How our collective nightmare ended and we woke up with Justin


Before he was elected last week, Justin Trudeau had never crossed my mind as a potential Prime Minister. I had Tom Mulcair all saddled up for that job, or as a strong opposition leader in a minority government.

Beside Mulcair rode the spectre of Stephen Harper, who still had an excellent chance of poisoning his way to victory, right up to the day.

But then Justin Trudeau overtook them both, the Shiny Pony™ of the Liberal party.

It was as if I found Justin on election night, by surprise, like you find the person you know instantly that you’re going to marry. They come out of nowhere, these mysteriously perfect mates, if they come at all. When you’re unhappily hitched — like we were in our 10-year forced marriage to Stephen Harper — it’s even more unlikely. Toward the end, he was like the guy who beats all the desire out of you and still accuses you of having sex with other men. In a relationship like that, your whole being is fully occupied with trying to stop things from getting any worse.

And that’s where we were, many of us, on election night, feeling crazier and crazier. We were captivated by Stephen Harper’s every action over the last weeks and months, each move more unbelievable and insulting than the last. Most of what he did seemed designed to send a message, more than anything substantial related to say, governing. He seemed to speak in ideographs: those words and phrases that, once spoken, take root in the psyche of the listener, with no more effort required: Barbaric Cultural Practices. Fair Elections. Canada’s Economic Action Plan. First Nations Financial Transparency Act. He went beyond national nightmare and into the political equivalent of sleep paralysis.

Every day brought the end to another path back to who used to be: public institutions underfunded or dismantled, knowledge destroyed or left uncollected, crown lands and lakes left unprotected. In the last days before the election, our very way of communicating with each other was scrambled. We read garbled, nonsensical endorsements and full, front page wrap-around ads in all the daily newspapers (in Elections Canada colours and fonts, to boot), and heard nothing but platitudes and code from the CBC, which had just quietly announced the sale of its real estate holdings across country. For its part, the corporate and right-wing media presented Justin Trudeau as a dilettante, a debutante and a dabbler. He’s a lightweight, they said, knowingly. Just like his mother.

It felt like no one was there to really analyze the campaign, to filter anything out of the dogwhistles, misogyny, xenophobia and sneers. Harper had, as he had promised, made Canada unrecognizable.

And then it happened.

Miracle number one: Voting together to get the Conservatives out, riding by riding, east to west. Miracle number two: When the fog cleared, Justin Trudeau was there.

We were like lovers, Justin and us, talking all night, looking into each other’s eyes, tracing each other’s scars with our fingertips. And when we told each other what we wanted for our future, his list was the same as ours: an immediate inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women, the return to respect for the public service, an end to all of our wars, internal and external, spoken and not: against First Nations, climate change, women, drugs. A return of Canada to the world stage, starting with the Paris climate talks.

All this and electoral reform. Swoon!

We woke next to Justin with his blue eyes and his pretty hair and his youth and his open, guileless face, and thought: What’s wrong any of this? Nothing. Nothing at all.

It was only days later we were able to say: And you know what, you assholes? We like his mother. We’ve known that family all our lives, after all. We met his beautiful yogini  wife. We have a whole internet of baby pictures. We know exactly where he comes from, because we grew up there too: better times. When Margaret Trudeau cradled Justin’s face in her hands on election night, she cradled ours too.

So what’s next in our love affair with Justin Trudeau? The honeymoon, of course. We’ll bat our eyelashes when we ask for all the things we want back: the CBC, home mail delivery, social programs, protection of the environment, respect for the arts. Later, in bed, we can go deep into the things we want changed, the senate, the electoral system that can give that kind of power to someone like Stephen Harper in the first place. When we get bored of all that, we’ll tease each other with ideas for new and ridiculous war memorials. We will say words like “Prorogue,” and “Omnibus” and “Economic Action Plan” as we dissolve into fits of giggles.

Soon we’ll get serious, of course, but for now, those pipelines go straight to my heart. And C-51? Just a way for him to know all about me.

Will it be an enduring love? Who knows.

Sometimes a new romance’s only role is to remind us we’re alive.

Carle Steel left with the film industry but still sends us postcards.