Opinion: How Justin Trudeau became Lester Pearson

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Andrew Cohen is a journalist, Professor at Carleton University, Extraordinary Canadian: Lester B. Pearson author and co-editor of Trudeau’s Shadow: The Life and Legacy of Pierre Elliot Trudeau (with JL Grenatstein).

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On the night of November 8, 1965, Lester Bowles Pearson watched his re-election with little joy. Always more diplomat than politician, he, like his three other campaigns as leader of the Liberal Party, had ended the campaign weaker than he had started. That fall, once again, he agreed to rule without his much-awaited and much-anticipated majority.

Oh, it was close this time. very close. The Liberals won three more seats (131) than in 1963, when “Mike” Pearson became the 14th Prime Minister of Canada. Still, they were three short of the majority.


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Mr Pearson relied on his staunch advisers, the party’s national director Keith Dewey and Finance Minister Walter L. Gordon. He relied on encouraging elections, saw an opportunity, urged for early elections. when gone Bad, both resigned.

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Richard van Loon, a political scientist, wrote, “The key issue of the campaign seemed to be whether Canada needed a majority government.” “It was an issue that clearly failed to accelerate the pulse of Canadians.”

However, instead of undoing Mr. Pearson, that election re-created him. For the next two years, in league with the New Democrats, he would lead a transformational government. It will build modern Canada, replace Lisping, turn Mr. Pearson into greatest prime minister of the post-war era.

By the time Parliament time had passed in the spring of 1968, so was Mr. Pearson. Not interested in contesting the fifth election in 10 years, satisfied with his record and having faith in his successor, he announced his retirement. He was 71 years old.

Today Justin Trudeau is in a similar situation. Like Mr Pearson, he rebuilt a shattered party and brought it back to power. Like Mr Pearson, he called a snap election that gave him only two more seats, 11 short of a majority. Like Mr. Pearson, he has faced scandal. Like Mr Pearson, he faces a second minority government, navigating the shallows of a hung parliament.

But in adversity, opportunity. If Mr Trudeau learns from his mistakes, rallies progressives and puts policy before politics, he can do a lot. Instead of contemplating his place in Parliament for the next three years, he could find his place in history.

For Mr Trudeau, who once taught acting, another minority government is a chance to write the end of his improbable drama, the good-looking and thin résumés that weak liberals inherited in 2013. Critics call him a light and a pose for Sunshine, Socks and Celebrity, and reliably underestimate him.

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Then, two years later, he does something staggering: He outshine Stephen Harper’s Conservatives and turn his caudal caucus of 36 to a majority of 184. Suddenly he’s the savior of the party, author of Liberal Restoration, Canada’s Boy Wonder.

In office, Mr Trudeau is unsure. He delivers on some promises, abandons others and suffers scandals and missteps by himself. When he loses his majority in 2019, as his father did in his second election in 1972, the comparison is irresistible. Can Justin get his majority, as Pierre did in 1974?

In 2021, Justin tries and fumbles. After a near-death experience in August, he cleverly exploits the discrepancies of conservatives. On 20 September, he saved a second consecutive minority government with a historically small share of the popular vote (32.6 percent). If Mr. Pearson was a strategist, Mr. Trudeau is a tactician.

Which leads to the third act of Justin Trudeau’s astonishing ascent, qualified leadership and indomitable resilience.

Now, however, the story is no longer how Justin Trudeau became Pierre Trudeau in 1974, lived and lived for another 10 years. This is how Justin Trudeau became Lester Pearson in 1965, succeeded and left.


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Lester Pearson? Could the half-century difference between two prime ministers be more different in temperament, intelligence and experience? Mike was brainy, secretive and shy. He was a soldier, a professor, a metropolitan, a Nobel laureate; As a diplomat, he was the most famous Canadian in the world. He was born a Victorian and was born an Edwardian. He seemed so dull on television that he was expected to be judged by “records, not recordings”. By 1968, he had passed, an antiquarian in the Age of Aquarius.

Born a year before Mr. Pearson’s death, young Justin was impulsive, adventurous and friendly. He was a teacher, actor and outsider, a dilettante. He loves politics and plays it skillfully; Since reaching Parliament in 2008, he Never Lost an election. His term as prime minister, which began at age 44, is already longer than that of Mr Pearson, who began at 65.

Funny thing about Mr. Pearson and Trudeau. If Mike had never been prime minister, and neither would he. It was Mr. Pearson who made Pierre Trudeau in Ottawa. As his political godfather, he recruited him in 1965, named him his parliamentary secretary and then-minister of justice, pushed forward his reforms in divorce, abortion and homosexuality, and gave him a license to challenge Quebec separatists. And, quietly, he made him his successor.

If Pierre had not been the philosopher king, would Justin have become the Crown Prince? Would Justin have risen if his name was Justin Tardiff? And now, will he join Mr Pearson in this, possibly his last act in politics?

Justin had tried to be his father, strong man and nation builder. it did not work. In 1974, after two years in the minority of an economic nationalism backed by David Lewis and the NDP, the Liberals inflicted their own defeat in parliament. The architect, again, was Keith Dewey, who would now become the most talented political strategist of his time. He loved Mr. Trudeau, as did Mr. Pearson.

Justin had no such prominence to examine his impulses, a recklessness that brought him to the Aga Khan, SNC-Lavalin’, We Charity, his poorly dressed trip to India, and Julie Payette’s short, miserable stint.

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In 2021, another election, another wrong decision. Mr Trudeau’s vanity project cost $620 million and reaffirms the status quo. He is apologetic. to resign? As Jason Kenney knows, that’s the 1960s.

Now Mr Trudeau, in his third term as Prime Minister, lets look at what Mr Pearson has done in his second term. Between 1965 and 1968, Parliament produced a geyser of legislation: official bilingualism, universal health care, old-age pensions, guaranteed income supplementation, a commission on the status of women, a federal labor code, student loans, collective bargaining in the public service, Open Immigration, Order of Canada. Today’s Canada is Pearson’s Canada.

Mr Trudeau may also have been an activist in his time. Jagmeet Singh’s New Democrats offers her a dance partner. Mr Singh will support them in Pharmacare, National Child Care, Epidemic Relief, Immunization Orders, Firearms Ban and Fighting Climate Change.

Mr Singh is no Tommy Douglas, and Mr Trudeau lacks Mr Pearson’s greatness and glory – and his father’s too. If Mr. Pearson rebuilt the country, Pierre Trudeau saved it. Still, Justin can turn Canada as well.

how? Embrace intercity high-speed rail, a national electricity grid and affordable housing, and make them national projects. Distribute clean drinking water at the store. Build a National Portrait Gallery and a National Science Museum. Address income inequality and the rural-urban divide. Resist more decentralization. Quit the virtue sign and the hand-to-hand shake. Hire a speechwriter and provide a vision beyond sound bites and slogans.

Hell, if Mr. Trudeau is serious, let him use his authority as the most senior leader Seven’s group to lead an advanced global effort on the climate emergency. And let him find the resources to re-commit Canada to a world where we have become gentle giants of gesture.

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Having done some of this, Justin Trudeau will have created a lasting legacy. These include a price on carbon, Canada Child Benefits, accepting Syrian refugees, renegotiating NAFTA, legalizing cannabis and minor Senate reforms.

In 2024, after nearly a decade in power, he may announce his work. He can hand the party over to Mark Carney, as Mr Pearson did to Pierre Trudeau.

And then Justin Trudeau – a bigoted politician in his early 50s – may get away. The pretense that ignited like a Roman candle across the Laurentian shield could go to the country’s applause, sorrow or relief on its own terms. Just like Mike Pearson.

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