By JEFFREY SIMPSON
Saturday, January 2, 2016
Talk about bad timing. In the third week of February, 2015, an essay appeared in the sports pages lamenting the mediocrity of my beloved but often bedraggled Ottawa Senators. They were far from the playoffs, apparently destined for another postseason of golf, after bad trades, inconsistent play and yet another coaching change. Did somebody post the column in the dressing room?
Was it the reverse version of the Sports Illustrated jinx?
Whatever. The Sens went on a tear of almost historic proportions, qualified for the playoffs on the last weekend of the season, played well before losing to the Montreal Canadiens in the first round and made the writer of that column look silly. Not for the first time.
In mid-year, a column confidently suggested the vacancy from Western Canada on the Supreme Court would be filled by Chief Justice Robert Richards from Saskatchewan. That appointment seemed so logical. It was Saskatchewan's turn. The judge in question was very wellqualified. The column noted, however, that "the prime minister alone decides on which person his grace will fall." A wise throwaway line, as then-prime minister Stephen Harper found a very conservative judge from Alberta, Russell Brown, and appointed him.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations were always going to be bedevilled by Canada's insistence on defending supply management in agriculture. It proved to be so, but even the grizzled columnist could never dream that the government would promise to spend $4-billion (!!!) to ease the farmers' transition to a world where they give up just 5 per cent (!!!) of their market.
It was right to be critical of the Harper government's refusal to admit that joining the coalition against the Islamic State with offensive capabilities would be a very long commitment. Insufficient attention was paid to why it was worth Canada participating, even if the chosen means thus far, air power, can only offer a holding pattern.
In the debate about IS, the Liberal Party and its leader, Justin Trudeau, looked and sounded confused. Their wobbliness - Liberals often preferring to offer all assistance short of help if help means using military methods - rekindled doubts about Mr. Trudeau's fitness for high office.
In June, therefore, with the Liberals in third place in the polls, it was asked: "Are we witnessing the strange death of Liberal Canada?" - a title referring to a famous book by George Dangerfield about the decline and death of the Liberal Party of Britain.
To paraphrase Winston Churchill, some analogy, some death.
Instead of the Liberal coalition continuing to crumble, as it had for most of the past three decades, the party reassembled something quite astonishing: a majority government with strength in all regions.
Mr. Trudeau, about whom justifiable doubts had been expressed, campaigned smoothly and confidently. He moved into the Prime Minister's Office looking like he had belonged there all the time, which was definitely not the case.
When you get paid to understand the undercurrents of politics, it's embarrassing to look back and realize that so much was either missed or misunderstood.
The antipathy to Stephen Harper was easy to feel in so many parts of the country, as was the natural desire for change.
That this desire for change so strongly would so favour the Liberals should have been foreseen, but was not. Nor was the dramatis personae of Justin Trudeau, whose public sense of the occasion fitted the video age. We moved from a prime minister often uncomfortable in his own skin in public, to one who seemed born and trained for a public role.
Nor was it correct, as was argued here, that Canadian affairs had reached a point where big ideas could not find a home. The Liberal platform did have big ideas, whether you liked them or thought them unrealistic.
The Liberals did not play "small-ball politics" for the most part, and yet they won. They read the public mood better than their adversaries and this corner of journalistic real estate.
It was ironic that just before former NDP leader Jack Layton died, he had written that hope was better than fear. In the 2015 campaign, the Liberals, not the NDP, best captured the hope for change and beat the Conservatives who preferred to campaign on fear.
And both hope and fear blasted the NDP's ambitions.