An Open Letter to Justin Trudeau

Canadian Flag Election 2015

Dear Justin Trudeau,

Congratulations on sweeping the country. I can’t deny that it was pretty exciting to witness something new, and rather surprising, happening on Monday night.

It’s hard to describe what a relief it is to be rid of Stephen Harper’s government, but I think you already get it. You know – and successfully campaigned on the fact – that large numbers of Canadians (even certain Conservatives) have felt demoralized, betrayed, beleaguered, and in some cases personally attacked by Harper’s actions over the last ten years. You say we are tired of cynicism and negativity, and speaking for myself, I can say you’re right. I am. I’m also tired of alienation, corruption, disdain, underhandedness, suppression, discrimination, degradation, secrecy, and embarrassment.

The problem is, we’ve gotten so used to it all. You can see it in the post-election journalism, as well as social media: even now, with Harper gone, many Canadians seem unable to comment with true optimism. There’s this knee-jerk tone of condescension in the discussions of your “hopey-changey” promises – people would rather speak sardonically from a place of disillusionment than be so gullible as to believe the promises of a politician.

I do not vote automatically for a particular party. I do my best to know what the platforms are and what the leaders have to say, looking for progressive and holistic ideas, knowing that party positions on issues can change with the times.

During the last few months, I received campaign emails from Liberal, NDP, and Green parties, and I’ll be honest: your team was the one asking for the most input. Over and over, you said, “Tell me what matters to you.” You made it very easy for voters to express their wishes and needs.

And ultimately, you became the rallying point for the anti-Harper movement. I think it was relatively easy for people to rally around you, for many reasons. I remember talking with my husband about you when you first became leader of the party, and how you had the je ne sais quoi of the Trudeau factor. Although you have not banked on your father’s legacy, there is something kinda epic about electing the son of one of the most famous and controversial Prime Ministers – and Canadians – in history. (As much as we don’t want to be caught getting excited here, people do love a dash of the epic in life.)

Also – and I mean this positively – you’re brand-new. Despite the implications of your name, you are young enough to have been legitimately uninvolved in the scandals that plagued the last Liberal government when it went down.

I also think Harper did the opposite of what he intended when he kept saying, “He’s just not ready.” Young people heard that patronizing tone, no doubt familiar to them, said, “Too young? HA,” and went out to vote in record numbers. I can’t deny that you have a lot of relatable traits for a voter like me, and your youth is one of them.

Justin, here’s the thing. I like a great many of the things you’ve said.

I like the way you talk about investing in clean energy, and finally getting us on the international bandwagon regarding climate change.

I like the respect and compassion you use when speaking to and about all Canadians, including Indigenous peoples, franco-Canadians, Muslims, women, low-income families, new Canadians, and many others who have been maligned and/or marginalized for the last decade – or longer.

I like that you seem determined to prioritize communication, cooperation, and transparency for and between all levels of government.

I like that you realize there are many Canadians who care about more than budgets and taxes. (Seriously, I tried listening to Harper’s concession speech, and I couldn’t even finish; I’m so damn sick of hearing him talk about money, to the exclusion of everything that makes Canada what it is.)

I like what you have to say about the importance and power of Canada’s arts community.

I like your support toward CBC/Radio-Canada.

I really, really like that you promise electoral reform. Wouldn’t it be great if you were the Prime Minister who finally made every vote actually count?

But I do also worry. Your task, when I look at it, seems insurmountable. It’s well-known that you can’t please everyone, but politicians have fallen down trying in the past. Your goals in particular, given the mess you’ve inherited, sound very lofty. It’s hard to move past years of citizens and sectors being pitted against each other.

And I worry a bit about your status. Obviously, you know that many Liberal votes came from the anti-Harper camp, meaning that people are counting on you to be Not Harper. When I think about Bill C-51, the Keystone XL Pipeline, the TPP, and Big Oil lobbying, it makes me worry that you might be A Little Bit Harper. And you have a majority, so if you were at all Harperish, you could run with it. (And then all the people who say “Liberals are just Conservatives in disguise” would have a valid point.)

See? I’m doing it too. A habit of jadedness. I hope I’m wrong about all of that. You did say REAL CHANGE. Canadians have agreed with your mandate, and they’ve sent you in to fix things.

After such a long slog, I just want to be excited and hopeful about Canada. I want to be proud of my country, and inspired by its leader. Therefore, I have decided to believe you. I hereby believe that you really have been, and will be, listening to Canadians, that you sincerely want to make the changes you say, and that your earnest talk of hope and togetherness and caring and diversity and beauty and progress is for real.

Because in all honesty… I love that stuff. Those are the words and ideas that make me feel warm and fuzzy inside, and that make me teary-eyed when I see them in action, especially in my children and students. If this is naïveté, I’m going to embrace it. Pessimism never did get much done. Underneath the disenfranchisement, I am an optimist, and I know Canada is special. It’s an amazing place filled with great people who do great and amazing things. You can enable us to do more of those things. We can be a thrilling example of a wide, sprawling nation, characterized by multiplicity at every level, that not only functions peacefully but leads.

Good luck, Justin. It won’t be easy, and we can’t expect sweeping political changes to go smoothly. Canada isn’t perfect, but it’s awesome. As you say: better is always possible.

***


 

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School Snippets: Student Elections and the stuff we really want from our world

The other week at my school, Grade 5s and 6s participated in hypothetical democracy: student “elections”. I put that in quotes because they don’t actually get to elect anyone – there is no student council or anything – but they get to hear speeches and platforms and read campaign signs, and then vote.

One of the best things about this (in my sentimental opinion) is that the kids who run get to pick their own pretend names. That was one of my favourite things to do as a kid – my sisters and my best friend and I would have elaborate role-playing games that lasted over several days and often involved long sessions of drama-filled dialogue with imaginary people – and our characters (usually “college girls”) always had to have awesome names. My friend N usually picked Tracey, because of the actress who played Carol Seaver on Growing Pains.

tracey-gold-growing-pains-80s

I had a variety of alter egos; I know Samantha was one, and I used Cassandra a lot. In my mind, someone named Cassandra would have to be sophisticated and super-pretty. All the guys would like her.

jennifer-connelly-labyrinth-ball-scene-80s
She might even be as beautiful as this (Jennifer Connelly in Labyrinth).

Anyway, I digress. With some aliases the kids pick, you can tell they’re using names they think are cool – but sometimes they’re just being funny (I think Alice McPickle falls into that category). Continue reading “School Snippets: Student Elections and the stuff we really want from our world”

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