“Hey buddy, your ‘sunny days’ Justin pal is looking pretty rough these days. I’m thinking we could see the Conservatives back in power come October.”
My heart sank. I knew I was in for another heated dispute with my old friend Charlie, a diehard conservative if ever there was one.
“First,” I replied, “Trudeau’s not my pal and secondly, I concede … Trudeau’s inexperienced and has made a few blunders, but at least he’s young and progressive.”
“Yea,” Charlie replied smiling, “progressive, that’s his big problem.”
“How can that be a problem? The vast majority of Canadians describe themselves as progressive, at least socially progressive, so whatever else is going on, Justin Trudeau is going to appeal to them a lot more than your Andrew Scheer.”
“That’s where you’re wrong,” said Charlie. “The silent majority of Canadians are turning away from ‘progressive’ agenda – it’s called populism and it’s on the rise. The good ship Liberal is about to sink.”
I hate to admit it but Charlie might be right. Although I believe in progress and advancing human rights, the election of conservatives in Ontario and Alberta suggests a lot of Canadians are concerned about jobs and the rising costs of combating climate change.
And not only in Canada. How else do you explain the election of President Donald Trump in the United States? Or what’s going on in Britain – Brexit has unleashed a firestorm of negative resentment.
“Listen,” I said, “I know people are concerned about the future but surely having a feminist champion in government is right. You’ve got to admit that’s progressive, surely?”
“Oh yeah, Trudeau’s a real feminist,” said Charlie. “Your guy loves strong women … until, that is, they stand up to him like Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott did. Then he fires two of the country’s most respected female politicians and kicks them out of caucus.
“The big problem with your man Trudeau is he’s all form and no substance,” he continued. “Even I’d support real feminism – programs like guaranteed national incomes. Something like that would support the family, and help women who want to stay at home and have kids but can’t afford to.”
“Wow, guaranteed national incomes,” I said. “I never thought I’d hear those words coming from a fiscal hawk like you – could it be that we actually agree on something?
“So,” I smiled, “being a ‘true’ conservative, I’m sure you’re on board with preserving the environment. That’s conserving our natural heritage right?”
“Well, I would be if Trudeau’s answer to every problem wasn’t another tax,” said Charlie. “The carbon tax doesn’t help the environment much and it hits the poor and middle class right where it hurts – in the pocketbook. And they’re going to make him pay for that in October.
“Let’s face it, Trudeau and his band of ideologues are on the wrong side of most of the populist issues, and it’s like he doesn’t understand how normal people are reacting to his utopian policies.”
“What do you mean? Trudeau was elected with a strong mandate to modernize Canada and bring it into the 21st century.”
“Well, he’s doing quite a job,” said Charlie. “His latest ‘blame the whites’ campaign is going over well, isn’t it? He called the rise of white nationalism the ‘greatest threat facing humanity,’ for god’s sake. Is he insane?”
“Well, white wackos do kill a lot of innocent people, at least in the United States.”
“Yeah, well blaming your own voters is not selling well in the suburbs or in rural communities, my friend. I can tell you that. It’s another example of how out of touch this guy is.”
“Justin, out of touch, you’re kidding me right? How many politicians do you know who’ve actually held a real job. Before he became a politician, Justin Trudeau was a teacher – high school, I think. So he’s not an elite, he’s one of the people.”
“Well if he was one of the people, he wouldn’t be introducing legislation that kills construction jobs, like Bill C-69,” said Charlie. “Is he aware that nearly half of Canadians are $200 away from monthly financial insolvency? They don’t need platitudes about saving the planet 50 years from now, they need jobs now so they can live today!”
That hurt. And much as I hate to admit it, it’s brutally true in the hard political sense.
As I reached for my beer, I was beginning to think maybe the prime minister is missing the point. If he wants to be re-elected in October, he needs to start understanding all those voters who are silently withdrawing. Before it’s too late.
Robert McGarvey is an economic historian and former managing director of Merlin Consulting, a London, U.K.-based consulting firm. Robert’s most recent book is Futuromics: A Guide to Thriving in Capitalism’s Third Wave.