The placid country of Canada, which is rarely in the international news—and that is usually a good thing—has experienced nothing less than a political upheaval in recent days. On 19 October, the Conservative government, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, which had been in power for just under a decade—a long time in Canadian politics—was unceremoniously tossed out by the voters. Replacing Harper and the Tories is the incoming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, leading a resurgent Liberal party, which had been all but relegated to the dustbin of history by commentators in recent years.

What is most fascinating about this turn of events, especially for someone like me who has been shuttling regularly between Canada and India for the past many years, is the uncanny series of similarities between the protagonists in the Canadian election drama and their counterparts here in India.

The visceral hatred felt by the liberal intelligentsia for the now departed Harper and the Conservatives is matched only by the analogous hatred of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and for similar reasons. Consider what commentator Christie Blatchford had to say after Harper’s defeat, writing in the National Post: “The fact is, Harper is an outsider who rejected…the Laurentian elites, that small permanent governing class made up of professional politicians, bureaucrats, academics and journalists from the same central Canadian cities near or by the St. Lawrence River, who share the same values, and, worse, in my view, the sure conviction that they’re the only values worth holding."

Replace Harper with Modi, and Laurentian elites with Lutyens Delhi elites, and the parallel is exact. Both leaders threatened the cosy hegemony of a supposedly liberal—in reality, self-serving, opportunistic, and at times explicitly venal—elite class tied umbilically over decades with a vast, interconnected, nepotistic, and crony-driven patronage network presided over by each country’s self-presumed natural party of government—the Liberals in Canada and the Congress in India. Commentator David Frum, writing in The New York Times in 2005, shrewdly observed that the Liberals and the Congress are not parties of principle, as they profess to be, but rather what political scientists refer to as brokerage parties—the classic European example being the erstwhile Christian Democrats of Italy. Such a party, Frum argued, is “a political entity without fixed principles or policies that exploits the power of the central state to bribe or bully incompatible constituencies to join together to share the spoils of government". Frum hit the bullseye.

The analogy between the Liberals and the Congress at the present moment is deliciously apt. Canada’s new leader, Justin Trudeau, is young, photogenic, articulate and charismatic; yet he is politically untested and without any depth of background in politics or policy, and there is legitimate concern—reportedly whispered even by senior leaders of his own party—about whether he has the intellect or the gravitas to deal with the economy, foreign relations, or the rising threat of radical Islam and homegrown terror, the latter of which he has appeared to pooh-pooh.

He also happens to be a dynastic politician, the son of an iconic former prime minister, Pierre Trudeau, widely credited with fixing what one may dub the “idea of Canada" as one defined by socialism in economic policy, bilingualism in language policy—English and French—and multiculturalism in social policy. The father cut a glamorous figure on the world stage, wore a rose in his lapel, and tried to steer Canada clear of its natural and historical ally, the US, whom he ended up alienating. He also pursued well-intentioned but ultimately debilitating economic policies, such as tightening government control over socialized medicine, restricting foreign investment, and transferring the wealth derived from the country’s vast national resources from those provinces which possessed them into the coffers of the centre. Loved by writers and artists at home and broad, he almost single-handedly managed to wreck Canada’s economy. Does this sketch happen to remind you of anyone in particular?

Meanwhile, the son’s principal accomplishment to date—apart from winning the recent election, for which he deserves genuine credit—seems to be bearing his father’s surname, and claiming his political legacy—which might also have had something to do with his recent victory. Self-proclaimed acolytes of the idea of India and devotees of the cult of Jawaharlal Nehru can but salivate at Justin Trudeau’s political success, given the huge efforts they’ve devoted to promoting the current dynastic scion, Rahul Gandhi. But, of course, no one can accuse Gandhi of being charismatic or of connecting with the urban youth, who were at the vanguard of Trudeau’s recent victory.

Yet, what really cemented the Liberals’ electoral triumph is the political reality that Canada is not really a conservative country, at least not yet—the political centre of gravity is still left of centre. Harper’s erstwhile winning coalition of social and economic conservatives fell apart, with only the former sticking with him. The outcome was certain electoral defeat. Now there’s something that Modi and the BJP ought to ponder.

Every fortnight, In the Margins explores the intersection of economics, politics and public policy to help cast light on current affairs.

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