The Liberals' Sweeping Win In Canada Signals Desire For Change

Oct 21, 2015

Canadians have now had a few days to absorb the big political news: Stephen Harper is out, Justin Trudeau in. But what happens now?

After nearly a decade of Conservative government calling the shots, the Liberal Party now has a clear majority, with the son of one of Canada's most famous leaders at the helm.

“I was surprised that they formed a majority,” says Jeffrey Ayres, the dean of Saint Michael's College and a professor of political science who specializes in Canadian and North American politics. “Because they won such an outright majority, they will not have to govern with the support of the other two parties … The Liberal Party has a mandate to govern. There are virtually no checks on their ability to carry out their platform.”

While this concept may scare some Americans, says Ayres, this allows the party to carry out an agenda for the next three or four years; “it's a very effective, responsible form of government.”

Trudeau on running a deficit

Since oil prices fell, there’s been a downturn in Canada’s economy. Ayres says one of the reasons Trudeau won such a clear majority was his rebuke of Harper's austerity measures and his campaign to run a deficit for a few years to get Canada’s economy back on track. 

“The NDP, I think, made a crucial tactical mistake and aligned itself in many ways with the Conservatives by saying that they would not run a budget deficit, that they would not deficit spend, that they would hold the line. And I think Canadians really voted for change.”

Trudeau has committed himself to a very diverse cabinet – he said that he would have at least 50 percent women.

“He needs to commit himself to knitting the country together in making the case that the Liberal Party is a national party and not a party of the old central candidate.”

The Liberal Party actually has seats in every single province and territory, so Ayres says Trudeau can make a strong case moving forward for representing the country quite well as a national party.

Trudeau’s priorities

“Certainly the economy is a really big issue. The dollar has gone down significantly I think that's partly why he's argued in the short term, 'We need to see some deficit spending, we need to see some spending on infrastructure.'”

Trudeau has pledged more support for middle income families and for child care.

With climate change talks coming up in Paris in December, Trudeau has an opportunity to reposition Canada as a world player, says Ayres.

“Canada's been strongly criticized for not taking tougher action on climate change,” says Ayres.

Ayres says Trudeau will likely face some tough choices in the Middle East; he pledged to return Canada to be a much more significant force for peace-keeping, long a tradition for Canadians.

Trudeau has voiced support for the Keystone XL pipeline, but Ayres said the question of jobs versus the environment will weigh on his leadership.

“There are 184 liberals who've been elected, so there may be some significant discussions there. And he may change mind on some of these issues.”

Impact on Vermont?

With the Canadian dollar so low, Ayres says the U.S. may not be seeing quite as many cross-border shoppers. But any larger economic impacts from the change in leadership with the United States’ biggest trading partner will remain to be seen.