A new era of Canadian federal politics unfolded in Ottawa and across the country with the swearing in on November 4, 2015 of a second Trudeau Liberal government.
Since election day, changes in tone, intent and leadership have been nothing less than groundbreaking. While media and political pundits covering events called November 4 a day of “firsts,” Canadians also seemed to agree that something remarkable had occurred, culminating in a very different political atmosphere that has successfully engaged us like never before.
At the beginning of this election, however, I am not sure many of us realized that under the leadership of Justin Trudeau, the Liberals had been working hard to re-build their brand and it worked. One pundit said before the election that if the Liberals won at least 25 seats in Atlantic Canada, they had the momentum to do well across the country. But when media outlets declared the Liberals elected or leading in all 40 Atlantic seats on election day, we knew that something big was about to happen. Positive, infectious enthusiasm and hope were overtaking cautious mediocrity.
On the morning of November 4, the gates of Rideau Hall were thrown open for the first time to welcome over 3,000 citizens who began lining up in the wee hours to attend this public ceremony. There were young people everywhere; a group of university students from Montreal when asked why they came, said that they wanted to be “part of history,” that they had driven all the way from Montreal, leaving at 4:00 a.m. to be in Ottawa on time. Another young person shared the fact that she had not voted before this election and was there to see “my Prime Minister” sworn in. Big screen television, hot coffee and hot chocolate greeted the crowd who came to see Canada’s new Prime Minister and Cabinet formally take office. They were not disappointed. From the moment the Trudeau family strolled onto the grounds and up the driveway to the Hall, followed by Cabinet Ministers-in-waiting, it was clear that the combination of pomp and populism would leave a distinct imprint on our collective hearts.
Demonstrating another first, the ceremony opened with an acknowledgement of our Indigenous history and heritage, a reminder that Rideau Hall stands on the original territory of the Algonquin People. As the program unfolded, Indigenous themes were prominent, as they should be. Dignitaries and other familiar faces mingled with families and friends in an atmosphere of excitement and anticipation. I suspect that the audience in Rideau Hall must have shared with Canadians watching at home, a sense that we were all witnessing something special and unique.
From achieving gender parity in Cabinet, a bold move that has raised Canada’s ranking from 20th to 4th in the world for the percentage of women in ministerial positions, to ensuring balanced regional representation, to naming two Indigenous Canadians to significant ministerial portfolios, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seems to have elevated our nation’s expectations and its future to new heights. Media access to the event was also unprecedented; this new Liberal government is keeping its promise of a more accessible, open and transparent Federal government. As the Prime Minister-designate said shortly before he was sworn in, “I believe that government is about service…it’s less about speeches and more about dialogue with the Canadian people.” And Canadians seem anxious to talk.
I was a young university student in 1968 when the first “Trudeau wave” captured the imagination of Canadians. Trudeau cut a swath through the country that had not been seen before (or since), until now. Admittedly, Justin Trudeau is not his father and is working hard to reflect the contemporary values of his own generation but the Trudeau name still holds some magic for many Canadians.
This new chapter in Canadian federal politics is about succession planning in action, about preparing and electing a new generation of leaders to take our country forward, leaders who will work together with other parties to rekindle Canadian national pride and confidence. Yes, our members of Parliament have “many miles to go before they sleep” but for now, it’s enough to know that the Canada I love is back.