Justin Trudeau eked out a win, but Canada's liberal honeymoon might be over
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s narrow victory in Canada's federal election this week will prove a hollow victory.
Despite snatching a second term from the jaws of defeat, Trudeau's Liberal Party finished second in the national vote tally. Conservatives have inched ahead as the most popular party among Canadian voters, at 34.4% — even in defeat, 1.4% more than the Liberals.
So we should not be too sanguine at the fact that the far-right People's Party of Canada thankfully failed to win any seats at all. Although the right-wing is on its back foot, if Trudeau fails to deliver on the lifeline he has been granted by a disgruntled electorate, then Canada’s left-leaning parties will become unelectable, handing the reins of power over to Andrew Scheer in four years, or even to someone further to the Right.
To avoid this outcome, Trudeau has to fix the ineffectiveness and double standards of his administration. There is an urgent lesson here for liberal parties around the world: winning the election is just the beginning. The bigger challenge is reforming democracy itself.
Canadians are sick and tired of Liberals playing the cost-cutting and race cards to win votes, while failing to deliver on the issues that voters want. This is a perception that could turn in Scheer’s favor next time round.
This year saw voter turnout dip to 66%, well below the record-breaking turnout that had propelled Trudeau to power. A core driver of this growing disillusionment is less about any particular party or person, and more about ensuring a more equal economic landscape.
Since 1980, incomes have more than doubled for Canada's top percentile, but they shrank for the bottom half, making them reliant on state handouts just to survive.
Last year, there were just 10,840 “ultra-wealthy” people in Canada — defined as those with $30 million or more in assets. This is up by 14% from the previous year. Their collective wealth is worth a colossal $1.2 trillion dollars, equivalent to 70% of Canada’s entire GDP. While the rich are getting richer, ordinary Canadians as a whole saw their net worth in the same period shrink by 0.2%.
Time and again, Trudeau has promised to ensure that the ultra-rich are taxed effectively, with the money spent appropriately on improving the lives of most Canadians. But it just isn’t happening, in no small measure because Canadian civil servants are among the most highly paid in the world, yet operate with little accountability or transparency.
Instead, corporate executives still benefit from a 50% lower tax rate by channeling their wealth through stock options, and Trudeau has backed billions in corporate tax breaks at the expense of the taxpayer.
He fired his female indigenous Attorney General and another outstanding minister for trying to tell the truth about how he pressured her to cut a deal with a company facing corruption charges. And while giving lip-service to climate action, he exempted up to 80% of the worst Canadian polluters from his flagship carbon tax.
Meanwhile, his social programs are geared toward generating big profits for private finance, rather than delivering services like childcare and affordable housing. His proposed plan to fix Canada’s healthcare system looks like hot air, ignoring as it does the highest state-paid physicians in the world. And the most vulnerable people in Canada are consistently overlooked by Trudeau’s government. When the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled that First Nation people should be compensated for the government’s gross discrimination against indigenous children and families, Trudeau’s response was to fight it.
It would be a mistake to assume that such problems are somehow unique to Trudeau. Far from it — they have been worsening decade by decade under both Conservative and Liberal administrations. The difference is that by promising something different, but choosing not to deliver it, the Liberals are forcing voters to look elsewhere for answers.
Trudeau's "brownface" revelations, in this sense, symbolize the extent to which the Liberals are engaging in one of the biggest acts of political self-sabotage in recent history. While Canadians clearly don’t want racists in government, they will go outside the mainstream political system if all they see from Liberals is a politics of hypocrisy.
Unless Trudeau fixes the fundamental flaws at the heart of Canadian democracy, which thus far he has shown no interest in doing, we are witnessing the beginning of the end of Canada’s liberal honeymoon. The lessons for liberals around the world should be obvious.