Justin Trudeau is like litmus paper. Mention his name at a dinner party and the conversation erupts as people declare themselves to be in the “pro” and “anti” camps. The “anti” camp (usually men) roll their eyes and complain that the charity boxing match with Senator Patrick Brazeau was “grandstanding”. The “pro” camp (usually women) laugh indulgently and give him credit for chutzpah.
Then we get serious. Can Trudeau lead the Liberal party? If he wins the leadership race will he be able to hold his own against Harper and Mulcair?
The men are dismissive—he’s too young and inexperienced, he’s making his move too soon, he’s only got one chance to become leader, why blow it by running too early?
The women disagree. Trudeau is young, energetic, charismatic…and shrewd. Consider the dynamics of that now famous charity boxing match. Brazeau was a martial arts expert and the three-to-one favourite to win. If Trudeau got clobbered we wouldn’t be surprised, he was outclassed by a superior athlete. If Trudeau won, it would be his Rocky moment. Either way he showed physical courage by getting into the ring and it didn’t matter what happened as long as he didn’t get killed.
The same holds true for the Liberal leadership race. If Trudeau loses, it’s because he’s young and was outperformed by a more experienced candidate—he’ll learn from that experience and come back even stronger the next time. But if he wins, it’s Trudeaumania all over again. He’s got absolutely nothing to lose.
To be fair to his critics, the most commonly voiced objection to Trudeau’s run for the leadership is that he lacks experience. He just hasn’t lived long enough to understand the problems that beset Canadians today. Implicit in that objection is a complete disregard for Trudeau’s success at wrestling the riding of Papineau from the grasp of the Bloc Quebecois in 2008.
Papineau is a riding “…of halai butchers and Haitian grocers, brick triplexes and Quebec designer boutiques…”* Trudeau won the riding twice. Why? Because he works hard. He shows up at community meetings, he understands the issues of an ethnically diverse riding and makes sensible proposals.* Trudeau has the common touch and he listens. In other words, he’s a good MP.
Is being a good MP enough? Maybe not, but one thing is clear, the Liberal Party cannot afford another uninspiring leader like the overly earnest Stéphane Dion or the academic Michael Ignatiff.
And in today’s post-financial meltdown, bank scandal ridden world the Liberals don’t need an investment banker like the Mark Carney, the head of the Bank of Canada. Any voter looking for a political leader with a focus on the maintaining the health of the private sector need look no further than Mr Harper.
It’s too early to say that Justin Trudeau will win the Liberal party leadership in April 2013, but he’s certainly started out with a bang. The first stop of his leadership campaign was Calgary–a savvy move given how much Albertans despise the Liberals and Pierre Eliot Trudeau. Thirty-two years after the passage of the National Energy Policy most Albertans will still vote for a bale of hay (or Rob Anders) rather than waste a vote on a Liberal candidate.
Trudeau tackled this thorny issue head-on. He assured Calgarians that (unlike Thomas Mulcair) he would never use “…the wealth of the west as a wedge to gain votes in the east”. **
Trudeau also discussed the most contentious issue facing Canada today: the future of the oil sands. He said: “ There is not a province in this country that would find 170 billion barrels of oil and leave it in the ground. We must bridge the gaps between those who are indifferent to the destruction of our natural environment and those who would shut it down completely”.
Granted, bridging the gap will take patience, cooperation and transparency, but recognizing the need to bridge that gap is a critical first step that has not been suggested by either Mr Harper or Mr Mulcair.
Finally, Trudeau knows how to connect with a crowd. He looked at the 400 odd liberals packed into the basement at the Dashmesh Seniors’ Centre in northeast Calgary and said: “You’re not here because it makes you popular. You’re not Liberals in Calgary because it helps you network. You’re here because you believe”.
“You believe”. Grand words that would sound corny coming from anyone else, but not easily dismissed if they spring from the recognition that politics in the 21st century must change. Governments must address the inequities created by the “corporatization” of the public service and the pain that’s caused to the young, the sick and the elderly all across Canada. Governments must shift the balance of power between the 1% who make the key economic decisions and the 99% who are dragged along in the undercurrent.
Ultimately that’s what the Liberal leadership race is all about—who is best qualified to gather up the ragged band of liberal voters scattered across this country and unite them under an optimistic banner that gives us hope for the future.
OK, I’m turning the soapbox over to you…what do you think? Are the guys around the dinner table put off by an energetic young man making his move (howls of derision from the guys), are the women bedazzled by his charm and good looks…or is there something about Justin Trudeau that will land him front and center on the political stage?
*Globe and Mail, Sept 29, 2012 online
** Calgary Herald, Oct 4, 2012, pA3
My opinion, he couldn’t do any worse than some of the seasoned professionals and practice makes perfect. Can anyone say that on their first day at work they scored a perfect score? I’m good with a learning curve as long as he shows up to here my side.
Rose Marie, your comment about Justin Trudeau showing up on your side (likely the same side as my side) resonates with me. I watched his leadership announcement on Youtube. This sentence encapsulated what “our side” looks like: “Canadian families want good jobs, a dynamic growing economy, that allows us to educate our kids as they mature and care for our parents as they age. We want a compassionate society that pulls together to help the vulnerable, and gives the less fortunate a chance at success.” That works for me!
Hello Susan. The first time I saw Justin Trudeau on TV it was when he was speaking at his father`s funeral service. I stopped what I was doing and my attention was fully focused on the television. I looked at my husband and said, “He needs to be Canada`s Prime Minister.“ I`m in my mid-40s. I`m not our country`s youth. I am around a lot of youth and young adults. I, in my forties am tired of the old cronies who claim to have the best interests of Canadians at heart. I see each new party leader emerge and I wonder what rock did he get pulled out from. I am an emotional voter. During our last federal election, I was so ticked that Harper had called another election. I was driving down the Pat Bay Highway and I saw Harper`s billboard and then I saw Ignatiff`s billboard, and I thought, “Dear God, which of the lesser evils do I pick.“ I then heard the late Jack Layton speak. Harper and Ignatiff were saying the same old same old. (And we wonder why the young people don`t listen and don`t vote???). Jack Layton spoke of different issues that I could relate to, such as daycare issues, after school care. Layton spoke to the person not to the corporations. I have never voted NDP, but I voted for Layton in the last federal election. My point, Justin Trudeau has that same new fresh voice. This country is starved for a new voice. I`m excited that he`s running for the liberal leadership race. There`s my generation, and there`s my daughters` generation and if Justin Trudeau wins the leadership race, and he does his election campaign right, he will have my vote and he will provide a voice and a face for the younger generation to connect with. So we get a younger man, with fire in his belly, maybe not as experienced, or we get another old codger, who has all this experience but really knows how to play the political game? It`s interesting, the women want to give the young man a chance; yet it`s the older men who criticize the younger man`s endeavors.
Jo, both you and Matt (UCDP) referred to Justin Trudeau’s eulogy for his father so I looked it up. It was breathtaking. Justin told such beautiful stories about his time with his father. The one about traveling with his dad to the Arctic and discovering “Santa” in a red shed was magical. As you so astutely observed, Justin’s calm grace and eloquence in such a difficult situation foreshadowed where he is today and where he may well be tomorrow! He’s recognized that Canadians are thirsty for a new vision–if anyone can get us there it will be this remarkable young man. Thanks for your comments. .
Great post Susan. One of the best assessments of Trudeau’s push for the leadership I have read. We need hope not cynicism if we are to have any chance to solve the myraid of challenges before us. Yet, the cynics always seem to like to squash hope, and throw up obstacles to success. Witness the Republican juggernaut of “we can’t” after Obama’s election. After Justin Trudeau’s stirring eulogy for his father, I always felt one day he would make this move.
Does he have the experience? Perhaps not in the ways we normally require. Maybe that is a good thing. Perhaps what we need in our leaders is not the pig headed assuredness that they have the right answer, but instead a leader who does not know all, and has the courage to ask questions, seek consensus, to understand that there may not be a “right”path, just the path we are on.
Our country needs the Liberal party. Prime Minister Harper’s stated objective to wipe them out is foolish and dangerous to our democracy. I for one hope for a vigorous leadership campaign of new energy, new ideas, ,and a renewed direction. Before people worry about depth of experience, Trudeau needs to build the case for the “why”. Why the Liberals? Why should Liberal values be important to our country? What values are important to the Liberal party? How could those values be important to the country/ How will those values help shape policy. It will be difficult if not impossible to help people understand the policy if there is not a strong “why” behind them.
Thanks for your comments Matt. I just watched the 40 year old Justin deliver his leadership announcement and the 26 year old Justin deliver his father’s eulogy. Both were stirring speeches and surprisingly consistent in their themes (well, maybe not so surprising given who we’re talking about). In the eulogy Justin says his father taught him that certain principles can never be compromised. In his leadership speech he makes the point that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is beyond the reach of politics and that every human being deserves respect. I have a feeling we’ll be hearing a lot more about these foundational Liberal values and how they support public services like health care, education, care for the environment, etc. This will be a very good discussion for Canadians. It gets to the question of what kind of society do we want to live in–one in which we just take care of ourselves or one where we also care for our neighbours.
Susan I seem to agree with UCDP in the fact that maybe a leader without much experience is not a bad thing. When we look at the world around us, built by experts, it is to say the least horrendous. Despite the fact that Canada is doing better than most other so called ‘industrialized countries’, to me it does not mean that we have any different framework whatsoever. We just happened to have our deficits under control and some available cash that allowed us to surf a bit better on the bad wave. That along with the fact that we have a small population and lots of natural resources gave us an advantage that may not last for long. We are too dependent on external markets in order to be playing the ‘we are better than everyone else’ song around the world like Harper and Flaherty like to do at every opportunity.
On the other hand the world is quite complex and the politics of right and left is outdated and extremelly partisan politicians like Justin Trudeau, may not be very good news in the long run. Justin is definitely a smart person and quite a good communicator but I am not sure he will be able to walk through the ‘black hole’ modern day politics where people just do not seem to be able to escape the strong pull of corporate capitalism helped by extreme individualism and market fundamentalism.
It is hard to know but it is certainly a much better option than people like Harper or Danielle Smith that live in the Medieval World where political and economic freedom is only desirable for the 1% which of course include themselves. Those times have lasted long enough and that option is no longer possible in the long term. That kind of politics, expressed very well by Obama is just a recipe for another disaster.
We are reaching a great crossroad in our evolution as a species and there is no garantee of success. At these times we either jump to a higher form of being and evolve further as a society or we fail and we self destroy. We would not be the first or the last to do it.
We need a totally new framework of consensus politics, where the best minds of our country can discuss and develop true inclusive policies that will give us a new light at the end of the tunnel. The party politics of control and insult has run its course and it is completely outdated and will not resolve our current crisis.
Great comments Carlos. I think you’re right about this being a different political world. We can’t possibly continue down the path of extreme partisan behavior or we’ll end up deadlocked like the Democrats and Republicans. Justin made some interesting points in his leadership speech which highlight the difference between Canadians and Americans (not that he spelled it out that clearly). One was that Canadians are free because they trust each other. They don’t look at each other with suspicion. I think there’s some truth to this, but we have to fight hard not to get sucked into the paranoia that is coming our way from south of the border where everyone who doesn’t look like us is a terrorist and every surly schoolboy is an armed gunman.
Your description of the “black hole” of modern politics is a good one. Given the tactics used by the other parties (and sometimes members of one’s own party) it doesn’t take much to sideswipe a good politician and cause him serious damage. I sincerely hope the Liberals rally behind Justin and focus their collective attention on the magnitude of the change that they’ll have to create in Canadian politics. As Matt said, Canada needs the Liberal party and Harper is intent on wiping it out. This would leave us with the Conservatives and the NDP. A two party system is a polarizing force and not good for democracy.
Susan, thanks for your earlier post about Justin Trudeau’s most eloquent eulogy to his father. I hadn’t seen it or heard it. I just watched it on a CBC archive which no doubt brought me to tears, but more than that it was probably a forerunner of what was to come in Canadian politics. He could yet be the best Prime Minister of Canada! In and through his deep grief at the age of 26 looked like the Prime Minister of the greatest country – CANADA! Hope he indeed wins the nomination of the Liberal Party of Canada.
Delpine, you’re very welcome. In my view Justin Trudeau is exactly what the Liberal party needs–a dedicated young politician with integrity and compassion. He’s one of the few politicians I’ve heard who’s says “we’re all in this together” like he really means it. .