Strange Bedfellows

I am a big fan of Mike Moffat’s – I follow him on Twitter and read his Economy Lab column regularly. Today he posted an article about Justin Trudeau – someone else of whom I am a big fan – suggesting that the less than stellar environmental plans of a provincial Liberal cousin in Nova Scotia might rub off on him. Because Trudeau has been light on policy in the lead up to the beginning of the Liberal leadership race, we can only look to clues like these to discern what his future policies may be. Moffat’s reaction is only natural for someone trying to evaluate economic policy from a neutral position. That said, the tacit endorsement of his presence is a far cry from the actual endorsement of adopting those policies. I’ve met Trudeau and heard him speak on several occasions; from what I know, I do not think there is any danger of Trudeau adopting these particular policies. If that’s the case, this leads to the much more interesting question: what does Trudeau’s support of, in his words, “Stephen McNeil and the Nova Scotia Liberals” mean?

McNeil has “vowed to remove an ‘efficiency tax’ from the bills of Nova Scotia Power consumers” in a plan that sounds very similar to the federal NDP’s plan to remove the HST from home heating. I’ve mentioned before that this NDP plan was populist and purely ideological so it, and plans of its ilk like McNeil’s, would be completely out of step with Trudeau’s post-ideological message. That said, it’s no secret that the federal Liberal party is in a period of rebuilding and that the Maritimes are key to building any kind of electoral coalition for the Liberal party. Having access to an organization and allies on the ground, at the provincial level, will be a major boost to any federal campaign. Simply put, to win (however we might define that term) Trudeau needs allies within the Nova Scotia provincial Liberals.

It is likely, as two Liberals, that Trudeau and McNeil have quite a bit of common ground but it’s rare in politics to have two people, let alone two leaders, who agree on everything. At a time when many progressives in the United States are deeply disappointed in Obama, it’s important to remember that compromising is a learned skill that it is impossible to govern without. If Trudeau is so ideologically firm that he can’t deal with the MacNeils of the world, his supporters are going to be as disappointed as Obama’s. In evaluating two competing ideas, it would appear Trudeau has compromised. But rather than see this as a crack in Trudeau the Idealist’s facade, we should view this as a preview of Trudeau the Leader.

As the young and idealistic opposition member, Justin Trudeau has had many opportunities to work on the issues he’s passionate about and believes in. What he’s had are very few opportunities to show that he can make the type of compromises and sacrifices that are demanded of a Prime Minister. On the environment, the federal government has a much greater lever to pull than the provinces do so briefly lending your popularity to a provincial leader, with whom you have a particular disagreement that is unlikely to be resolved, in the service of a better federal plan sounds like a good trade off to make. Idealism is great for a third party; statesmanship is what is required for government.

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