I had the opportunity to attend Justin Trudeau and Matt Grant’s Liberal Party “Meet and Greet” event in Calgary, the hometown of Conservative Leader and Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. While the conditions were sweltering hot, the atmosphere was welcoming and positive, and it was good to see a considerable number of people, young and old and of a range of ethnicities, in attendance.
Liberal Leader Trudeau’s speech mainly focused on the economy, and discussing how the Conservatives have failed to develop a positive foundation for Alberta’s energy future. With the national election campaign having just begun, expect more focus on Canada’s faltering economy. Canada’s economy contracted by the most in nearly six years in the first quarter of 2015, and the economy recently recorded its fifth consecutive monthly contraction in gross domestic product raising fears of a new recession (technically, recessions are defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth). Although Harper remains optimistic about an economic turnaround, his record has increasingly come under attack. In a recent exhaustive empirical comparison of Canada’s economic record under the Harper government with previous post-war prime ministers, the authors concluded that “there is no other time in Canada’s post-war economic history in which Canada’s economy has performed worse than it did under the Harper government.” For Trudeau and other candidates, the suggestion is that Harper is out of touch and that it is definitely time for a change.
Trudeau also noted how the national government has been focused more on itself than on the citizens, and also claimed that it spends “your money on themselves to buy an election instead of investing it in you to make your lives better,” in reference to the Conservative Party’s alleged use of departmental ad budgets to boost the Harper government’s brand. Trudeau’s comments also seem appropriate since Harper’s call for an early election stands to considerably hurt taxpayers who may end up forking over $1.23 for every dollar a political party spends during the election campaign (through rebates for parties’ election expenses and individual candidate’s campaign costs, and financing of the federal political contribution tax credit).
Although the economy will understandably be a key area of focus on the campaign trail, another topic that ought to arouse significant attention is foreign policy. Across the post-World War II period, Canada was globally respected and admired for its foreign policy which held up the importance of international institutions, promoted multilateral diplomacy, sought to strengthen international laws, rules and norms, and pushed for dialogue, reconciliation, and the peaceful settlement of global disputes. However, under Harper, Canada has experienced a radical shift in foreign policy – essentially Canada’s foreign policy has become “un-Canadian.” Thus, an important election question is how will Trudeau (or other candidates) handle Canada’s involvement and approach in or towards Afghanistan, Libya (recall Canada flew among the most sorties of any NATO member), Iraq, Ukraine and Russia, Iran, Syria, Israel (under Harper Canada became the single most supportive nation of Israeli policy, exceeding even the United States, at times), and the environment? Will it be more of the same or the ushering in of change?
Trudeau with a baby from the crowd.
Trudeau and the author.