What Trudeau’s Election Teaches Us About Canada

Three things you can expect now that Canada has elected its own President Obama.

On Monday, Canadians went to the polls to elect their next prime minister. It was the highest turnout in more than two decades. More than 68 percent of potential voters cast a ballot.

The result was emphatic. Charismatic Liberal leader Justin Trudeau—who promised Canada “sunny ways” and “change”—won a stunning victory.

But what does this mean in practical terms for Canada?

Of the 338 seats up for grabs, the liberals won 184. The socialist New Democratic Party (ndp) won 44. The left Bloc Québécois won 10 seats, and the Greens 1. That left outgoing Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party with only 99.

It is a huge swing to the left.

Prior to the election, the polls showed the three main parties, the Conservatives, the Liberals and the ndp running in dead heat.

And then came Election Day.

And the ndp melted. It appears that a good portion of their voters threw their support behind the Liberals who had swung further left in the lead-up to the election.

Consequently, the Liberals won enough seats that they will not need a coalition to govern. They do not need the support of any of the other parties.

This has big implications for Canada. Trudeau’s party should be able to pretty much pass whatever legislation it wants, as long as it can stick together.

But the question is: What do the Liberals want?

To answer that question, you need to know what Canadians want. So consider the words of the man they voted for.

“More than a hundred years ago a great prime minister, Wilfrid Laurier, talked about sunny ways; he knew that politics can be a positive force, and that is the message Canadians sent today,” Mr. Trudeau told supporters following his victory. “Sunny ways, my friends, sunny ways ….”

“A positive, optimistic, hopeful vision of public life isn’t a naive dream—it can be a powerful force for change,” Mr. Trudeau said. “Canadians from all across this great country sent a clear message tonight: It’s time for change in this country, my friends, real change.”

It is a message that also played well south of the border in two elections; sunny days, hope, dreams and change.

Despite his father being one of the longest-serving, famous and controversial of Canadian politicians, Trudeau maintained the appearance of a political outsider. It wasn’t until 2008 that he was first elected as a member of Parliament. So, like current United States President Barack Obama, who was a freshman senator when first elected president, Justin Trudeau’s rise to prominence was very rapid and sudden.

The image Trudeau maintained was certainly not one of seasoned leader—a weakness the Conservative Party unsuccessfully tried to emphasize. Instead, Trudeau emphasized his flamboyant streak, something his father played successfully too. He famously took part in a televised celebrity boxing match, in which he convincingly defeated his opponent. He is open about his bartending, bad-boy past, and his illegal drug usage (he says he smoked marijuana during his youth and as a Member of Parliament).

Other aspects of Trudeau’s background are also reminiscent of President Obama’s. Both came from broken families. Both came out of academia and graduated from prestigious universities. Both were teachers. Prior to entering politics, Trudeau became a successful activist. President Obama was a community organizer and activist. Trudeau focused on environmental issues, the same kinds President Obama has also embraced.

Justin Trudeau is Canada’s President Obama in other ways too. Just as Hollywood supports President Obama, Trudeau’s name carries a kind of rock-star status in Canada. The Drudge Report had up as its big story yesterday a shirtless Trudeau flexing his muscles and sporting body art. Media stories focus on how good looking the blue eyed “bushy haired” Trudeau is. Where President Obama mixes it up with the likes of Jay Z and Beyoncé, Trudeau has made appearances on various television programs. He also took part in the televised What a Girl Wants Gala, in which he did a somewhat PG striptease to raise funds for medical research. As one news analyst wrote in July, “So I ask you: Do you see Justin Trudeau as a politician or a rock star? … [B]ecause he’s campaigning as a rock star, and that will get him votes as a politician … in the ultimate popularity contest?”

So where will Trudeau lead Canada? Probably in the same direction President Obama has led the United States. Here are three areas in which Trudeau has explained his vision for Canada.

On Social Issues

1. Legalize Marijuana. Too many people have criminal histories because of arrests for marijuana usage, says Trudeau. He says the justice system is overwhelmed, so he will decriminalize the use of the drug. In the past he has also said he supports supervised injection sites for harder drugs, although he does not support decriminalizing them.

2. Become more culturally accepting and take in more refugees. Although Canada already accepts more immigrants on a per capita basis than any nation in the world, Trudeau says that Canada can and should do more. He said that once elected he would accept 25,000 more Syrian migrants and find $100 million to do it over the next few months. In contrast, Harper argued that Canada had already accepted many refugees and that he would only allow an additional 10,000 and only after stringent background checks and a process that could take four years.

3. Treat the First Nation peoples as a nation equal to Canada. Trudeau has promised them an additional $2.6 billion in funding and an investigation into how they have been treated in the past by the police.

On Geopolitics

1. For the past 10 years, Canada has been a staunch ally of Israel—perhaps Israel’s most friendly ally. Trudeau says he will carry on in this tradition, although he has voiced more support for the Palestinians than Stephen Harper

2. On Iraq, he has said Canada will end its bombing of Islamic State terrorists. Instead, he says he will send more trainers to help Iraqis.

3. About Iran, he says he will seek to reengage. He will seek to reopen an embassy in Iran and invite Iran to do the same in Canada.

4. Concerning Russia, he said he would like to tell off President Vladimir Putin to his face and would do so if he became prime minister.

On the Economy

1. Borrow money to stimulate the economy. Trudeau was the only leader who said that he would not balance the budget. He will run $10 billion deficits until 2019 or 2020 when he will then balance the budget. He says he will use the borrowed money to create infrastructure jobs and invest in green energy.

2. Increase taxes on the wealthy. To help pay for his ambitions projects he says he will raise taxes on the rich (anyone earning $200,000 per year or more) and cut taxes for the middle class (those earning between $45,000 and $90,000).

3. Adopt the United Nations mandate on climate change. He has promised to enforce the UN position adopted at the Paris summit in November, which will probably mean curbs on the oil and gas sector and industry that emit carbon dioxide.

Canada looks set to follow in the footsteps of its southern neighbor. For more on what this means for Canada, read America Under Attack.