Trudeau provides hope, dignity and warmth to Canadians

Trudeau provides hope, dignity and warmth to Canadians

Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan

Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan

The federal election of October brought a new government to Canada in November. It also provided new hope to Canadians who had been disillusioned by the Conservative government’s 10 years in power.

Desperate for change, citizens who traditionally did not vote in federal elections - particularly Aboriginal people and Muslims - voted in record numbers this year.

The election represented a triumph for Justin Trudeau, who took over the Liberal party’s leadership three years ago. The Conservatives had decimated the party which also lost support because of corruption.  The Liberal Party’s seats in the House of Commons in the 2011 election shrank to just 34. Analysts were predicting its demise.

Justin Trudeau, a member of Parliament and the son of the late renowned Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, went to all parts of the country and listened to the people. At the start of the election campaign, the Liberals trailed the Conservatives and the New Democratic Party. The Conservatives savagely attacked Justin Trudeau as a lightweight unfit for leadership.

The people, however, decided otherwise. The Liberals won a majority of 184 seats out of 338 in the House of Commons. The Conservatives have a majority in the Senate, however, and can delay, if not block, the government’s plans.

Canada is diverse in terms of its population and follows a multicultural policy, encouraging Canadians to embrace their cultural heritage while working together to build a country that accepts, respects and promotes freedom, mutual respect, rule of law and the equality of all citizens.

Canada’s multicultural policy had slowly been bringing Canadians of all backgrounds into the corridors of power. The country’s last governor-general was a black woman, who came to Canada from Haiti as a child refugee but who reached the country’s top post.

However, this last election produced stunning results. Canada’s House of Commons now resembles the General Assembly of the United Nations.  Members speak English, French, Aboriginal dialects, Punjabi, Urdu, Hindi, Farsi, Arabic, Ukrainian, Italian, Polish, Somali, Swahili and other languages. The 338 MPs include 47 visible minorities, 88 women, 10 Aboriginals, about 19 with origins in the subcontinent and 15 Muslims, including people of Arab, Iranian, Somali, Pakistani and Afghan backgrounds.

Trudeau’s cabinet of 30 includes an equal number of men and women, including a Muslim woman of Afghan origin, who came to Canada as a refugee, when she was three, with her mother and two infant sisters. Her father had been killed by the Taliban. The only glaring omission is that of black Canadians, though blacks have a distinguished history in Canada and several black men and women were elected to the House of Commons in 2015.

When the election was called, Trudeau was seen as comparatively young - he is the second youngest prime minister in the country’s history. He has been a respected Member of Parliament but has had no impressive experience. He was attacked initially for having no substantive policy. But Trudeau was listening to people all over Canada and to specialists.

In the end, he formulated a policy that the Conservatives and New Democrats, who favor balanced budgets, denounced as reckless. Trudeau announced that because Canada was in a recession with feeble economic growth, his government would build infrastructure in the first three years through borrowing and budget deficits. It would only be in his last year that the economy would return to a modest surplus. He also pledged to cut taxes to help the middle class while increasing taxes on the very rich.

Economists stated that Canada has a huge economy and that modest injections of government funding in infrastructure would neither benefit nor harm the country substantially. But the policy is also psychological. Trudeau was sending the message that the government would not be a helpless spectator while the economy struggled. It would act. Hopefully this would encourage Canadian investors, who are sitting on billions of dollars in cash, to invest in their own country and help produce jobs and stimulate economic growth.

While the Conservatives and the New Democrats scoffed, Trudeau stuck to his guns and gradually his popularity overtook that of the New Democrats and the stunned Conservatives.

Perhaps what really charmed Canadians was Trudeau’s openness, pride in Canada, friendliness, youth, affinity with the people and his reaching out to Canadians of all backgrounds. Where Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper had promoted Islamophobia, ignored provincial premiers, snubbed Aboriginal leaders, ridiculed the judiciary, muzzled scientists and civil servants, scrapped the mandatory census which produced invaluable data in all fields and dissolved useful agencies because he did not appreciate their work, Trudeau made clear that his would be a government for the people.

At the swearing in ceremony of his cabinet, he opened the doors of the Governor General’s House to average Canadians, thousands of whom flocked to the grounds of Government House and mingled with the new prime minister and his ministers.

November is a dreary month in Ottawa. But throughout Canada the mood of the people is sunny, cheerful and optimistic. They finally have a prime minister who cares for them from the bottom of his heart.

— Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan is a retired Canadian journalist, civil servant and refugee judge.