Musings —04.13.2013 06:20 PM—
OTTAWA — In a convention hall on Sunday, Justin Trudeau will be named leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. He’s been after the job formally for months, and now he’s got it.
What, one might reasonably ask, was he thinking?
It’s not like the post is a coveted prize, after all. Trudeau has inherited a party that is a shadow of its former self. From the Natural Governing Party — at one time, the most successful political machine in western democracy — to what it is now: A rump, in third place, in a distant corner of the House of Commons.
In every election since Jean Chretien left a decade ago, the Liberal party has lost ground. From a majority to minority government in 2004. From minority government to opposition in 2006. From that to the party’s worst showing in 2008. And then, in 2011, the depths, to third place — far behind the NDP and even further from the ruling Conservatives.
Since Chretien left the helm in December 2003, when the party was reigning near 60% approval in the polls, the Liberal party has struggled with everything. Fundraising. Policy. Membership. Caucus. Communications. Election readiness.
On virtually every front, the Liberals can be forgiven for feeling that they are cursed.
The diminution of the Liberal party has taken a decade. It has been the direct result of Stephen Harper’s obsessive desire to destroy the party. It has been the result of bad decisions about strategy, and bad decisions about leadership.
It has been the result of lingering tribal wars between blue Liberals on one side (Messrs. Turner and Martin) and red Liberals on the other (Messrs. Chretien and Trudeau Sr.).
It has been the result of arrogance and complacence, and believing that taxpayers’ money was its own.
All of these factors, and more, have contributed to the Liberal party’s decline over the past decade. It will therefore take a decade to climb back from the edge of the abyss.
No one knows this better than Justin Trudeau, who has said — publicly and privately — that one of his assets is his age. He knows the job that lies ahead will take many years to successfully complete.
The Trudeaumania II media coverage that has swirled around him will start to subside. Trudeau must now turn his attention to the mundane stuff of politics: Getting money, getting new members, getting new ideas and new blood. If he doesn’t, his tenure will end in failure — and, possibly, the death of the Liberal party itself.
It’s not fair to hang all of that on Justin Trudeau, of course.
He is human, and he will make mistakes. But — his faults and foibles notwithstanding — there is clearly something about the man that appeals to Canadians.
An extraordinary Nanos poll published Friday, for instance, found 30% of Canadians found Trudeau “the most inspiring leader,” a figure that was more than Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair’s scores put together. And he wasn’t even leader yet.
The Conservative Party’s infantile attacks on minutiae — like Trudeau’s substitution of “decibel” for “decimal” in a Global TV interview — reveal the extent of their concern.
When the only ammunition the Conservatives have is a verbal slip-up — and when your own party’s leader referred to Trudeau as “minister” twice in the House of Commons! — your party needs to go back to the drawing board.
The Conservatives will, of course, and they will unleash a negative barrage against Trudeau that will exceed whatever Paul Martin, Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff were forced to endure.
So will the New Democrats, who see Trudeau as an even greater threat.
Trudeau, meanwhile, will soldier on because he must.
He wanted the job, and now he’s got it.
Good luck to him.