Canada’s New Liberal Leader Boosts Party’s Popularity

Opinion polls suggest that Justin Trudeau could win back a majority for Canada’s once-dominant party.

Canada’s new Liberal Party leader, Justin Trudeau, might lead the centrists to return to power in 2015 when the Conservatives will have governed almost a decade. A Forum Research poll released on Tuesday suggested that Trudeau could win 43 percent of the votes in a national election compared to 30 percent for the ruling party, enough to give him a parliamentary majority.

The son of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who was prime minister for fifteen years, was announced the winner in a party leadership vote on Sunday. He got almost 80 percent support.

Other polls have been less encouraging for the Liberals. An Ekos survey published on Sunday had them virtually tied with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. But they lagged 26 to 34 percent if only likely voters were included. A Nanos poll released on Friday gave the Liberals 35 percent of the votes.

All polls show improvement for the opposition party over their performance in the 2011 election when they got less than 19 percent of the votes and failed to beat the leftist New Democrats into second place.

Trudeau seeks to reinvent the Liberal Party as the champion of the middle class but has yet to make comprehensive policy proposals. He supports a carbon tax but hasn’t suggested what its rate should be; promises to preserve the corporate tax cuts enacted by previous Liberal governments but not Harper’s who cut the rate another 7 points in 2006.

Canada’s National Post, which otherwise tends to support Harper’s party, welcomed Trudeau’s election in an editorial on Tuesday, arguing that a stronger opposition “would encourage the Conservatives to resist their worst impulses on issues such as, say, civil liberties, veterans’ benefits and ‘tough on crime’ extremism.”

The newspaper also urges the “largely untested” Trudeau to bring more substance to the political debate, otherwise “there’s every reason to expect that the more experienced leaders to the left and the right of him will get the better of him,” it predicts.

Even if he does, historian Michael Bliss writes in The Globe and Mail that the Liberals’ recent surge in popularity shouldn’t be overstated.

The Conservatives have a fiercely loyal base that extends across the country, are the best fundraisers in Canadian politics and have a leader now widely acknowledged, even by his enemies, to be the most capable politician of this decade.

Moreover, Trudeau’s predecessors Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff were both greeted with favorable poll numbers upon assuming the party leadership only to suffer defeat against Harper’s Conservatives in parliamentary elections.