Justin Trudeau gave a news conference on Wednesday that already cries out for a sequel.
The prime minister said — several times — that he has some thinking to do about how things got so ugly and divisive during the election campaign that reduced his majority to a minority.
“Canadians gave me a lot to think about,” Trudeau admitted.
More humble, reflective than he was in the immediate aftermath of Monday’s vote, Trudeau addressed head-on the tone problem of Canada’s 43rd election.
“Many of us regret the tone and the divisiveness and disinformation that were all too present features of this past election campaign,” Trudeau said. “There were big substantive ideas that weren’t fully debated in this election campaign, and I regret that and I recognize that much of this campaign tended to be around me, and I do hold a bit of responsibility for that.”
On Monday night, Trudeau and his Liberals appeared focused on the win, which probably felt to them like a minor miracle. On Wednesday, roughly 36 hours after an unfortunately triumphal address in Montreal, the prime minister was talking more about what was lost or missing when the campaign was all over.
Liberals do have to take some responsibility for how the election spiralled downward — as do all the parties, and yes, before anyone is tempted to inundate us with messages, the media too played its part.
It’s worth remembering that the first really damaging shot fired against a leader came shortly before the campaign started, when the Liberals released a 14-year-old video of Andrew Scheer speaking in the Commons against same-sex marriage.
The Conservative leader was then hounded for the next two weeks to explain his social conservatism or the pro-life stands of some of his candidates and supporters.
It’s also worth remembering how that Scheer video was initially circulated — in a Twitter post from veteran Liberal cabinet minister Ralph Goodale.
Goodale lost his Saskatchewan seat on Monday night — a blow not for him personally, but for Liberals collectively, and the decades of institutional memory that Goodale held. He was the only minister in this Trudeau’s cabinet who also served in Pierre Trudeau’s governments.
While it’s probably a stretch to draw a direct, causal link between Goodale’s defeat and that Scheer-video tweet, some might say that a form of political karma was at work.
One of the least nasty members of the last Liberal government, a politician who defined civility and hard work, was a casualty of an election campaign that was the opposite of all he had represented in Parliament served in the 1970s.
A similar loss on the Conservative side was Lisa Raitt, former MP for Milton, who had not logged the years of Goodale, but was respected and liked on all sides of the House. While Raitt could be sharp and partisan, she was often also generous with her colleagues in other parties, and well-liked by the media.
Trudeau sent another signal of self-reflection on Wednesday too when he announced the date for the swearing-in of the next cabinet. It will take place on Nov. 20, a good two weeks longer than the span between victory and the installation of the new cabinet in 2015.
I took this as a sign that a wholesale overhaul is under way — of cabinet but possibly also of advisers and staff as well. Trudeau never really replaced his former principal secretary, Gerald Butts, after his resignation last February in the midst of the SNC-Lavalin saga. Given how much has been said and written about PMO staff over the past year, Trudeau will no doubt be doing some thinking on how to organize a PMO for a minority government: one that will need to confer frequently with caucus and the other parties.
Others suggested to me, however, that Trudeau may simply be taking more time because he needs to design a Throne Speech and a governing plan that takes other parties’ positions into account. By that logic, he may need seasoned ministers, knowledgeable about their files, to advise him on where he has room to negotiate his agenda.
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I’m still betting, however, that Trudeau uses this second mandate to make some big changes in cabinet.
In an ideal world, Trudeau would come back to the National Press Theatre in about a month from now, either before or after he unveils that cabinet, and follow up on what he said on Wednesday. It could be a press conference with just one question: “You said you had a lot to think about; so what have you been thinking?”
I hope we don’t have to wait for prime ministerial memoirs to find out how that nasty election looked to a man at the centre of it. No doubt it would give Canadians lots to think about too.
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