‘Sunny ways’ for Canada’s optimistic new PM

Knock-out: Trudeau tried his hand at boxing before becoming a lawmaker in 2008.

Canada’s new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks forward to a new, more positive politics in his country. Is North America more optimistic than troubled Europe?

Justin Trudeau walked onto the stage to jubilant applause after a long election night in Montreal on Monday. With a voice left hoarse by weeks of campaigning, he praised the Canadian people for choosing a hopeful and ambitious government. ‘Sunny ways, my friends, sunny ways,’ he said. ‘This is what positive politics can do.’

In the days that have followed, he has begun setting out his agenda for the country. After a decade of austerity, he promised deficit spending to invest in infrastructure and help boost the economy. He vowed to improve relationships with Canada’s indigenous peoples, legalise marijuana, and pull the armed forces out of strikes against Islamic State. When Trudeau called his neighbouring president Barack Obama, the two leaders discussed fatherhood, the fight against climate change, and ‘deepening’ the positive relationship between the two countries.

But across the Atlantic, the political mood of 2015 has been far less hopeful. The UK’s election saw the Conservatives triumph with a sober message about the importance of ‘balancing the books’. In Greece, the optimism of an anti-austerity campaign was no match for European banks, and the refugee crisis has sparked bitter rows across the continent.

Why the difference? Polls show that Americans are generally more hopeful about the future than their wealthy European counterparts, and Canada is consistently ranked one of the happiest countries in the world. Some argue that this is because the nations are fairly young; they were largely founded by European immigrants in search of a ‘new world’, and have always offered hope and opportunities for their citizens.

Meanwhile, Europe is burdened by more than a thousand years of war and conflict, with hierarchical class systems that once divided kings from peasants. Its people are more world-weary; they have seen it all before.

Happy go lucky

This is a huge tectonic shift in world politics, say some. The individualistic and hyper-capitalist nations of North America are now becoming global beacons of liberalism. But the many pressures on Europe — from its creaking economies, refugee crisis, and meltdown in the neighbouring Middle East — are forcing its previously liberal governments steadily towards the right.

Not at all, others argue. Europe is full of populist left-wing movements such as Podemos in Spain and Corbynmania in Britain. Also, Canada and the US could scarcely be more different. Only yesterday, Trudeau upset Obama by confirming that he would withdraw his fighter jets from the war in Syria.

You Decide

  1. Is it better to be an optimist or a pessimist?
  2. Does a country’s history affect the happiness of its people today?

Activities

  1. You have just been elected as the leader of your country. Write an acceptance speech, paying careful attention to your tone.
  2. Research a country in North America or Europe and write a profile explaining how its history and geography have shaped its culture.

Some People Say...

“Sunny ways always end in tears.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Surely things are more complicated?
Of course, societies are extremely complex, and we should always be wary of making large generalisations. None of this means that everyone in Canada is always optimistic, just because their prime minister is! But sometimes it is still worth taking a long view, and thinking about how overall trends and histories can shape the culture we live in.
Is it wrong to be pessimistic?
There’s nothing wrong with taking the time to be cautious or preparing yourself for unhappy consequences; it’s healthy to understand that things won’t always go your way. But try not to let pessimism stop you from enjoying the good things in life, or taking risks occasionally — even if they don’t go your way. As with most things, it’s all about finding the right balance.

Word Watch

Deficit spending
Canada has fairly low debts compared to many other developed nations, but its economy is growing slowly. By government spending on building roads and other projects, Trudeau hopes to boost the economy overall.
Indigenous peoples
There are three officially recognised groups of indigenous people in Canada: First Nations (once called ‘Indian’), Métis and Innuit. Trudeau has promised to open an inquiry into Canada’s ‘missing and murdered indigenous women and girls’.
Greece
After months of negotiations with EU leaders and the ‘Troika’ (EC,ECB, IMF) Greece agreed to implement austerity measures in exchange for bailout money.
Refugee crisis
Around 600,000 migrants have arrived in Europe by sea so far this year.
Polls show
‘Good day?’ See the final link in Become An Expert: in a Pew Research survey from 2014, pollsters used this question as an ice-breaker and reported surprisingly insightful results.
Middle East
Many countries in the Middle East have fairly stable governments and economies. But others are in turmoil after decades of conflict, now made worse by Islamic State.

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