OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau just keeps on moving. On one day, he’s at a Montreal arena with the visiting Chinese premier dropping a ceremonial puck. Both are wearing Canadiens hockey sweaters. On another, he’s thousands of miles away in British Columbia greeting the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at the start of a royal visit. Then he’s in southern Ontario popping the keg at a local Oktoberfest.
A year after he led the Liberal Party to a surprise election victory, the 44-year-old Trudeau is still crisscrossing the country as if he were in the middle of a campaign, turning up everywhere, giving speeches, posing for selfies, spreading his charm. It’s a formula that’s clearly working.
A poll by Ipsos Public Affairs for Global News made public Tuesday shows that 64 percent of Canadians approve of his government’s performance. Among 18- to 34-year-olds, it’s a remarkable 78 percent. According to the poll, 58 percent of Canadians say that Trudeau has met or exceeded their expectations.
At a time when Western governments are facing an increasingly divided and fractious electorate and leaders are hanging on for dear life, Trudeau is in an enviable position.
Nik Nanos, chairman of the polling firm Nanos Research, has come up with numbers similar to those found by Ipsos. Repeated predictions that Trudeau’s honeymoon with the electorate is ending appear to have been proven wrong.
“Nothing has occurred in the last 12 months that has negatively affected his personal brand and his popularity,” Nanos said in an interview.
The Liberal government made a raft of promises in the 2015 election, moving ahead quickly on a middle-class tax cut and expansion of the government-backed Canada Pension Plan, welcoming 25,000 Syrian refugees and appointing an inquiry commission to look into missing and murdered indigenous women. It has also promised to legalize marijuana and reform the electoral system.
But, above all, Nanos says, Trudeau is a sharp stylistic change from his immediate predecessor, the dour and cerebral Stephen Harper, who clearly hated retail politics. “Trudeau’s idea of being prime minister is to be out there listening to Canadians and engaging Canadians. For Stephen Harper, being prime minister meant showing up at the office, reading his files and making decisions,” he said.
What distinguishes Canada’s Liberals from parties in the United States, Britain and Germany, Nanos said, is their rejection of wedge politics on issues such as immigration. “They’re not practicing divisive politics as they govern,” he said.
Trudeau’s search for consensus-style politics is made easier because Canada has less sharp social and economic divisions compared with the United States.
Miles Corak, an economist at the University of Ottawa who studies social mobility in the United States and Canada, says the differences between the two countries are especially sharp at the bottom and top of the income ladder.
“To be in the lower fifth [of the population] in the U.S. means a much lower level of income than in Canada,” he said in an interview. And at the top, “the cutoff to be in the top 1 percent in Canada is around $200,000, while in the U.S., it’s at least double that.”
Corak, who taught at Harvard as a visiting professor last year, said the average social mobility in Canada ends up being twice as great as in the United States, partly because of significant variability in the quality of American public education. “Rags to riches is actually greater in Canada,” he said. And though Canadians and Americans share similar values and personal goals for success in life, Canadians are more likely to believe that government helps rather than hinders their quest for that success.
Also helping Trudeau politically is disarray in the rival Conservative and New Democratic parties, both of which are still in the quest for permanent leaders. As many as a dozen candidates are vying for the Conservative leadership, to be decided in May, with no obvious front-runner yet.
Although Canada’s economy is slow and tough decisions on divisive issues such as climate change and energy pipelines are on the horizon, Trudeau’s honeymoon shows no signs of ending.