There is no doubt that Justin Trudeau is a leader. His charisma, his popularity, and his passion are hallmark characteristics of his speeches and image, and these traits have contributed to his success. In a recent National Post article by Mike de Souza, Trudeau is praised for his decisive lead and strong base of supporters in the Liberal Party leadership election. However, there is ongoing speculation as to how successfully these attributes will play out in the multi-party arena.
During his visit to McGill in February, Trudeau discussed some of his political strategy and ideology. Notably, he condemned the policies of the past decade for unequally representing Canadians, placing most of the blame on politicians for focusing their efforts on certain groups of people in order to maximize individual popularity. He specifically singled out Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and his political attachments to the West and big corporations as the main culprit. His solution was to implement new policies that would help all Canadians, rather than target specific, non-partisan groups.
Trudeau may be too quick to criticize. Politicians have successfully learned the ways in which people vote—not necessarily favouring what is best for the country, but for themselves—in order to maximize popularity. Whether that is ethically right or wrong is another issue; but should he choose to pursue his ideals when forming election strategy, Trudeau will lose many votes if his opponents opt to target specific voters and ‘play the political game’ as it is understood today.
The situation can be seen in terms of game theory: if Trudeau chooses a plan that is moderately agreeable across the spectrum and his opponents create policies that will maximize benefits for swing voters, Trudeau will certainly lose. Politicians aren’t really to blame, as they are reacting to the voters in order to do what they need to—win. Even if all of Trudeau’s competitors were to accept his ideals and engage in a new kind of electoral campaign, it would only take one defector, undercutting the others, to bring the whole thing down. This stand-off boils down to what is known as a prisoner’s dilemma.
If Trudeau hopes to realize his vision, it will not be an easy path. If he wants to win with a policy that will benefit all of Canada, he needs to first achieve a consensus amongst his political opponents to abandon their political games, and let ideas shine through. Theoretically, this can be implemented in part by monitoring and regulating advertisement investment in certain provinces. Secondly, Trudeau must convince voters to support what’s best for Canada, regardless of their political stance. To do this, he needs to initiate a movement encouraging voters to be vigilant and informed about issues across Canada, and the ethical implications of voting.
At the end of the day, change is very hard to come by, especially on this scale. Both voters and politicians are far more likely to pursue what they are familiar and comfortable with, and Trudeau will be forced to follow suit or risk being left behind. But however unlikely such systemic reform is in the near future, we know at least one politician hopes for more. If he were to overcome the obstacles, Trudeau’s vision could be not only successful, but could drastically change the nature of campaigns, and voters’ approach to Canadian elections.