructure projects, and budget deficits. In foreign and security policy, he is likely to be more cautious than his predecessor. As a rule, Trudeau’s approach will be different from the self-confident and robust conservatism of Stephen Harper. Where the country had become somewhat “American”, it now returns to Canadian traditionalism. As far as Germany is concerned, Harper, who took office just a few months after Angela Merkel, was a reliable partner. It will be important that that continues under Justin Trudeau.


The election in Canada will bring deep changes in foreign policy. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, whose party won an absolute majority in general elections on Monday, has announced that Canada will terminate its air strikes against ISIL in Syria and Iraq. He confirmed this decision in a telephone conversation with US President Barack Obama on Tuesday.  Trudeau told reporters Canada will remain a “strong member” of the US-led coalition against ISIL but will end its combat role.

Canada has been involved in the coalition for a year, first engaged in air strikes against ISIL targets in Iraq which were extended to targets in Syria. Canada has sent CF-18 fighters and about 70 special forces to train Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq.  Trudeau had promised during the election campaign to end the Canadian combat mission but to continue with its training mission.


Harper has been widely seen by his critics as undermining democracy: abolishing the long-form census, not relating openly to the media, and as constitutional law expert Adam Dodek wrote the morning after the elections, “championing secrecy over disclosure, bureaucratic resistance over cooperation and risk management over public engagement.”

Others criticized Harper for sowing the politics of division, for example in his attempt to ban the niqab at citizenship swearing-in ceremonies. In his victory speech, Trudeau capitalized on this: “You and your fellow citizens,” he told his supporters, “have chosen… a government that believes deeply in the diversity of our country”.

Harper’s bid to make Israel a wedge issue failed. When he suggested in the leaders’ foreign policy debate that his government was the best supporter of Israel, Trudeau shut him down. In media interviews, both Trudeau and NDP leader Tom Mulcair spoke out forcefully against the boycott movement.  Trudeau even spoke in language right out of a Jewish Federation-style playbook, calling BDS “demonization, delegitimization and double standards,” adding “That’s just not what we are as a country.”

Still, there remains the fundamental question of whether Harper’s Israel policies were any different from those of his predecessors. Bernie Farber, former head of the Canadian Jewish Congress, pointed out that on Israeli-Palestinian issues, Jerusalem, the settlements and so on, “Harper changed not one comma” on Canada’s official policy. He’s got a point. Reading through Canada’s official policy one might think one was perhaps reading the Arab Peace Initiative. Canada doesn’t recognize Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem; Canada believes that a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem must take heed of international law, including UN Resolution 194; Canada declares that Israeli settlements are a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Most would agree, though, that there was something different in Harper’s approach to Israel: its tone.


Feature Image: Javier Micora, Prensa europea (creative.commons)

The mission of the Vimy Report is to inject new information that will raise the quality of public discussion on security and defence issues, to do so with impact, and thereby to educate and influence the ultimate decision-makers: citizens and their elected representatives.

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