Trudeau and Singh are relentless optimists — and Scheer may need to sing from the same song sheet or be left behind — but strong leadership is required to deal with the dark clouds on the political landscape.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh arrives to his first caucus meeting since being elected to the leadership of the New Democrats, in Ottawa on Wednesday. “For Singh, his learning curve will be steep. He must lead a caucus containing a former leader and defeated leadership candidates, while simultaneously attracting new candidates and raising money,” writes Penny Collenette. (Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, 45, and newly elected NDP leader, Jagmeet Singh, 38, are relentlessly optimistic. They each believe that love overcomes hate; that diversity unites rather than divides; and that respect and civility are keys to 21st century governance.
Both are empathetic extroverts. Both would likely pass an EQ test with flying colours. (An EQ test measures one ability to empathize, evaluate and express emotions to encourage understanding).
In terms of image alone, Trudeau and Singh appear to mirror each other. Ironically, Singh’s historic election as the first non-white federal party leader in Canada, buttresses Trudeau’s own hip reputation as prime minister of an enlightened, pluralistic society. They represent not only generational change, but a genuine change in attitude for Canadian politics. Elizabeth May, the Green party leader, also manages to remain good natured, while impeccably serious about policy issues.
So where does this updated perception of Canadian political leadership leave Conservative leader Andrew Scheer? Conventional analysis believes that the Conservatives are gleeful, assuming that Trudeau and Singh will knock each other out in a charismatic lurch for voters on the progressive side. Scheer simply has to maintain the middle ground with policies to keep the Conservative base happy. But Scheer, too, must grow his numbers and unless he manages his campaign in a way that is consistent, with the “sunny ways” of the others, he runs the risk of being marginalized.
Most voters (certainly the large cohort of millennials born between 1980 and 2000) have truly moved on from the old style of “divide and conquer” politics which means that “modus operandi” of Canadian politics has altered dramatically — at least for the near future.
If so, the Conservatives must find ways to oppose without overt hostility. They may have an advantage because while Scheer is the same age as Singh, he has yet to define himself. Scheer is no slouch — he was the youngest elected speaker in the history of the House of Commons — but he often seems hesitant, rather than confident. Possibly, he is still transitioning from one job to another. As speaker, his role was to reduce conflict and keep order. As Leader of the Opposition, his role is to vigorously oppose and once in a while, cause disorder.
Nevertheless, he is now caught between two highly, telegenic and media savvy leaders. Unless he crafts his image quickly, he and his party, could be left behind.
Timing is crucial because the government has nearly reached the midterm of its mandate. The next two years begin the slippery slope to the 2019 campaign, a fact that all the leaders are no doubt reflecting upon during this Thanksgiving weekend.
For Justin Trudeau, two years after his sunny team swept down the magnificent promenade leading to Rideau Hall, the world has shifted. The U.S. has repositioned itself from a dependable ally to an unstable neighbour. North Korea’s actions and Donald Trump’s reactions have jump started another debate as to the validity of Canada joining the BMD (ballistic missile defence shield). The desire to welcome refugees remains deep in our psyche but the conversation equally revolves around the numbers of refugees entering the country and whether they are doing so in a legal fashion.
For Singh, his learning curve will be steep. He must lead a caucus containing a former leader and defeated leadership candidates, while simultaneously attracting new candidates and raising money. Without a seat in the Commons, he is free to roam the provinces, but his Parliamentary absence could lead to a perception that his personal voice is lacking at a time when serious national security and economic issues are paramount.
Meanwhile, all the leaders must watch their Quebec flank. Singh in particular may have difficulty if Quebecers react negatively to his kirpan, but Trudeau and Scheer also need to stay vigilant. There are still 10 Bloc Québécois MPs in the House. Like Singh, its new leader, 47-year-old Martine Ouellette, an engineer with an MBA, is elected provincially and does not yet have a federal seat.
Finally, all the leaders must be wary of global events. For all its attraction, sunny ways cannot block out lengthening shadows of senseless massacres, racial violence, human rights violations and fears of home grown terrorism. If we want to stay on the sunny side, we will have to push the shade away … far away.
Penny Collenette is an adjunct professor of law at the University of Ottawa and was a senior director of the Prime Minister’s Office for Jean Chrétien.