Luck is nearly impossible to beat, and Justin Trudeau's has no end: Neil Macdonald

My guess is that Trudeau spent his summer vacation up on the roof of Rideau Cottage with his wife, staring at the night sky, watching the stars align perfectly.

Who could ask for a more politically convenient American president? Or a more convenient Ontario premier?

My guess is that Trudeau spent his summer vacation up on the roof of Rideau Cottage with his wife, staring at the night sky, watching the stars align perfectly. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Because we need a horse race, (and because we are so deeply in love with clichés), news organizations have been pushing the idea that the bloom is off the Trudeau rose, which of course is doubly clever, given that flower's famous place on the lapel of our prime minister's father.

The corollary is obvious: that the next election, which is one year away, will be competitive and exciting, and that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau might just be a one-term wonder.

Well, competitive would be satisfying. Trudeau's treacly moralizing is tiresome, and so is the smilingly vapid message track his ministers unswervingly follow. I've covered Canadian politics off and on since 1979, and I've never seen such centrally co-ordinated emptiness.

That said, my guess is that Trudeau spent his summer vacation up on the roof of Rideau Cottage with his wife, staring at the night sky, watching the stars align perfectly.

Trudeau's political ascent

His luck is almost unbelievable. Born into money, and an unmatchably famous name. Vaulted into serious leadership contention by a few rounds of boxing against a Conservative opponent who looked fearsome, but deflated in the ring on live TV.

Then vaulted into power three years ago by a dislikable Conservative prime minister who didn't know when to quit (yes, there was more to it than that; Trudeau did sound fresh and optimistic, but only when set against Stephen Harper's starchy sourness and control-freak secrecy).

And the luck has held.

That mawkish costume tour of India earlier this year, with the embarrassing namaste photo ops, could have been a killer. Almost certainly, the footage was curated by Conservatives for use in 2019 campaign ads.

But then along came U.S President Donald Trump in the spring, with his tariffs and bullying and anti-Canada tweets. What prime minister could ask for a more politically convenient American president?

Along came U.S President Donald Trump in the spring, with his tariffs and bullying and anti-Canada tweets, interrupting the bad press about Trudeau's India trip. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Or, for that matter, a more convenient Ontario premier? Just a year ago, Trudeau was stitched in the public mind to Premier Kathleen Wynne, the deeply despised Ontario Liberal leader.

Now, though, Ontario is led by a conservative – a guy who claims to have his own "nation," and who is, let's face it, hard not to compare to Trump.

And at the federal level, instead of electing a woman who could have turned Trudeau's identity-politics logic against him in 2019, the Conservatives chose an unprepossessing fellow who wouldn't have been out of place in those all-male, all-white group shots of politicians in the '60s. It would have been interesting to watch someone as sharp and accomplished as Conservative MP Lisa Raitt, for example, lead the party against Trudeau, despite her weak command of French. Or Rona Ambrose. It's a safe bet Trudeau is happier facing Andrew Scheer.

The NDP did manage to out-Trudeau the Liberals on diversity, but managed at the same time to pick a somewhat hapless character whose rhetoric is even more vaporous than Trudeau's, who has managed to remain relatively unknown since his election, whose fundraising prowess is weak, and who, as leader, has proven so good at dividing his own party that Liberal strategists talk privately to columnists about the need to let him win the seat he's finally decided to contest in British Columbia.

The NDP has yet to position itself as much of a contender in 2019. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

So, then, what will the 2019 election be about?

"I really don't know anymore," says David Herle, a Liberal strategist who ran Wynne's campaign, and who doesn't expect to be on Trudeau's next year.

On policy, there's no major difference among the parties. The old conservative sermon about deficit spending goes nowhere with the public nowadays, or even with conservatives, given Republicans' enthusiasm for piling up staggering debt during an economic boom.

Promising to combat "birth tourism," as the Tories resolved to do at their convention in August, is hardly going to carry the day.

So Scheer, who wiped his own leadership policy platform off the internet after he won, seems mostly to be making the next election about replacing Trudeau. Which is hard to see as a winning message, at least east of Alberta.

Arguing that electing Conservatives will mean "it's time for grown-ups to be in charge again," as Scheer does, will be difficult with Doug Ford in charge at Queen's Park.

Further, by Conservative standards, Scheer himself has barely entered adulthood. He's 39, seven years younger than Trudeau, and was in the Speaker's chair rather than in cabinet during Harper's governments, meaning that his expertise is in moderating debate.

Liberal weaknesses

Still, professionals like Herle are trained to identify weaknesses, and he names two for his party: the carbon tax and white male grievance.

"Pricing carbon," as Liberals like to call it, is a signature Trudeau priority; he has promised to impose the policy in any province that refuses to.

But taxing carbon has not significantly changed the energy consumption habits Trudeau seeks to dampen. Which makes it just another tax. Ford ran against it (as will United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney), and is clearly licking his chops in anticipation of taking on Trudeau.

"I don't envy Trudeau having that fight in Ontario," says Herle. "The carbon tax will be show time."

And, says Herle, Scheer inveighs against "the forces of political correctness" for a reason.

During the Ontario election, he says, there were two major leaders' debates. NDP leader Andrea Horwath, he says, won the first one, and Wynne did well in the second. And yet, Herle's polling indicated Ford's popularity rising among male voters immediately after both debates, even in urban areas.

"Men," says Herle, "are feeling threatened." And male voters who feel threatened don't welcome constant lectures about diversity for the sake of diversity, especially coming from a well-born white male prime minister.

Still, says Herle, Trudeau has Quebec, where "no anglophone-led [national] party has ever beaten a francophone-led party."

And let's not forget: Trudeau can probably count on Maxime Bernier's political revolt to split off at least some conservative votes, especially in Bernier's home province, where he enjoys tremendous name recognition.

That's called luck. Jean Chretien had it; Paul Martin didn't. Pierre Trudeau did, and so does his son.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

About the Author

Neil Macdonald is a former foreign correspondent and columnist for CBC News who has also worked in newspapers. He speaks English and French fluently, as well as some Arabic.


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