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He haunts us still: 'Welcome to the 1980s'

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Pierre Trudeau

"Well, welcome to the 1980s!" He haunts us still.

I don't know about you, but I could almost hear Pierre Trudeau's familiar, scratchy, defiant, weirdly challenging voice last night, reaching out to us all from whatever corner of the Universe he now resides in and welcoming us all back to the ninth decade of the Twentieth Century as the federal byelection results started rolling in.

It may be unjust that it's the slightly flaky son who, at least for the moment, has the license to channel the old man, but as the elder Trudeau also said, "the essential ingredient of politics is timing."

Yes, timing is everything, and the timing was certainly not so bad last night for the Liberals led by Justin Trudeau: Mike Duffy, the Ford Brothers Gong Show, an iffy economy everywhere outside Alberta, separatist sentiment awakening in Quebec….

The planets weren't exactly in alignment for the Conservative government of our bloodless, seething Prime Minister Stephen Harper, or for that matter the New Democrat Opposition led by Thomas Mulcair, seemingly doing his own channelling, of Ulysses S. Grant.

As the dust settled and midnight approached, it was clear the younger Trudeau's Liberals had hung onto a traditional seat of their own in Quebec and batted aside the New Democrats after a tough fight in downtown Toronto. Not only that, but after a fierce fight with the Liberals, Harper's Conservatives had only managed to hang onto Brandon-Souris, one of the safest Tory seats in the country, by about 500 votes.

The only place the Liberals didn't make big waves was in Provencher, another Manitoba riding of a sort often found out here on the Prairies that will elect a big yellow dog if it somehow gets the Tory nomination.

And who can doubt that if the Calgary Centre byelection of March 2012 had been held last night as well, there would have been a victory right in the heart of the Tory beast for the Trudeau Liberals? The Trudeau Liberals! Now there's an evocative phrase for those of us old enough to remember Trudeaumania 1.0, whether we rejoice in it or grind our teeth.

Last night wasn't a general election, of course. Spokespeople for the government and the Opposition will remind us of this many times in the weeks ahead, as they recalibrate their campaigns, and they could well be right.

The NDP polled at Orange Wave levels in Bourassa and Toronto-Centre. The formidable Conservatives, despite signs of scandal fatigue and Harper-phobia among the population, didn't exactly roll over -- they can claim to have won 50 per cent of the byelections and, it's true, such contests are rarely picnics for majority governments.

Still, who can forget Conservative finance minister John Crosbie predicting, on Feb. 18, 1980, the night the just rehabilitated Pierre Trudeau defeated prime minister Joe Clark and welcomed us to the 1980s, "the Liberal Party, if it wins, is going to go into a fantastic decline…"?

Last night's small sample sure suggests that Canadians, for the moment at least, are growing tired of rule by cranky old men. Stranger things have happened.

Pot? Teflon, more like.

Speaking of channelling, here's Pierre Trudeau channeling the Stephen-Harper-like Richard Nixon, after a fashion, addressing Canadians not long after he'd lost the election of 1979 to Clark: "I'm sorry I won’t have you to kick around any more."

Well, what do you say now, Mr. Trudeau? "Don't throw wheat at me either. If you don't stop that, I'll kick you right in the ass."

This post also appears on david Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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