10 years on, who will save Trudeau's legacy?

L'idée fédérale

In the decade since Pierre Trudeau passed away, Canada has become less Liberal in political appearance and in policy outlook.
When the former prime minister was laid to rest in October 2000, his party totally dominated the federal scene. Indeed, in the weeks after Trudeau's state funeral, Jean Chrétien went on to win his third consecutive majority, dealing in the process a decisive enough blow to sovereigntist fortunes in Quebec that the result prompted then-premier Lucien Bouchard to quit politics a few months later.
But 10 years later, the Liberals are on the defensive or on the run from coast to coast to coast and while Trudeau's name lives on in the House of Commons through his son Justin, it rarely crosses the lips of his successor, except on commemorative occasions.
The anniversary week found Michael Ignatieff preaching to the formerly converted in the riding of Outremont.
On Monday night, the Montreal federalist fortress that the Liberals lost to the NDP under Stéphane Dion was the launching point of a fall series of town halls featuring Ignatieff.
It is hard to think of a Canadian riding where French-English bilingualism is more a feature of daily life than multicultural Outremont, but even there Ignatieff had to fend off pointed criticism of his party's support for a bilingual Supreme Court bench.
As Ignatieff was talking up language rights and other federal issues in Montreal, New Brunswick premier Shawn Graham — a leading member of the post-Trudeau Liberal generation — was being consigned to the dustbin of history after just one mandate in power.
Graham's defeat could be a harbinger of more provincial defeats to come for the Liberals.
By the end of the current provincial electoral cycle, PEI's Joe Ghiz could be the only government leader to still bear the Liberal label. There is a real possibility that the party that built Canada's social union in the sixties and seventies could have little representation of any kind at the table of the upcoming renegotiation of the federal-provincial fiscal arrangements that underpin Medicare.
With a year to go to the next Ontario election, the winds of change are battering premier Dalton McGuinty's third-term government.
A solid majority of Quebecers would rather have Premier Jean Charest resign than undergo the second half of his third term. In British Columbia, the tide turned against Premier Gordon Campbell some time ago.
These days, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's practice of starting every news conference in French; his recent choice of a bilingual governor-general; the zeal with which his ambitious ministers are polishing up their bilingual skills in preparation for the day the Conservative leadership opens up are tokens of Trudeau's continuing impact on Canada's national life.
But beyond those public nods to Canada's linguistic duality, Trudeau's imprint on the national psyche is really fading.
The current federal government — including its prime minister — is genetically predisposed to be suspicious of the impact of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms on the country.
The multiculturalism that Trudeau saw as part of the foundation of a civic form of Canadian nationalism is increasingly viewed as a fracture-inducing stress point.
A decade after his passing, no national party boasts a strong Quebec presence within its caucus.
Moreover there is little apparent interest among Trudeau's fellow francophones and not much appetite in the rest of the country for a new Quebec generation of so-called wise men/women to come to Parliament Hill — in the manner that Trudeau, Jean Marchand and Gérard Pelletier did in the mid-sixties.
If there is another prime minister from Quebec currently in the making, he or she is still very much a dark horse.
Chantal Hebert is a national affairs writer. Her column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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