Gettin’ to know Trudeau

Liberal leader trying to make friends in the West

Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau visited Calgary on January 22 as part of a hasty cross-country fundraising trip prior to Parliament’s January 27 reopening. He appeared in Calgary for a $500-a-plate Liberal fundraising lunch at the McCarthy Tetrault law firm. The event was closed to the media.

Rumours abound that the next federal election is coming in early 2015 so Trudeau says he knows he must work fast to rebuild support the Liberals once expected from Canadians. But that support has never been a given in Calgary.

In an interview with Fast Forward Weekly the relatively new party leader explains he makes an effort to appear in the West regularly in order to get to know Albertans and convince us he is a different kind of politician. He is also wooing Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s chief of staff Chima Nkemdirim to run in Calgary Centre in the next federal election.

“If the Liberal party is going to form the national government we need to make sure we have strong voices from every corner of this country particularly the part of the country that is contributing as much as Alberta is” he says.

“Albertans to be quite frank the ones I’ve talked with are quite tired of being taken for granted by this government. You elect someone strong from your community to be your voice in Ottawa and you get back the prime minister’s voice in your community and that’s just not good enough for a lot of free-thinking Albertans.”

Trudeau says Albertans elected Harper when he was still identified with the Reform Party’s call for transparency grassroots citizen participation and democratic renewal. Trudeau finds many voters are disillusioned with a government that contradicts those principles.

He says the Conservative Party has “morphed into that which it came to Ottawa to fight against. The irony is certainly not lost on an awful lot of people around the country…. The frustration that people are feeling [that] they’re not being well represented or served by current MPs is something that I’ve seen right across the country.

“I have a very different leadership style” he says explaining why he is the party’s best chance after years of rotating leaders and plummeting voter support.

“That’s [why] I came forward first of all with a commitment to openness and transparency. We’ve been posting online all the Liberal Party expenses of various members — of all our members in terms of hospitality expenses and travel expenses. I’ve committed to open nominations across the country in a genuine competitive way” he says.

“I’ve promised to loosen up the party line; not whip votes except on confidence matters on elements that are in the platform and elements in the heart of the charter of human rights. These are all things about restoring power not just to communities but to individual MPs and taking it away from the concentration of power in the Prime Minister’s Office” he says.

In a sudden move on January 29 Trudeau also booted every sitting Liberal senator from the caucus meaning they now sit as independents.

Trudeau is proud of the renewed support the Liberals have received since the 2011 election when the party dropped to 36 seats (12 per cent) in the House of Commons. Since then and especially since he became party leader in April 2013 with 80 per cent of members’ votes he says the party is seeing nothing but success in fundraising membership volunteers public interest and votes in the nine byelections held in 2012 and 2013.

Yet numbers may not back up Trudeau’s enthusiasm. Recent public opinion polls say only about a third of voters support the Liberal Party which is nearly the same number who claim they support the NDP or Conservatives despite a year of scandals for Harper’s government.

“Polls aren’t something that I look at all that much. Polls are increasingly unreliable these days so it seems. What I do look at is what we were able to do in the Calgary Centre byelection and how close we came to winning what was supposed to be an incredibly safe Conservative seat; how close we came in Brandon; how much we grew our support in southeastern Manitoba and Provencher” he says.

Unfortunately for a party that not too long ago won strong successive majorities the byelection near-misses Trudeau refers to as signs of success are open to interpretation. Liberals won three of nine races. None of those wins occurred west of Manitoba. Calgary-Centre went to Conservative candidate Joan Crockatt with a 1100-vote margin.

“There is a lot of work to be done. I’m not pretending that there are any quick fixes and that’s why I’m out here in Alberta every two or three months to meet with people to connect to build to create a relationship where people understand that this is very much a substantive serious relationship” he says.

Trudeau also held a rally on January 22 in Okotoks. The reported turnout was 250 people.