An Open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
Dear Mr. Trudeau,
Congratulations on a remarkable victory in yesterday’s election.
I have been watching your work with interest since you took over leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada. Although my own politics are a little to the left of your party (OK… a lot to the left), there’s no question that we had to oust the former Harper Government, and you stood out as the leader who could actually make that happen. I mean, you’re a Trudeau, for starters. You’re young, you’re good-looking, and you’re charismatic. I think I even believe that you’re a nice guy – not just a good guy, or a smart guy, but a guy I would invite over to my place if you lived next door and we were having a barbecue – and that’s something I haven’t been able to say about any other major party leader since… well, since Jack Layton.
But make no mistake, Mr. Trudeau: you are not Jack Layton. You deserve to be proud of your achievement in this election, and I am proud of you, too. But the loyalty that Jack Layton instilled in Canadians was earned over 8 years of leadership, not just by handshakes and smiles and riding his bike to work, but by believing that Canada was better when we worked together, and by listening to and caring about every Canadian in his path. He was a wholly Canadian version of a democratic revolutionary: smart, bookish, soft-spoken, slow to anger, considerate and kind. I assume you know, since this is not your first political rodeo, and since you have smart people around you, that your victory last night was largely at the hands of people who, 5 years ago, wanted Jack Layton to be Prime Minister. And if you want to keep your government in power, you are going to have to convince many of his followers that you’re worth it.
You have your work cut out for you. It’ll take longer than your allotted term to undo the damage done by the Harper Government, and I know you have goals that go beyond that. But I have a little humble advice on where to start:
Fix it. You promised us you would, and we are watching for it. Voting for it was a terrible thing to do to this country and you owe us better than that. I want to see movement on that the instant you get back into parliament, and I am not alone there.
Don’t let yourself go soft on this because this time, First-Past-the-Post won you a majority with a minority of the vote. You know FPTP doesn’t work for Canada and it has just become your responsibility to fix it. Take the time to arrange for research on the alternatives: the decision is important and we don’t need to rush it. But we DO need a new system, and we need it by the next federal election. Start today.
This is not a disposable issue. The environment is the victim of democracy (even the proportional type) because the solutions cost money in the short term and you don’t see the positive effects within 5 years. But you have young children, so I can only assume that you intend to leave them a better Canada than the one we have now. And a better Canada has clean water, clean air, living forests, and a leading role in a global turnaround on climate change.
Start that movement. Start it by consulting Elizabeth May on literally everything you do. Listen to her, and take her advice. In case you hadn’t noticed, that woman is fucking smart. Make her your best friend. Use her notable energy by sending her to represent our country at international climate change meetings. Use the intelligence she used to decimate you and your fellow party leaders at the Maclean’s debate to your advantage. She is not a minor obstacle on your path to a good government. She is the key to making your government the one to watch on an issue of long-lasting, global importance.
Be the opposite of your predecessor. Indigenous people tell you they have a housing problem in their community? They are right about that… listen to them. Women or minorities tell you they are being victimized? They are right, listen to them. Social servants, social workers, medical staff, or teachers tell you that they aren’t able to serve their clients in the current conditions? They are working on the ground and they know. Listen to them.
In your acceptance speech last night, you said that you would be the Prime Minister of all Canadians. You told us you would listen. I am not particularly cynical, so I believe that you believe that. But that is a tall order you just asked yourself to fill and I hope you’re ready to be inundated.
There are a lot of things to fix in this category and change will come slow. You won’t get everything done that you want to do. You will never be able to please everyone all of the time. And sometimes, you may be forced to do something decidedly unpopular because it’s the right thing to do. Make decisions for Canada based on what you’re hearing from Canadians – yes – but also based on the advice of experts. Block out the lobbyists. It’s your job to make lasting, unselfish changes for this country. And so long as you make us feel like you hear us, like you are listening, like you are working to make things better, we will forgive slow progress.
Be a person
Mr. Trudeau – and I mean this sincerely – I want to see you behaving like a person. That thing you did in debates where you spoke directly into the camera and smiled through every answer? Don’t do that anymore. You sold it: you won. Now, stop being a salesman and just be human.
I started believing in you – actually believing that you could do this – almost exactly a year ago: the day that a gunman shot Corporal Cirillo dead and then fired shots on Parliament Hill. That day was tragic and frightening, and you found a way to rise above the chaos, to extend a hand to the mourning friends and family of the fallen soldier, to extend your confidence to the Islamic community, and to reassure the people of this country. Watching you speak, that day, I thought for the first time: there’s a statesman.
You did that because you are a leader. But to lead people, you must be a person. You need to hear them, you need to listen to them, you need to make them feel understood and cared about.
You are about to become very busy, Mr. Trudeau. You have a lot to do and I know you want to do it well… but don’t let your humanity fall away. It’s the most important thing you have going for you.
I’m rooting for you, Mr. Trudeau. Congratulations on your new job.
All my very best,
St. John’s, NL