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