I was in Debre Libanos, Ethiopia, visiting family, when the conversation turned to Canadian politics.
My uncle reflected on the Canada he understood and remembered. In a world where many wondered where Canada had been under Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decade, he detailed the Canada he remembered. This included having an international perspective, respect for international institutions such as the United Nations, and a Canadian society that acted like a neighbour when disasters struck.
From the the Ethiopian famine of 1984 or the Asian Tsunami of almost a decade ago, Canada was an admired society that often raised its voice and resources when injustice occurred. I also think of South Africa during the apartheid regime, of Burma and Cyprus. I think of the Canada that acted on behalf of the African South Asian victims of Idi Amin and the nation that acted on behalf of the modern-day victims of Bashar as-Assad’s brutality.
My uncle talked about the only prime minister he knew in glowing terms, the late Pierre Trudeau. Then, he asked, what happened to Canada recently? I explained to him that Justin Trudeau, his son, happened.
For a number of hours, under beautiful Ethiopian weather, the politics of Canada became the only topic of our conversation. The reality is, Justin Trudeau became PM without a Rhodes scholarship like John Turner, the life-time political electoral success of Jean Chretien, the diplomatic experience and depth of Lester B. Pearson, or the unique cerebral qualities of his father.
What he had was just a controversial last name, youthful vigour, and an understanding of people. It is proving more than enough.
Since his election, he has been well received and respected by many. What is personally appealing about him is the people he chose to surround himself with, the standards he lives by and the ideals he has embraced since being elected prime minister. History one day will rightfully credit him for saving the Liberal Party of Canada from near death and ending the ultra-conservative Harper era.
I explained to my uncle how Justin Trudeau has brought much respect and substance to our politics.
I told him how he has started to make gender parity the norm, diversity our strength, compassion our tradition and the issue of indigenous Canadians, the concern of all Canadians. I explained how his devotion to his family, his eloquence in both of Canada’s official languages and his willingness to engage everyday Canadians in political discussion is bringing us closer together.
The prime minister has opened up his own family’s struggle with mental health, and how he has been a powerful defender of young people. I told my uncle about his concerns for refugees and Canada’s neglected indigenous people and how he has been an advocate for what is right and not just popular. This is what should be expected from our political leaders — the standard to pick the leaders of the future. This is essentially the ingredients of what makes us all proud to be Canadians and defenders of our traditional values — whether we are in a rural part of Ethiopia or within Canada.
We saw some of that mojo in Washington D.C. a week ago, as the PM made his mark next to President Barrack Obama. I was not old enough to have experienced, what former CBC reporter Brian Stewart, once described as “Trudeaumania” half a century ago, nor had I the opportunity to endorse a “just society” signature of Pierre Elliott Trudeau. However, I welcome, embrace and celebrate the Justin Trudeau era.
With this leader at Canada’s helm, perhaps, the world will no longer ask us, “Whatever happened to Canada?” They will have their answer in the deeds we do as a nation and the values we will aim to live by.