Justin Trudeau’s Canada is likely to present a very different face to the world than the one it wore under Stephen Harper, the Conservative prime minister he and his Liberals decisively routed Monday.
Trudeau has promised some major policy changes, among them legalizing marijuana, dropping out of the U.S.-led bombing campaign against the Islamic State and deficit spending to pump up the economy and rebuild infrastructure.
But the most noticeable difference will probably be in tone. Trudeau has been promising since he took over his floundering party in 2013 that he would put an end to Harper’s often belligerent style of politics and diplomacy.
“Sunny ways” are Trudeau’s ways, he said in his victory speech early on Tuesday, borrowing the phrase from Wilfrid Laurier, a Liberal prime minister of about a century ago.
“A positive, optimistic, hopeful vision of public life isn’t a naive dream — it can be a powerful force for change,” Trudeau said, his voice faltering after 78 days of campaigning. And he said the sweeping victory his party won Monday as it surged from third place in opinion polls to a clear majority in Parliament meant that “Canadians from all across this great country sent a clear message tonight: It’s time for change in this country, my friends, real change.”
Trudeau has spoken of scrapping Harper’s emphasis on military solutions and cold-war rhetoric abroad, and returning Canada to its former path of active participation in international bodies like the United Nations. Gone, he has said, will be the combative, lecturing approach Harper adopted toward the Obama administration over the Keystone XL pipeline project.
And gone, too, will be the Conservative habit of pushing policies at home that were popular with Harper’s right wing but divisive to the larger electorate, like the sweeping new anti-terrorism laws that were passed after a gunman attacked Parliament last October. Trudeau has promised to amend those laws.
Trudeau’s victory will likely improve ties with the United States, at least for the remainder of Barack Obama’s presidency. Harper was frustrated by Obama’s reluctance to approve the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to Texas and clashed with the president on other issues.
Although Trudeau supports the Keystone pipeline, he argues relations should not hinge on the project.
Still, there are differences that could lead to friction with the U.S.
On Tuesday, during his first news conference since the vote result, Trudeau said he had told Obama by telephone that he would honor a campaign pledge to remove Canada’s military jets from the U.S.-led military campaign against the Islamic State group.
But Trudeau declined to say when the aircraft would leave. The two men also discussed Trudeau’s plans for improving Canada’s record on greenhouse gas emissions, he said. The president, Trudeau added, teased him about his lack of gray hair and suggested that his new position might soon change that.
Trudeau has also vowed to take in 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year. Harper declined to resettle more Syrian refugees.
Canada shifted to the center-right under Harper, who lowered sales and corporate taxes, avoided climate change legislation, strongly supported the oil and gas extraction industry and backed the right-wing government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Trudeau will have a more balanced approach to the conflict in the Middle East, analysts said.
Trudeau also vows to consult the premiers of Canada’s provinces in an effort to come up with a plan ahead of the Paris climate talks in November. Under Harper, Canada pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol, the emissions reduction program for rich countries, and the Conservative leader was perceived by environmentalists as more interested in protecting Canada’s oil-rich region of Alberta — which has the third-largest oil reserves in the world — than efforts to stem the effects of climate change.
The Liberals won only 39.5 percent of the popular vote Monday. But with three major parties and several minor ones jockeying for support, it was enough for a sweeping victory in Parliament, as the Conservatives demonstrated in 2011 when they won about the same share.
The showing was the Liberals’ best in 40 years and re-established the party as a national force, rather than one that relied heavily on one province, Ontario, for support. They drew votes away not only from the Conservatives, but also from the New Democrats, the other major opposition party of the center-left. The New Democrats, who led in the polls early in the campaign, wound up losing more than half their seats in Parliament, as well as any hope that the Liberals would be dependent on their backing to govern.
The Liberals swept the Atlantic provinces and more than doubled their seat count in Quebec, where voters had spurned the party in recent elections. They even won two seats and came close to taking a third in Calgary, Alberta, Harper’s adopted hometown and the epicenter of Canadian conservatism. The last time the Liberals won a seat there was in 1968, when the country was swept up in enthusiasm for Trudeau’s father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, a phenomenon the media named Trudeaumania.
Justin Trudeau shares his father’s good looks but not his demeanor. He does not flash the scalpel-sharp intelligence his father was known for, but neither does he display the sometimes acerbic nature that went with it. As a result, he has often been underestimated.
Harper’s party relentlessly attacked Trudeau during this campaign as well, portraying him as something of a dimwit who had “nice hair” but was “just not ready” to lead the country. But this time the strategy flopped.
Although Trudeau has repeatedly said he did not want to trade on his family’s name, growing up in the public gaze did mean that when he entered politics in 2007, he was already a celebrity with a reservoir of public good will to tap. The Conservative attack ads did not just fail to shake that good will; some analysts say they backfired by creating sympathy for Trudeau.
After his party’s defeat Monday, Harper resigned as Conservative party leader, but not in the orthodox manner. He made no mention of his intention during his concession speech, leaving the news to be announced by his party in a brief statement.
Harper’s legacy includes reuniting the Conservative movement under a single party banner by merging his Canadian Alliance with the Progressive Conservatives. Just as important, under Harper the party developed an effective fundraising machine.
Canadian law bans corporations and labor unions from making political donations, and imposes fairly low limits on personal donations. So the Conservatives used sophisticated software to develop and promote political issues that would draw large numbers of small donations from supporters, even if the issues found little support in the rest of the population.
The targeted approach was successful in financial terms, but it may also explain why the Conservatives never significantly widened their popular support during a decade in power. The kinds of issues it led Harper to promote, like banning the wearing of face coverings by Muslim women at citizenship ceremonies, drew angry reactions that may have contributed to the government’s defeat in the election.
The front-runner to succeed Harper as Conservative leader is Jason Kenney, the departing defense minister and one of the few party figures who had some free rein in Harper’s highly centralized administration. Kenney acknowledged late Monday that issues he championed for the government, including the face-veil ban and the anti-terrorism measures, may have created the opening that Trudeau seized to win.
“We need a conservatism that is sunnier and more optimistic than what we have sometimes conveyed,” Kenney said. “We have to take collective responsibility for that.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.