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Don Martin: Despite his horrible year, Trudeau's determined to roll the dice again


You can’t help but admire the audacity of his hopes as Justin Trudeau’s horrible year ends.

The prime minister faced marital separation on the home front, endured political challenges across Canada and stoked global controversies in 2023.

Yet he still defiantly declares, without giving himself even a millimetre of wiggle-away room, that he will stick around to lead another campaign to victory, an optimistic expectation without much supportive evidence.

Bombarded by failures to act consistently on many issues, facing a deep red deficit which should handcuff even the most determined spender, whacked by polling which appears beyond repair and facing a Canadian prime ministerial history laughing down his dream of a fourth straight mandate, something not done in 111 years, Trudeau perseveres still.

Perhaps it’s a character flaw, but one supposes it could just as easily be seen as an emotional survival strategy, to confront so many jagged obstacles and see only clear runway ahead.

After all, Trudeau and few others saw the Liberal surge from third place to a majority mandate in 2015.

But to be able to mute the ever-louder protests on his waffling Israel-Gaza positions, ignore the cool greetings while gladhanding in restaurants and see only rainbows in so many storm clouds, it takes a partly delusional, partly narcissistic and mostly rose-coloured-spectacled personality.

What’s harder is maintaining that silver-lining outlook heading into a new year increasingly dark and full of terror.

Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau speaks at a Liberal fundraiser, in Gatineau, Que., Monday, Dec. 11, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Even if you blot out the horrors of the Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Hamas wars, Trudeau’s political realm is a starkly divided nation.

It’s arguably more polarized than even in 1991 when the Keith Spicer Commission detected “a fury in the land” aimed at then-prime minister Brian Mulroney, whose majority Conservative government was reduced to two seats a year later.

It’s West verses Ottawa, Quebec against its own anglophones, the carbon taxed and the tax-exempted, climate change skeptics taking on diehard environmentalists, the vaccinated versus the unvaxxed, Israeli against Palestinian . . . it’s a collective hodgepodge of acrimony which almost defies popular governance by a mere mortal prime minister.

Meanwhile, those poll numbers just keep sagging. While one pollster recently detected a rebound in Liberal fortunes, Nanos Research found only 21 per cent of those surveyed preferred Trudeau as prime minister compared to 33 per cent for Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre.

That underscores how 2023 was the year when voter fear of what Poilievre could do as prime minister was eclipsed by the loathing of Justin Trudeau as prime minister.

It leaves the Liberals stuck with a leader rapidly falling from grace who has no obvious heir apparent, no overt challengers and no intention of quitting.

His vow to lead the Liberals into the next election has now been declared so often and so fervently, Trudeau risks considerable reputational damage should he suddenly admit it was all just a ruse and quit.

The new year could raise or lower the chances of any possible Trudeau rebound as his Liberals enter the last phase of their NDP-partnered lifespan.

If the Canadian economy slides into recession, his opponents pick up even higher-calibre ammunition to shred his rescue efforts.

If Donald Trump gets re-elected, a Trudeau he dislikes would become one of many targets in the avenging president’s sights.

U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talk prior to a NATO round table meeting at The Grove hotel and resort in Watford, Hertfordshire, England, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

If house prices regain upward momentum, Trudeau will be blamed for making the basic home an asset reserved for millionaires.

The desire to rise above so much adversity and stick around for more punishment is even more perplexing because Trudeau already has a considerable legacy to call his own.

Be it pot legalization, the Canada Child Benefit, the daycare subsidies, his throw-open-the-vault pandemic response and fledgling dental care coverage coupled with a national pharmacare program on the 2024 horizon, Justin Trudeau has added popular game-changers to Canadian society which not even Prime Minister Poilievre would dare unravel in a future search for savings.

Those nation-defining programs will bear Justin Trudeau’s name long after he’s retired to Tofino surfing and would be more than enough to allow him to leave today with his head held high.

But . . . still . . . he’s rolling the dice against the odds. Love him or loathe him, it’s hard to not have at least begrudging admiration for Trudeau’s galling, intransigent -- and completely irrational -- personal ambition.

That’s the bottom line for 2023. I’ll be back in 2024. Happy New Year!




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