As a lifelong Liberal who has been seriously contemplating going Conservative in the last few years, I’m among many who were simply tired of the old Liberal brand. At the same time, for all the “Harper-is-the-devil” rhetoric going on, I’ve found Stephen Harper and the CPC government to be mostly competent and have felt they’ve done a mostly good job running the country for the better part of the last decade.
Harper came along at a time when the Chretien Liberals vs Martin Liberals were just ready to break at the seam and filled a leadership void that certainly wasn’t going to be filled by wet-sock personalities like Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff.
Now, along comes Justin Trudeau and the “Justin” campaign at just the right time. If history has shown anything, it’s that after a long reign of conservative governance, people are usually ready for a fresh liberal to step in and lighten the mood a bit. Exhibit A: Consecutive PC governments in Canada in the 80s led to Jean Chretien and the Liberals. Exhibit B: Consecutive Bush governments in the States led to Barack Obama and the Democrats.
And perhaps the best example of all: The “Orange Wave” of the last federal election. Jack Layton and the NDP may not have won the election, but if a party as vapid and pointless as the NDP can win as many seats as they did based off one guy’s smile and sunny personality, it shows just how much the Canadian people are looking for a change of pace.
“Justin” branding is very smart
Whether you believe in Trudeau or not, it’s hard to dismiss the fact that he comes across as an affable fellow who has a good personality and is generally well-liked. Harper, on the other hand, comes across as Darth Vader on his sunniest of days. He’s basically Canada’s answer to Dick Cheney, only he doesn’t shoot people in the face.
When you think of our current PM, whether you like him or not, you think “Harper.” You don’t think “Stephen,” “Steve,” or even “Stephen Harper.” People say his last name with disdain or admiration on their tongues, but you never hear a tone of joy or pleasantness.
When you think of the name “Trudeau,” you think of the former prime minister who was King of Canada in the 70s and early 80s. When you think of his son, you think “Justin” – he has such strong name recognition that people don’t even use his last name when they talk about him, and his campaign has intelligently seized on that.
Justin Trudeau has been a little light on policy so far, but he has that intangible leadership quality that politicians need to be successful at the highest level, and comes across as the anti-Harper. When they hit the trenches in the next election campaign, it’ll be Harper vs Justin, and with his first real competition for the top job, Harper will be in for real challenge to hold on to power against a much more likable opponent.