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Imagine a friend whose long-term relationship with a total asshole has just ended.

He was controlling and mean. You did your best to support your friend but ultimately, when they broke up, you threw your friend a party.

Then, your buddy meets someone else. Compared to their ex, the new lover is studly; an easy feat since a manicured lawn or an arrangement of shoes from smallest to largest were beautiful, compared to the former partner’s mug. But not only that, the new one is also kind, they say the right things, they’re present and really, they’re so much better than before, that you really couldn’t be happier for them.

What happens then, when the couple falls into familiar patterns? The new lover is just as controlling as the former, but is so much nicer about it. The new lover genuinely cares about your friend but they just can’t seem to get it right: same mistakes, same red flags and potentially, same conditions for a difficult four or eight years as the last person. Except, at least, less vicious.

Canada is in the throes of a new relationship. The smell is still sweet. The moments are still heartwarming or exciting. Despite the various warning signs, we’re collectively happy that our new Prime Minister is probably a really nice guy and most certainly, is not as much of an asshole as was our last Prime Minister.

The problem with this reality is that for progressives, those of us who are concerned with the behavior of our new leader, it can be hard to criticize Trudeau without coming across either as hacks for the NDP, or as out-of-touch, smug lefties. We need to take extra care when we argue against the policies of Trudeau’s liberals that are just as bad as Harper’s.

And there’s no shortage of things to be frustrated about: their inaction on changing Bill C-51, the TPP negotiations, the fact that Canada is still exporting arms to Saudi Arabia (which are then being used to slaughter people in various conflicts, like in Yemen), inaction on public healthcare funding to the woefully inadequate response to the failure of the Liberals to meaningfully implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. These are injustices that we need to press the Liberals to address. Or, these are injustices that we must defend in the streets.

The tricky part of criticizing the Liberals is that progressives rely on pressure from the left in parliament to do some of the heavy lifting. The chaos that the NDP has inflicted on itself has left a vacuum that threatens to allow the Liberals all the time in the world to do what they will. Because we know that the Liberals are only progressive when they’re forced to be, a lack of a coherent NDP is a big problem.

This leaves social movements and activists with little other recourse than demonstrating their opposition to the Liberals, or protesting. It’s a time where our labour organizations have to decide: do they try and cozy up to the Liberals to get the reforms they seek, or should they effectively take the place of the NDP and exert external pressure on them?

For most progressives, the answer to this question is obvious: do not cozy up to the Liberals. But part of the calculation has to be: where are average people at in their relationship with Trudeau? If they’re not ready to confront the new Prime Minister, why would labour’s leadership be ready to do the same?

This question in the abstract could generate interesting debate. But having just returned from watching Trudeau speak to nearly 3000 people at Unifor’s convention, I don’t think debating this question abstractly is necessary. Indeed, what I witnessed there was unabashed excitement and love of Trudeau from hundreds of delegates.

I personally don’t get this love, but that doesn’t matter. It was amazing to watch scores of Unifor delegates flood the lobby to try and shake his hand. And while it made me want to gag, dismissing this reaction is unwise.

It’s important to note that Rachel Notley received more consistent applause than did Trudeau. And, Cindy Blackstock’s reception also rivaled Trudeau’s. Her calls for improvements to Indigenous communities received several standing ovations. But there is a kind of Trudeaumania that is being generated, both deliberately from the PMO itself, and from among people who are excited by our new prime minister, which we can’t ignore.

After a decade of abuse from Stephen Harper, Canadians are still mostly happy to be rid of him. Canadians are glad that their Prime Minister doesn’t habour a deep, creepy hatred for Syrian refugees, for example.

And, as our newsfeeds are flooded with news about Donald Trump, we’re reminded again that we have it pretty good.

Until you remember about all the stuff the Liberals are actually doing.

Until the NDP figures out its own problems, and until we have a reasonable possibility of overthrowing our current parliamentary system, progressives need to grapple with Trudeaumania, and how it plays into our tactics to pressure Trudeau to do better. 

We have to suppress our desire to be smug and instead find ways to engage with a popular force who is using the veneer of progress, and who’s exploiting the hangover of the pain caused by the Harper years, to hide the fact that there isn’t that much distance between the economic policies of Trudeau and those of Harper.

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Nora Loreto

Nora Loreto is a writer, musician and activist based in Québec City. She is the author of From Demonized to Organized, Building the New Union Movement and is the editor of the Canadian Association...