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UPDATE: Trudeau takes the Liberal leadership

This past weekend, Justin Trudeau won the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada at a convention held in Ottawa. What are the implications of this as we head toward the next federal election expected to take place in October 2015?

Party standings?
A Nanos Research poll released this past Friday puts the party standings at 35.4 per cent for the Liberals, 31.3 percent for the Conservatives, and 23.6 per cent for the NDP. The Globe and Mail comments, “The bounce could be temporary, but the numbers offer a sense that Canadian politics are getting more unpredictable and lively.” We also need to remember that the next federal election will include 30 more seats given Harper’s legislation creating an expanded House of Commons with 338 seats. It has been noted that the majority of those new seats are expected to favour the Conservatives.

Policy directions?
The newspaper also reports, “Mr. Trudeau has not broken new ground with his policy proposals (during the seven-month leadership campaign)… Instead, Mr. Trudeau has laid out a set of core values and priorities – education, free trade, the environment – while promising to bring about more modern and positive politics to the country (in contrast to the Harper government framed as unambitious and divisive).”

Columnist John Ibbitson has commented that Trudeau will need to appeal to both “progressive voters who had abandoned the party of the so-called radical centre for New Democrats” as well as “economically prudent voters who once trusted Liberals on the economy (who) now count on Stephen Harper’s Conservatives to mind the store.” He also suggests, “As for the Prairie provinces, success depends on convincing voters that Mr. Trudeau is more committed to resource development than the NDP, while being more environmentally responsible than the Conservatives.” On that score, senior Liberals have reportedly said Trudeau will “support a proposed pipeline that would ship oil east from Alberta to the Atlantic.”

Another Globe and Mail article notes that “The government is expected to unveil within a matter of weeks a proposed free trade agreement with the European Union.” Other reports suggest that the deal continues to experience delays and may not be signed until ‘around the summer’. Regardless, “Senior Liberals, speaking off the record, predict the new Liberal leader will support it…” And Trudeau himself writes in an op-ed in yesterday’s Globe and Mail, “I also propose we should be both more open to – and strategic about – foreign direct investment and trade. …We enjoy preferential access to the US market and historical familial ties with Europe. We have a window of opportunity with the great growing economies of Asia, wherein they need our resources and expertise as much as we need access to their manufactured goods and their markets.”

A post-partisan party?
While support for free trade, resource extraction and pipelines may be characterized as traditional party politics, the newspaper also reports, “Trudeau’s team wanted to create a Canadian version of a broad-based, centrist approach to a politics. The goal is to transform the Liberal Party – a core institution of Canadian history – into a movement for the post-partisan age.”

And though that may sound more rhetorical than substantial, it is true that the Trudeau campaign attracted 12,000 volunteers and Liberal party membership has grown dramatically, with more than 100,000 members and supporters voting at the convention. Trudeau also did not hesitate to align himself and the party with one of the most well-known social movements by signalling support for Idle No More in his acceptance speech on Sunday. It may also be notable that Gerald Butts (the former president of the mainstream environmental group World Wildlife Fund) was a key adviser to Trudeau and they pulled together the core campaign team.

Movement activists will need to analyze the implications of all of this to continue to engage effectively in both daily political struggles and the high-stakes electoral battles ahead.