Politics·Analysis

A somewhat humbled post-election Trudeau hints at a new approach

If you were expecting a wholly different Justin Trudeau to appear on Wednesday, a day after Canadian voters returned 27 fewer Liberal MPs to the House of Commons than they elected in 2015, you were perhaps disappointed.

He's not abandoning the carbon tax or Trans Mountain - so what might be different about a Trudeau minority?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes his way from a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Wednesday Oct. 23, 2019. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

If you were expecting a wholly different Justin Trudeau to appear on Wednesday, a day after Canadian voters returned 27 fewer Liberal MPs to the House of Commons than they elected in 2015, you were perhaps disappointed.

He did not turn up to the National Press Theatre looking dishevelled and broken. He has not grown a beard. Nor does he seem to have changed his mind entirely about the major issues of the day.

But he did acknowledge that Monday's result cannot go unacknowledged. And there were hints of possible changes in approach.

Dispensing with a long preamble, the prime minister proceeded quickly to questions and then rattled off responses to 41 queries in just under 34 minutes. Several responses were even fairly straightforward.

When will there be a new cabinet? Nov. 20.

Will the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project proceed? Yes.

Is he going to pursue a coalition agreement with one of the smaller parties? No.

Is he still interested in amending the Parliament of Canada Act to entrench his Senate reforms? Yes.

'Canadians gave me a lot to think about'

There were still moments of something like speechifying (a political leader can't afford to ever fully disengage from the arguments of the day) but this was a slightly more succinct version of Justin Trudeau. A bit less interested in floating above the questions asked, a bit more focused on confronting the issues in front of him.

His central message was the contention that Canadians want the federal parties to work together to address the cost of living and climate change. But as reporters poked and prodded, Trudeau eventually acknowledged a cause for reflection.

"Canadians gave me a lot to think about on Monday night, as they returned us in government but with a clear requirement to work with other parties on the priorities that Canadians spoke clearly to during the election campaign, particularly affordability and the fight against climate change," he said.

"And I'm going to take the time necessary to really reflect on how best to serve Canadians and how to work with those other parties. I think that's what the people who voted for me, and the people who didn't, ... expect."

Maybe he'll share the results of his reflections in the not-too-distant future. That alone would show a degree of change.

In the meantime, there is a Parliament to navigate, a sizeable portion of the country to reach out to, and an election to make peace with.

A modest mea culpa

He conceded that the federal campaign of 2019 was not this country's best hour, and assigned some responsibility for that to himself.

"I think there were a lot of issues that weren't properly addressed," he said. "I think there were big substantive ideas that weren't fully debated in this election campaign and I regret that and I recognize that much of this campaign tended to be around me, and I do hold a bit of responsibility for that."

He said he would be more deliberate about reaching out to Canadians in Alberta and Saskatchewan. He cited by name the leaders in those two provinces he's contacted over the last two days. He acknowledged that he and his team are thinking about the cabinet and how to deal with his government's lack of representatives from the Prairies.

Trudeau has not always excelled at exposition and introspection in his public comments, but he seemed to show a bit more of both in these 34 minutes.

There was also a bit of feistiness. Asked about compromising with the other parties, Trudeau noted that the progressive parties hadn't voted in favour of measures like the Canada Child Benefit in the last Parliament and that he hoped they would be more willing to support progressive policies in the upcoming session.

Crisis and creativity

Forty-seven years ago, a disappointing election result compelled Pierre Trudeau to approach things differently. Eight years later, after another electoral setback, he returned from a brief exile with a new determination to make the most of his time.

That victory in 1980 included precisely zero Liberal MPs west of Manitoba. Worried about that lack of representation, Trudeau reached out to NDP Leader Ed Broadbent to ask if the New Democrats, with their representation in the West, might be interested in joining a coalition government.

Broadbent declined — and Justin Trudeau has now ruled out any such arrangement (Jagmeet Singh's NDP doesn't exactly have a lot of western representation to offer). But the point is this: difficult situations are a good excuse to get creative.

The situation for Trudeau in late October 2019 is noticeably different from the situation he faced in late October 2015. Trudeau's words and tone acknowledged as much on Wednesday.

But Wednesday was just day two of the post-2019 Trudeau. How different he'll be, and how he'll be different, are questions that will be answered by his actions in the days ahead.

About the Author

Aaron Wherry

Parliament Hill Bureau

Aaron Wherry has covered Parliament Hill since 2007 and has written for Maclean's, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. He is the author of Promise & Peril, a book about Justin Trudeau's years in power.

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