Ahead of Monday’s election, little divides the Liberal prime minister and the reactionary Conservatives. But there is an alternative
‘Trudeau promised big but delivered small.’ Justin Trudeau at a campaign rally in Montreal, October 2019. Photograph: Valerie Blum/EPA
How far Justin Trudeau’s star has fallen. In 2015, the rise of this hopey-changey wunderkind was supposed to usher in a bold new Canadian era: democratic reform, ambitious climate action, a plan to tackle inequality, and a new, respectful relationship with Indigenous peoples. But his Liberal party’s bid for re-election, ahead of the election on Monday, looks altogether different: this campaign is dominated by warnings, in ominous tones, about the threat posed by a resurgent, rightwing Conservative party.
Canadian elections: can Justin Trudeau hold on to power? – video explainer
But if Canadians want the kind of country that reflects their progressive views, the choice in this election is clear: vote for the NDP. The overlooked story of the election is the surge in the party’s popularity, which has come at the expense of both the Liberals and Conservatives – and in spite of the media’s efforts to write it off.
Under the leadership of Jagmeet Singh, the NDP has finally halted its right-ward slide – which allowed Justin Trudeau to outflank it to the left in 2015 – and is offering its most progressive platform in a generation. State-funded dental care and prescriptions, 300,000 green jobs and free public transit, paid for by a wealth tax on the ultra rich: the sort of the ambitious leftwing policies that polls consistently show Canadians are hungry for.
In an age of turmoil, it is this kind of politics, rather than establishment Liberalism, that can hope to stem the tide of an increasingly xenophobic right. Pervasive insecurity and discontent in Canada, fundamentally unaddressed by Liberal policies, have been capitalised on by rightwing politicians to scapegoat migrants and Muslims – followed closely by openly white supremacist groups, whose numbers have nearly tripled since Trudeau came to office. This week’s endorsement of Trudeau by Barack Obama underscores the dynamic: both are defenders of a bankrupt, corporate-friendly centrism that has demonstrated it is no match for rightwing faux populists such as Donald Trump. This is what gives the ultimate lie to the promise of “strategic voting”. The politics of the Liberals aren’t a lesser evil – they are the surest path to greater evil.
The only answer to a rising right will come from a left courageous enough to take on vested interests, rather than the vulnerable – and to redistribute obscene levels of private wealth in the service of the public good. The NDP is not going to win this election. But if Canadians elected enough of its MPs, a minority Liberal government might be forced to rely on the party to pass legislation: this would provide powerful leverage in parliament to push for vital new social programs and a transformative approach to the climate crisis, with social movements pressuring from the outside. Universal healthcare, public pensions, the 40-hour work week, same-sex marriage: all were won under previous minority Liberal governments when the NDP held the balance of power. But for that to become possible after Monday, it will take voting from hope, not fear. In this election, Justin Trudeau isn’t Canada’s real progressive choice – nor the politician to stop the rise of an ugly right.