Musings —12.08.2015 01:00 AM—
It was odd, the “sunny ways” thing.
Not the phrase in and of itself. It has been around for a while. Sir Wilfrid Laurier apparently used it first, one hundred years or so ago. Said Laurier:
“If it were in my power, I would try the sunny way of patriotism, asking…to be just and to be fair, asking to be generous to the minority, in order that we may have peace among all creeds and races…Do you not believe that there is more to be gained by appealing to the heart and soul of men rather than by trying to compel them to do a thing?”
In an never-ending election campaign characterized by bald ugliness – cf., the use of the niqab as a wedge issue, the saturnalian “barbaric practices hotline” stunt, the candidates who didn’t know much about the Holocaust or basic decency – Justin Trudeau’s invocation of Laurier’s aphorism struck a chord. We need to recall the better angels of our nature, implied Trudeau, or we will all be in big trouble. Canadians listened, and they responded. They obviously agreed: sunny ways, whatever those are, are desirable.
Surveying the entrails of various polls, it’s apparent that the Liberal leader’s political honeymoon isn’t over. His first few weeks haven’t been without difficulty, but he remains endurably popular. The silly “Nannygate” tempest, the necessary Syrian refugee recalculation, the customary fiscal cupboard-is-bare announcement: none have put a dent in the affection Canadians feel for the youthful new prime Minister.
And yet, and yet: 2015 does not feel like it is ending in a particularly sunny fashion, does it? Just this week, there has been terrible unfairness of the hand that was dealt to Liberal MP Mauril Belanger. There has been our surging unemployment rate, at a time when the reverse has been happening in the U.S. There has been the election of Nova Scotia’s Geoff Regan as Speaker, and his call to stop heckling in the Commons – greeted by actual heckling. There has been the new government’s plan to reform Senate appointments, condemned within minutes by British Columbia.
And there has been the murder of 14 men and women in San Bernardino, of course, happening in the same week we remember the massacre of 14 women at the Ecole Polytechnique 26 years ago.
In yesterday walks tomorrow: the challenges we collectively faced in 2015 with the old boss – growing terrorism, shrinking economies – are likely to be the same challenges we will face in 2016 with the new boss. No revelation, there. But what is to be done about it?
I passed along my single recommendation a close friend of Justin Trudeau this week. Your greatest asset, I offered, is Justin Trudeau himself – and his ability to connect with Canadians, to communicate with them in a way that they understand. In the election campaign, it worked in a dramatic fashion: Trudeau’s charisma and sunny ways vaulted the Liberal Party from a distant third place to a definitive first. Trudeau – more than any single policy plank, more than any single Grit candidate or ad – was the reason the Liberal Party defied convention, and won.
So: use, then, the bully pulpit that is the Prime Minister’s Office. Use Trudeau, himself, to make the case for civility in the Commons, and accepting Syrian refugees, and actual Senate reform, and a better approach to security. Use his voice to rally Canadians in the days ahead.
Stephen Harper was a tactician and technician: he completely lacked the oratorical skills, or the inclination, to do what comes naturally to Justin Trudeau. Not since Jean Chretien, in fact, have we had a Prime Minister who knows that the way to reach people is through their hearts, and not just their heads.
2016 is giving us every indication it will be as grinding and as bleak as was much of 2015. Canada, however, already possesses the means to reassure itself.
Justin Trudeau, your hour has come round at last. Time to use your voice to show us what that “sunny ways” stuff really meant.