“My friends, we beat fear with hope. We beat cynicism with hard work. We beat negative politics with a positive vision that brings Canadians together,” said Justin Trudeau in French in the speech with which he celebrated his Liberal Party going from third in opinion polls to first in the October 19 elections. He expressed the same thought in English for the rest of Canada: “We beat negative, divisive politics with a positive vision that brings Canadians together.”
Within the moderate limits of Canadian politics, the ten years of outgoing Prime Minister Steven Harper were sectarian and divisive. The attacks of his Conservative Party against Trudeau claimed he’s not ready to govern and insinuated he’s just a well-groomed dummy. They bite a bit, but nothing like the malicious personal attacks, the highly divisive positions and the barely hidden racism of presidential candidate Donald Trump in the United States. Within their own metrics, Canadians were tired of a government they perceived as bent on control within their borders and projecting a discordant image of Canada abroad.
Warmth and common sense permeated the first speech of future Prime Minister Trudeau. Women lost their breath before his youth and good looks. Few could resist his evident charm. But the content of his words was not to be missed. He said that his campaign was based “on the conviction that politics doesn´t have to be negative and personal to be successful, that you can appeal to the better angels of our nature, and that you can win by doing it.”
He defended the idea that a positive and hopeful vision of public life is not a naïve dream. He said that such a vision can be a powerful force for change. This message rang deeply all over the nation. It was soothing for voters tired of the centralist, top-down politics of the Harper decade. “Canada is a country strong not in spite of its differences but because of them,” said Trudeau. “I will strive to be a PM who never seeks to divide Canadians but takes every single opportunity to bring us together. You want a Prime Minister who knows that if Canadians are to trust their government, their government needs to trust Canadians. A PM who understands that openness and transparency means better, smarter decisions.”
These words resonated with some sectors of the United States, where sectarianism and racism gained traction among voters during the mandate of the first Black president. In response to this mood, some Republican candidates are waging a divisive, demagogic and, for some, frightful campaign. The picturesque, populist millionaire Donald Trump, with his straw-colored hair and his vast media experience, keeps climbing in the polls, disproving pundits who predicted his early downfall.
President Obama spoke with Trudeau to congratulate him. He told him that his smooth black hair will soon turn white with the challenges of governing. Another head of state told Trudeau to enjoy his victory, because from here on everything will be downhill. Even in Canada Justin Trudeau’s rolling optimism will stumble against the pettiness and selfishness which are part and parcel of politics.
Trudeau was generous with his rivals in his victory speech. “As I’ve said many times over the course of this campaign, conservatives are not our enemies, they’re our neighbors. Leadership is about bringing people of all different perspectives together.” Former Prime Minister Joe Clark told on television an anecdote about what Justin heard as a young boy. At that time his father Pierre was a brilliant, sharp-tongued Prime Minister, highly appreciated among non-aligned nations of the Third World. Clark remembers Pierre Trudeau brought Justin to Parliament and showed him the opposition bench. “These are adversaries, they are not enemies. You always have to listen to them.” In his victory speech Justin said that in these elections “1792 Canadians stepped up, put their names on ballots and on lawn signs and ran for office.” He added “338 were chosen by you to be their voices in Ottawa,” and concluded to applause: “I pledge tonight that I will listen to all of them.”
Again in French Justin said: “we will put together a government of integrity which will respect institutions and which will make collaboration with the provinces the first principle of its actions. Dear Quebecois friends, thank you. Tonight Canada finds again a little bit of itself, tonight Quebec truly returns to the government of Canada.” These words do not sound hollow in a province where separatism and independence barely lost in the course of two referendums.
These words resonated as well with the people in countries where sectarian governments win elections but overstep the rules of democracy. With Justin at the helm, Canada is once again a prime example of tolerance, optimism and hope in good government. His election provides a sound foundation for a foreign policy that will return Canada to the respected role it enjoyed decades ago among budding democracies in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Justin described an encounter in the course of the campaign with a young mother wearing a jihab. She threw her baby daughter on his arms and told him she’s voting for his party “because she wants to make sure that her little daughter has a right to make her own decisions in life and that her government will protect those rights.”
“To her I say this: you and your fellow citizens have chosen a new government, a government that believes deeply in the diversity of our country. We know in our bones that Canada was built by people from all corners of the world, who worship every faith, who belong to every culture, who speak every language.” These are pretty words, but Trudeau pronounced them with deep conviction.
His eyes wet as he went over this anecdote. He continued in earnest “we believe in our hearts that this country is a blessing bestowed upon us by previous generations of Canadians, Canadians who stared down prejudice and fought discrimination in all its forms. We know that our own, enviable, inclusive society didn’t happen by accident, and won’t continue without effort. I have always known this. Canadians know it too. Have faith in your fellow citizens my friends. They’re kind and generous. They’re open minded and optimistic. And they know in their heart of hearts that a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian.”
An analyst of old times observed that a good man cannot be a good citizen except in a perfect state. In an imperfect state a good man is seen as an imperfect citizen, sometimes even as an undesirable citizen. In order to be considered a good citizen a good man would have to comply with the imperfections of the state. Justin Trudeau is a good man in a state where for a brief moment his words showed that perfection is indeed possible.
Translated and adapted from Spanish version published in Latin America