Aesop, sunny days, and Justin Trudeau
By Peter Ewart
Justin Trudeau beamed before a cheering crowd of supporters in Montreal on the night of his election victory. “Sunny days, my friends. Sunny days,” he repeated, promising a new way of doing things in the country (1).
With “sunny days”, Trudeau was harkening back to a term often flaunted by Liberal Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier over 100 years ago. At the Liberal Party Convention in 2014, Trudeau first used the term to draw a sharp comparison between himself as “Mr. Nice” and then Prime Minister Stephen Harper as “Mr. Nasty.”
Similar to Barack Obama’s “hope and change” campaign of 2008, this comparison was to become a fundamental part of Trudeau’s election strategy, reflected again and again in Liberal Party messaging.
So what about this “sunny days” expression? Why is it being brought up now? As historian Frances Russell notes, it comes from one of the fables of Aesop, the ancient Greek writer (2).
Here is how she sums up the fable: “Aesop tells the story of the sun and the wind arguing over who was more powerful, based on which one could convince [a] traveler to shed his coat. The wind proceeds to try to blow the coat away. But the harder the wind blows, the tighter the traveler bundles himself inside the coat. The sun decides to do the opposite and shine brightly and warmly on the traveler. The sun soon succeeds in getting the traveler to remove his coat, winning the contest.”
As Liberal Opposition leader, Laurier used the fable to criticize the Conservative federal government of his day over its fierce fight with the Manitoba government regarding Manitoba’s bilingual school system. Instead of threatening and raging, Laurier proposed his own “sunny way” of getting the Manitoba government to agree to the federal demand. And that was to create a different atmosphere by sitting down with the Manitoba Premier and urging him to be patriotic, and “just and fair.”
It all sounds so nice and cozy. But Aesop’s fable deserves some closer reading. It is noteworthy that the issue in the fable is never whether the man should have the choice to keep his coat on or take it off. Rather, it is simply what method should be used to compel him to take it off, i.e. the wind blowing or the sun heating things up.
Furthermore, both the sun and wind each use a form of pressure or coercion to accomplish the aim they have both agreed upon. In all of this, the man is a passive object, something to be acted upon, something to be manipulated.
What are the implications of this “sunny days” approach for the Canadian people?
Like the Conservatives, the Liberal Party is, and always has been, a leading party of the economic and political Establishment. This Establishment is dominated today by giant globalized corporate and banking interests. And it has an agenda.
This agenda includes privatization, out-sourcing of manufacturing, austerity, de-regulation, slashing of social programs, erosion of civil rights, as well as the increasing integration of the Canadian economy into a “United States of North America” under the thumb of these giant corporate interests.
The Harper government implemented this agenda, as did the Liberal Chretien and Martin governments that preceded it.
None of these governments disputed the essentials of what had to be done, rather the main difference has always been how it is to be done.
In that regard, Stephen Harper used an incremental approach, the aim being to impose a barrage of smaller changes in the hopes that people would not notice or feel threatened, i.e. the analogy of the frog in the pot of water gradually being heated up. But eventually, many people did notice, and that is where Mr. Nasty came into play, demonizing opponents and creating an atmosphere of fear and division.
Factions within the Establishment began to feel that Harper’s approach was no longer working and had become stalled. Other corporate factions, such as the big television networks, felt out of favor and wanted a bigger part of the action. Still others worried about growing opposition from First Nations and other sections of the people to resource and pipeline projects.
Enter Liberal Justin Trudeau with his “sunny days”. Essentially, Trudeau has promised the Establishment that he can get Canadians to remove their coats more effectively than Harper’s approach.
Since the Conservative defeat on October 19th, even leadership contender Jason Kenney has chimed in with a similar comment. According to Kenney, Conservatives “need a conservatism that is sunnier and more optimistic than what we have sometimes” (3).
For now, it looks like the new Liberal government will be attempting to use “sunny ways” in its dealings with First Nations, provinces, environmentalists, small and medium businesses, and the citizenry as a whole.
But sunny days can quickly change into stormy ones, especially when people realize that the same old Establishment agenda is at work.
Peter Ewart is a columnist and writer based in Prince George, British Columbia. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Puzic, Sonja. “’Sunny ways’: Justin Trudeau celebrates historic Liberal victory.” CTV News. Oct. 19, 2015.
- Russell, Frances. “Justin Trudeau banks on Laurier’s sunny ways and U.S. Democratic strategies for 2015.” National Newswatch. Feb. 24, 2014.
- Yakabuski, Konrad. “Canadian right gets set for healthy debate.” Globe and Mail. Oct. 21, 2015.