In 1968, as Pierre Trudeau was about to win the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada, a Pearson cabinet minister implored others to battle against Trudeau. “Don’t let that bastard win it, Paul – he isn’t even a Liberal,” Judy LaMarsh said of the elder Trudeau.
Those words, broadcast across national television, unbeknownst to LaMarsh, could apply to Pierre’s son, our current prime minister, Justin Trudeau.
Other than the odd red tie, what is it that separates Justin Trudeau from the New Democrats? It surely isn’t policy.
Since winning power in 2015, Trudeau has taken the federal Liberal Party further and further to the left, trying at times to outflank or take over the space occupied by the NDP.
The results have not been great for the Liberals, who have not found a way to actually overtake the NDP and have seen their own take of the popular vote drop.
In 2015, the election that brought Trudeau to power, the Liberals took 6.9 million votes and 39.4% of the popular vote. That would drop to 6 million votes and 33% of the popular vote in 2019 and 5.5 million votes and 32.6% of the popular vote in 2021.
Right now, Trudeau is propped up by the NDP in a coalition in all but name. Jagmeet Singh’s party has agreed to keep Trudeau in power through 2025 in exchange for some vague promises, like dental care, which Trudeau takes credit for and Singh gripes about on the sidelines.
Meantime, Trudeau continues to look to keep winning by overtaking the NDP, rather than the old centrist Liberal approach of acting the moderate middle, a bit from the NDP and some from the Conservatives.
Trudeau doesn’t want to seem like the moderate middle, he wants to seem like the NDP in a hurry.
Last week, Winnipeg City Councillor Sherri Rollins announced that she was running for the federal Liberal nomination in Winnipeg South Centre. Rollins wants to replace the recently passed MP Jim Carr but her entire donation history shows a preference for the New Democrats instead of the Liberals.
Nothing to worry about for Trudeau.
This past week, he was campaigning in Saskatoon – an area with zero Liberal MPs – while in the presence of Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark. Trudeau made a point of putting out a media advisory that he would appear with Clark while not even telling Premier Scott Moe that he was coming to the province, a detail Moe learned from the media.
Clark clearly comes from the NDP side of the ledger, but Trudeau is also clearly courting him to run federally as a Liberal in the next election. To Trudeau, the Liberals are no longer a centrist party that steals from the other two parties, they are a “progressive” party that wants to overtake the NDP.
Maybe one day, Trudeau will convince enough New Democrat voters to back him so that he gets another majority, but there is also the chance that in pushing for these NDP votes, he alienates centrist voters, pushing them to the Conservatives.
“I’m a Liberal but not one of those Liberals,” is the kind of comment I’ve heard from plenty of former party staffers and activists now working in the private sector.
They don’t see themselves represented in a party that is drifting towards socialism and away from the centrist, transactional politics that have made the Liberal Party of Canada one of the most successful political parties in the world.
If Trudeau continues to alienate people like that, if he pushes too far and loses the suburbs, he could help make Pierre Poilievre the next prime minister.