The other reason I think Pierre Trudeau would have recognized a familiar style in Justin Trudeau’s announcement is that the older man was hardly immune to taking stances that might alienate the drowsiest elements of his electoral base. He didn’t win three majorities on debating-club points. Take his decision in 1983 to allow Ronald Reagan to test cruise missiles over Canada. (If you take this walk down memory lane, stick around long enough to hear NDP foreign-affairs critic Pauline Jewett’s magnificent rant in rebuttal. “Isn’t this typical? Parliament’s not in session, six o’clock on a Friday afternoon they make the announcement hoping you’re not around either.” Plus ça change.)Of course, at the same time, Chretien paid lip service to fighting climate change without ever figuring out what he planned to do about it, pushed alarmist deficit-fighting and tax cuts ahead of any interest in social programs, and worked to slash the social safety net. And all this after rising to power on a relatively progressive platform - which of course went out the window after it had served its purpose of helping the Libs to win power.
Nor indeed does one need to make connections to Pierre Trudeau to see that Justin Trudeau’s stance has roots in solid, if lately undernourished, Liberal traditions. Winning Liberals have often been natural-resource Liberals. Here’s Chrétien this year at the world’s biggest mining conference in Toronto; he subsidized the oil sands up the wazoo and made an Edmontonian his natural-resources minister.
Now, there's a case to be made that the Libs's most plausible path to put themselves into contention for government in 2015 involves digging the 1993 songbook out of the attic with Trudeau as the new frontman, while concurrently trying to make up a fund-raising gap by echoing the Cons' rhetoric in the hope that the resource sector will want to take them over as a hedge against Con losses.
But as is often the case, there's a massive difference between what's best for the Libs and what's best for progressive politics in Canada. And Trudeau's choice to push the idea that we should see ourselves as a "grocery store" eager to hand over whatever anybody will pay for might make for the most obvious conflict between the two yet.
If the Libs and their presumptive leader in fact plan to compete with the Cons for the title of the most resource-obsessed party while pulling in legacy voters in the process, they'll all too likely succeed only in muddying the waters of a choice between social and corporate values where the progressive side can win - while also raising the likelihood that the next non-Con government will follow the Cons' myopic focus on resource exploitation. And Canadian progressives should take care not to get trapped in that worst of all possible worlds - both in voting in tomorrow's by-elections, and in their choice of focus over the next few years.