National Column: A young leader at the helm of a young party

by Tim Harper

There was never any doubt, of course, that this had become Justin Trudeau’s party. But had there been any remaining question of that anywhere in the land, it was removed as the prime minister tightened that grip on the Liberal party here Saturday.

It is, in fact, now a self-described Justin Trudeau movement. He deemed it so.

A party changing its constitution is rarely newsworthy to anyone but those who would give up a spring weekend to debate such matters, but it was instructive to watch, this time, because of the manner in which a jet-lagged Trudeau swept in from Japan and took control of proceedings.

By dropping its membership fee, and streamlining a cumbersome constitution, delegates followed Trudeau’s dictum that it was regional “chieftains” and behind-closed-door powerbrokers who almost killed the Liberal party.

The process began in 2012 when the party instituted a supporter class for its leadership race. By now blowing the doors wide open to allow anyone a say in the party’s business, they were catering to a generation that does not, and will not, seek membership to a club but wants a voice, a generation of voters the Liberals seek to retain.

There were those here who thought this move would merely consolidate more power with Trudeau, but he assured them that was not the case. Whether it will or not really doesn’t matter because even if Trudeau had told them this consolidates all power with him, ultimately they would have shrugged and given it to him anyway.

Rarely, if ever, have the two largest parties held simultaneous conventions and rarely have all three heldthem within a period of weeks.

The three gatherings have provided a real-time barometer on the state of politics in this country.

New Democrats chose a coup and chaos by deposing leader Tom Mulcair last month and their short-term prospects look grim.

Conservatives this weekend were waiting to see whether their so-called A-listers will actually run for their leadership or whether a perceived prospect of another seven years in opposition will give some pause.

As Trudeau triumphantly carried the convention floor here, Conservatives were voting to finally accept same-sex marriage and the fact they were even voting on it was mocked by the prime minister.

“Better late than never,” he said. “Ten years from now they might be willing to admit that climate change is real.”

But Trudeau managed to get delegates on their feet to thank Stephen Harper and his family for their years of service to Canada and the tribute, while appearing heartfelt, was reminiscent of the ceremonial hockey handshake where the victors give supportive hugs to the vanquished.

As the Liberals take stock and look forward, the real reason for optimism here was not that dissent withered like flowers at the first frost or their current position in the polls, which will ultimately decline in the comings months and years.

The real cause for optimism was the age of the attendees, striking for its youthfulness, perhaps the youngest crowd at a convention I’ve ever seen.

The youth gave the gathering energy even if there was precious little to get excited about. Party greybeards were in the minority.

No one is making 2019 predictions this early in the Liberal term, but there can be no question the party feels good about its future.

New Democrats appear rudderless and a weakened NDP is right in the Liberal sweet spot. An NDP in the wilderness offers little prospect of Conservatives coming up the middle to victory.

An Abacus Data poll shows 2015 NDP voters broadly supportive of Trudeau, with more than 80 per cent of them agreeing that he has represented the country well on the international stage, is intelligent and cares about people.

That same poll also shows that even Conservatives have some positive impressions of the prime minister so vilified by their party leadership.

It was a great weekend to be a Liberal in Winnipeg.

It may never get any better, but it cannot last.

It never does.

You don’t have to trust me on that one. As Trudeau repeatedly pointed out, it was five years ago this month that this party had been all but left for dead.

And with that, I end 40 years in daily journalism, 34 of them with this [the Toronto Star] great newspaper.

I thank the Star for giving me the privilege of writing this column. I especially thank readers who gave me their most precious gift, their time. I’ll miss those who regularly engaged me with their views, their
praise or their criticism, even those who regularly reminded me I was an idiot. I’ll miss you all.

Copyright 2016 – Torstar Syndication Services

Print Friendly, PDF & Email