The Politics of Purgatory

  • National Newswatch

For many Canadians – including lots of journalists and columnists -- Liberal leader Justin Trudeau is an optimistic ray of sunshine, piercing through the Harperian gloom that supposedly shrouds Canadian politics.And it's easy to see why.By comparison to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who with his stern demeanor and his icy stare, isn't exactly the cuddliest leader in human history, the genial, telegenic Trudeau comes across like an adorable Care Bear.In fact, it's this stark contrast in personal imagery which has led the media to stereotypically type cast the two leaders: Harper's all about negativity, vindictiveness and partisanship, while Trudeau's all about sugar and spice and everything nice.It's a wonderful story-book-style, good vs. evil narrative, except for one tiny detail: It isn't true.In reality the Canadian political scene is not so black and white.Yes, Prime Minister Harper likes to play hardball and yes he often employs “negative” tactics that pander to our baser emotions, yet he also appeals to loftier sentiments: patriotism, pride in our nation's past, a love of Beatle songs.So despite the hype, Harper is not totally Darth Vader.Meanwhile for his part, Trudeau's affability doesn't stop him from periodically veering into the dark realms of negativity.Recall, for instance, the infamous interview he did a few years ago on a French language TV show, when he declared. “Canada isn't doing well right now because it's Albertans who control our community and socio-democratic agenda. It doesn't work.”Then for good measure, he told the interviewer that Canada belongs to Quebec.Is that positivity? Is that idealism?To me it sounds like Trudeau was playing old-fashioned, tribal politics, blatantly catering to Quebec nationalism and pitting one region of the country against the other.Some call that sort of tactic the “politics of division” and it's usually considered “negative.”Or consider how when after the Liberals defeated the NDP in a few recent by-elections, Trudeau couldn't resist the urge to gloat.Immediately after the Liberal wins he paraphrased the late NDP leader Jack Layton's last words -- “Hope is better than fear” -- triumphantly declaring, "Make no mistake, the NDP is no longer the hopeful, optimistic party of Jack Layton. It is the negative divisive party of Thomas Mulcair. Because it is the Liberal party tonight that proved hope is stronger than fear, that positive politics can and should win out over negative."Clearly, in making this statement, Trudeau was taking a cheap partisan shot carefully calculated to provoke the NDP.Is that positivity?And just recently, Trudeau, who promised democratic "open nominations", blocked the nomination of Christine Innes, who was hoping to run in an upcoming Toronto by-election. That doesn't sound too democratic.What's more, it could also be argued that the allegedly “idealistic” Trudeau actually has a deeply cynical view of democracy.Just consider his strategy of refusing to offer detailed policy ideas, preferring instead to simply smile a lot while spewing out vague promises, simplistic solutions and feel-good platitudes.Doesn't such an approach imply that Trudeau has a pretty low opinion of the typical Canadian voter? He seems to think, after all, that Canadians will elect him prime minister based solely on his looks, his last name and on his “rainbows and lollipops” persona.At the very least, Trudeau's tactic indicates he is not above using purely emotional appeals to manipulate voters.A truly idealistic politician, it seems to me, would spurn such a superficial strategy and trust in the intelligence of voters to choose a leader based on his or her policies and proposals.Now don't get me wrong; I'm not trying to bash Trudeau here or to criticize his strategies.Nor am I trying to whitewash Harper and his tactics.I'm simply pointing out that, contrary to a prevalent media perception, Harper is not the spawn of hell and Trudeau didn't descend from heaven.Instead, both leaders are products of political purgatory, a bland, grey, morally ambiguous place, where all that matters is winning.(Gerry Nicholls is a communications consultant.