So that’s it. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau was not only handed a majority win Monday night, but was handed a majority win in an election with the highest voter turnout since 1993. The progressive voters’ drive for “Anyone but Harper” succeeded. But that doesn’t mean Canadians can relax now.
The electorate has written Trudeau a giant novelty cheque, but he still has to cash it. And we as a country will have to work hard to overcome the damage done by a decade of Conservative politicking, propaganda and their perpetual-motion campaign machine.
Trudeau may turn out to be everything he has promised. To do that, he’ll have to follow through on his pledges to spend over $1 billion on youth employment; to insert more oversight of law enforcement and intelligence into the “anti-terror” Bill C-51; to take meaningful action on the plague of missing and murdered aboriginal women.
Perhaps more than anything, Trudeau must avoid the pitfalls that can come with being a national leader — let alone a leader with the power of a majority mandate.
Recent history has shown us that even the most progressive politicians can take wholly un-progressive action. Think of U.S. President Barack Obama’s campaign of drone strikes, and its civilian casualties.
Or think Trudeau’s own father — a champion of gay rights, multiculturalism and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms — who invoked the War Measures Act in 1970, throwing Canadians’ civil liberties into limbo.
Seeing the NDP devastated and the Conservatives now stuck in the wilderness searching for a new leader goes to show that public opinion is the greatest check on government power.
By hacking the Tories down to size, Canadians rejected a toxic political strategy that prioritizes personal attacks and shallow personality traits over substantial policy talk.
That’s the strategy that brought us slogans like, “Nice hair, though.” It’s the strategy that ensured Canadians knew Stephen Harper adopts kittens, plays in a band and likes hockey. It’s the strategy that demonized Trudeau for being young, Michael Ignatieff for having lived abroad, Stéphane Dion for speaking English as a second language.
It’s a heinous strategy and one Canadians should not accept. And, just as it’s up to us to ensure that Trudeau lives up to his progressive image, it’s up to us to ensure Canadian politics does not backslide into that Conservative brand of campaigning again.
And that means us, you, we all have to remain vigilant. Voters wanted Stephen Harper ousted and voters got their wish. But the second part of that dream is to ensure we learn from the past, and don’t end up with another government that enacts policies at odds with the electorate’s sensibilities, that offers bubblegum and candy wrappers and status quo in place of action and discourse.
All the hashtags and the activism and the outrage that were kicked up over this long election campaign were exactly the type of engagement it will take to have the government and political climate we deserve.
So fine, the Liberals won. Harper’s gone. Morning has broken. But democracy is dependent on voters keeping politicians accountable. And that’s a 365 -day-a-year job.