Votes don't split, Justin Trudeau

Dear Mr. Trudeau,

First off, thank you for putting yourself on the line for leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada. Names notwithstanding, the act is one that is necessarily of self-sacrifice, since the job of leading is often thankless, rarely appreciated for what it delivers, and may very well likely make you age before your time. It is the call of duty that is more admirable, that you would take on a responsibility that most Canadians would prefer to avoid. It will be refreshing to have a younger perspective on what has become a party bogged down in its past mistakes, real and perceived, and how that party could be transformed into something more relevant.

It is that relevance of which I am concerned. I am currently sitting in Calgary Centre, awaiting the outcome of a by-election. It’s been an interesting contest, and to some degree, has become even a microcosm of what we’ve seen across Canada. The same messages, the same tactics, and the same mistakes. It will be a turning point, of that I have little doubt, even if (regrettably) the “status quo” is maintained — there are lessons to be learned, here, Mr. Trudeau. And a very important one to which you need to pay very close attention:

Votes do not “split”.

This has been heard for decades in Canada — I remember this from when you and I were children (we are of the same era): people worried that unless there was some form of unity, people would split votes in the wrong place, and the “wrong” side would win an election. Indeed, with the way our electoral system works, association to a “right” or “left” tends to lead to a “right” victory, merely due to lack of options; the “left” necessarily loses due to dilution.

And here we arrive at the abhorrent use of “splitting votes”, which I’ve heard far too many times over the last few weeks. And nearly every single one of these utterances seemed to come from the Liberal candidate. He has been using fear as his tactic, to convince potential voters in Calgary Centre that if they didn’t vote for him, that the Conservative would win (effectively) by default. If this is the sign of the Liberal strategy to come, Mr. Trudeau, then do yourself a favour and please step down. The Trudeau name has stood for far greater things than that, and it does not need to be sullied by pedantic schoolyard wailing.

Votes do not split, Mr. Trudeau. You know this to be true. If you fear a split vote, what you are really fearing is that no-one comprehends your political platform, that your message is not understood or not liked, and that you are failing to inspire people to listen. The only outcome of such lack of clarity and focus is a lack of support. Unity does not come from saying that other options are worse than your own mess of a statement.

Far too often, journalists and politicians alike shoehorn Canadians into either the “left” or the “right” sides when it comes to politics, to the detriment of reason. Reason — and history — state that we Canadians believe in people and ideas, that given a strong leader, we will gladly follow. This has happened since the days of Confederation, and has happened ever since. It is when we lack a strong leader that we founder, and allow fear to make our decisions for us.

You remember Mr. Layton. He may very well be remembered for more than a generation for a single election, a singular point in Canadian political history when he side-stepped fear, and instead did something that no other political has dared attempt in a very long time: he made us dream. He made us smile at the thought of hope. And then he made us want it so badly that tens of thousands of Canadians — myself included — voted differently than we had before. He went beyond the name-calling and past the mudslinging, and went directly to the people and asked them to think of a Canada that we’ve all been longing to see again, one we’ve thought lost. Losing Mr. Layton has turned out to be a tremendous tragedy for Canada, for we lost our path to that future, and are again struggling in the dark.

So what say you, Mr. Trudeau? Will you follow the same steps, dancing to the same tune? Or will you dare to sing of higher standards? Will you take your party into the future by making Canadians want to believe? Will you inspire them to feel civic duty again, get out of their homes and vote? Will you restore a belief in our nation that is not challenged by Federal draconianism, where Canadians come before corporations, and we do not fear for our children’s future?

So why you? Why not say this openly to all of our political leaders? To all the candidates of the Liberal leadership? If they choose to listen, we will all be better for it, but it’s been clear that few would. They continue to use fear to isolate, not encourage. This is why Mr. Layton’s message was so well-received — we’re tired of the isolation, and we want to live together as a nation.

I’ve chosen you because of your background, not just as the son of a former Prime Minister, but one who has experienced the youth programmes, the political and ideological differences (let alone lingua franca), has lived the life of a politician for a few years and still retains the burning fire to do better. That’s the same burning desire we all need to feel. You have presence in parliament, Canadian politics, and — especially — of mind. Someone who is recognized by many, and a voice that can be heard in the dark.

The Liberal party stands as perhaps the only party than can effectively bridge the “left” and “right” sides of our country, avoiding the extremism that comes from both sides. Conservative elements distrustful of perceived rampant social spending, Progressives terrified of living in a gestapo nation. A message of hope from the centre will succeed, but the centre needs to have hope. And all we see right now is the fear of division.

Hope eradicates fear. It gives us reason to rise in the morning, helps us look beyond our troubling present to see future solutions, allows us to believe in something that goes beyond ourselves. We need to hope that there is something better, something more meaningful.

You stepped to the podium, Mr. Trudeau. I hope you have something worth hearing.

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