It’s Time for the Prime Minister to Govern

justin trudeau

The Prime Minister is no longer young. Youthful, yes, with his mother’s good looks and a photogenic family, but Justin Pierre James Trudeau recently celebrated his 46th birthday. And it’s past time he made the transition from campaigner to governor.




Prime ministers who hold majorities in Parliament are virtual dictators, benevolent or otherwise. Only the Supreme Court, a badly attenuated press corps, and their own party—whose leaders enjoy plum positions only at the Prime Minister’s pleasure—hold them in check. As David Frum once told me, there are only half a dozen truly important political offices in Canada, and none comes even close to the tremendous power wielded by a prime minister enjoying a majority.

Mr. Trudeau has had lots of experience in electoral politics, but very little experience in running anything. He presided over a few classrooms in Vancouver for a few years: an experience that, I am sure, taught him a lot about human nature and the complexities of authority. But still: only a few classes. Otherwise, besides chairing the Katimavik youth program, he hasn’t had to run anything: no business, no charity, no government department, nothing.

It is time, then, for him to move from advocate, at which he has done well, to statesman, at which we can hope he will do well.

By “statesman” I have in mind the realism, humility, and magnanimity of an Abraham Lincoln who, despite the atrocious violence of the Civil War and the vicious shenanigans of the politics of his day that would have driven a lesser man to vindictive tunnel vision somehow managed to see things whole and to remember the faults of his side and the credentials of the other.

Lincoln’s brief but powerful Second Inaugural Address speaks to the fractious politics of our own day, whether prochoice vs. prolife, markets vs. regulations, opportunities vs. welfare, capital vs. labour, innovation vs. tradition, left vs. right.

Both sides think they are right and the other is dangerously wrong. Both assume that all sensible people agree with them and their opponents are all fools and villains. But Lincoln concluded his startlingly brief speech thus:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Can the Prime Minister see over the parapet of his Liberal fortress of righteousness to view Conservatives, New Democrats, Péquistes, and others as truly his Canadian neighbours? As people who might have something useful to hear away from the theatrical din of Question Period? As fellow citizens who also love Canada and want its best?

Can he imagine that prolifers could partner with him toward resolving the scandal of Canada having no law at all governing abortion—the lives of thousands of unborn children and their mothers?

Can he see that churches, and congregations of other religions as well, contribute to the social good such that it is in the state’s wide and long-term interest to encourage them, while remaining appropriately neutral about their competing claims?

Can he agree that the government should continue to fund faith-based institutions, whatever their disagreements with him and his party, so long as such funding advances the common good?

Can he champion true liberty of conscience, of speech, of assembly, of association, and of religion such that genuine conversation about important matters, however conflictual and difficult, can continue on our university campuses, in our legislatures, through our media, and among our leaders without anyone being allowed to shout down or otherwise silence irritating but legitimate alternative views?

Or will he continue to campaign for his own, personal view of Canada, insisting on the values that seem simply correct to him and his crowd but that do not, in fact, enjoy the agreement of vast numbers of Canadians, let alone of minorities who also deserve respect and protection?

Smiling Justin, cool Justin, sexy Justin, progressive Justin—all that worked very well in campaigning. But the campaign is long over, as is the political honeymoon, and the hard work of governing remains.

Town hall meetings like those he has recently held show us, again, a clever and attractive campaigner. But who gets to talk to him when the spotlights dim? What and whom is he reading and listening to? Is he honestly and regularly wrestling with alternative ideas, or merely continuing a campaign to advance his own?

Good answers to those questions will confirm the uncharacteristically self-congratulatory slogan, “The world needs more Canada.” Bad answers, however, will simply mean, “Canada needs less Trudeau.”

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John G. Stackhouse, Jr., PhD, serves as the Samuel J. Mikolaski Professor of Religious Studies at Crandall University in Moncton, New Brunswick. A graduate of Queen’s University, Wheaton Graduate School, and the University of Chicago, he was formerly Professor of Religion at the University of Manitoba and held the Sangwoo Youtong Chee Chair of Theology and Culture at Regent College, Vancouver. He has given interviews to ABC, NBC, CBC, CTV, and Global TV as well as to CBC Radio from coast to coast. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Times Literary Supplement, The Globe and Mail, the National Post, The Atlantic, Time, and Maclean’s. Author of over 800 articles, book chapters, and reviews, his tenth book has been released this year: “Why You’re Here: Ethics for the Real World” (Oxford University Press).