I don’t know if Justin Trudeau’s Liberals will win the federal election tomorrow or not, but the success of his campaign to date shows if nothing else that having a charismatic leader is an important piece of the complicated puzzle that makes a political party an electoral success.
Jack Layton, who was as charismatic in a different way, proved the same point in May 2011 when he unexpectedly led the New Democratic Party so painfully close to the electoral Promised Land.
Both the Conservatives of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the New Democrats of Thomas Mulcair, chosen to fill Mr. Layton’s big shoes when the NDP leader died less than four months after the 2011 election, can argue with some justice their leader has more intellectual heft than Mr. Trudeau.
But so what? No one said politics was fair. Neither has the charisma Mr. Trudeau can turn on like a spotlight, as he did early this morning in Edmonton while he charted a coruscating path through Alberta and on to B.C.
Mr. Mulcair is probably right when he argues a Liberal government under Mr. Trudeau would deliver policies not much different from those of the Liberal Party of old. And yes, the Liberal Party of old is justly notorious for, as Mr. Mulcair once put it, blinking left and turning right.
But voters are entitled to be skeptical about such an argument from a New Democrat who is a former Liberal himself, and who campaigned to appeal to conservative voters, promising balanced budgets with the dogmatism of Mr. Harper to the dismay of many economically literate progressives who are the NDP’s most enthusiastic supporters.
Regardless, it would seem as if a very significant number of Canadian voters are focused on a serious task, whether individual parties all like it or not, and that is getting rid of the divisive and destructive government of Mr. Harper, which has reduced great old party of John A. Macdonald to a coterie of market fundamentalist extremists who base their success on corporate cash and cynical wedge marketing.
Indeed, a poll published by the Postmedia newspapers yesterday suggests support for Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals is growing in urban Alberta, especially in Calgary, even as the Conservatives continue to dominate the province. Across Canada, Mr. Trudeau appears likely to be the politician who will benefit most from the determination of so many voters to do something about Mr. Harper.
Possibly in cautious anticipation of victory tomorrow — and certainly in contrast to the divide-and-rule tactics of the Conservatives — Mr. Trudeau urged his supporters to remember that many Conservatives are their friends, neighbours and family members.
Regardless, it’s a remarkable politician who can get more than 2,000 people to line up for three blocks outside a grubby banquet hall under a red sunrise before 8 a.m. on a chilly Sunday in a town long known as a Conservative redoubt, and lately as an NDP one.
Mr. Trudeau was gone by 10 a.m., off to a similar meeting in Calgary attended by an even bigger crowd according to some media reports.
Though he didn’t mention it, Mr. Trudeau’s father, the famously charismatic Pierre Elliott Trudeau, would have celebrated his 96th birthday today. I’m sure P.E.T., as we knew him, would have been pleased to see his son welcomed so enthusiastically in Alberta, of all places.
Whatever happens tomorrow, Justin Trudeau can claim credit for having brought his party back from the brink, where it teetered in the aftermath of the Orange Wave of 2011.