Final election speeches from the leaders reveal the men within

Mulcair's was grandfatherly, Harper's tragic and and Trudeau's hopeful

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VANCOUVER, B.C. Oct 25, 2015/ Troy Media/ – At the end of a long day of election returns, we heard a trio of speeches from the leaders of the three major parties. They were, in turns, grandfatherly, tragic and hopeful.

The NDP’s Tom Mulcair’s swansong was delivered without excess emotion, and to me was grandfatherly and succinct. He said absolutely what had to be said, and managed a tone of voice and overall demeanour that was gracious, even friendly.

In defeat he sounded better than on most days on the campaign trail. One sensed he was glad it had all come to this end. He noted the strains of public life on his family. He also thanked with genuine sentiment all of the campaign workers who had advanced the NDP cause.

Stephen Harper bounced onto the stage in Calgary’s Convention Centre very much still in campaign mode. He entered the room with his wife Laureen, who joined a mixed crowd of ‘had to be there loyalists’ and Calgary Heritage riding volunteers. There were about half the attendees as were present for 2011’s majority election party.

You could sense Harper’s energy was flagging (he is 56 years old), as his speech veered off into campaign talking points with shout-outs to friends and supporters. He referenced a phone call to Justin Trudeau to congratulate him on his victory, but made no reference to Tom Mulcair. There was also a fulsome thanks to Ben, Rachel and Laureen for the family’s support.

We were reminded for the final time about the dangerous, fearful times in which Canadians live, about the absolutes of balanced budgets and small government, and the strong financial guidance provided by his government. Given the career moment of a lifetime to loosen up, to show some empathy, to reach out to the other 70 per cent of Canadians, he predictably went cold.

His party base looked bleekly dutiful, Caucasian and tired. Harper didn’t even acknowledge that he had just advised the Conservative Party president that he was stepping down as leader. That was left for a press release to follow the last words. One was left with a sense of defeat and finality.

And then it was Justin Trudeau and Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau’s turn. They entered a Montreal ballroom looking youthful, beautiful and very much in love. She blew a fond kiss to the audience as she seated herself behind her husband, radiant in the moment.

The prime minister-elect then began a longish (24 minutes) speech, fluent in French and English, focusing on the nature of the choice that 39.5 per cent of the voting public had just made. It was a choice “for the angels of the better side of our nature.” It was a vote for hope, not fear; for inclusion rather than exclusion.

In perhaps the classic line of the new PM’s first speech, he appealed for understanding that those who voted Conservative, who “are not our enemies; they are our neighbours.” There was also a reference to a Muslim woman, wearing a chadoor at an Ontario rally, who brought forward her baby for Trudeau to hold, “In the hopes that her child could grow up in a society that enabled her freedom of choice.”

It would be difficult to think of an example that more tellingly defined the Liberal morality in this long election campaign.

Helpfully, the CBC television coverage of the evening included an interview with national elder statesman, Joe Clark. When asked to compare the new PM to his father, he noted that both Trudeaus had the good fortune to be in tune with their times. Their platforms and personalities fit the prevailing national zeitgeist. They were, in the best sense, the men for their moments. It was hard to hear this without thinking of how definitively Stephen Harper’s moment had now passed.

In an interview with the CBC, Bob Rae observed that while father and son were truly different men, both embraced a physical and mental discipline that served them well. After a brutal 78-day election campaign, looking at the new PM proved Rae’s point. He is ready.

Mike Robinson has been CEO of three Canadian NGOs: the Arctic Institute of North America, the Glenbow Museum, and the Bill Reid Gallery.

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