Justin Trudeau – To the manor born – or does he have to earn it? In this country he has to earn it

By Ray Rivers

March 6, 2014


There is a whiff of change in the air as the polls place the Trudeau Liberals at the head of the pack racing to the 2015 federal election.  It is still early days, but I keep getting asked what I think of Justin Trudeau – is he ready for the job of PM.  I met him last year, had a brief chat and gave him a copy of my book (for which he never thanked me).  The book has a lot of ink devoted to his father, but he is not mentioned; so perhaps that is why.

Some people said that he is more like his mother than his father, Pierre the intellectual.

Some people said that he is more like his mother than his father, Pierre the intellectual.  If true, Im not sure if that makes him more or less appealing.  His youth is a huge asset, and he has used that to advantage, attracting young voters into the world of politics.  A few actually find their salvationhere and become active party supporters, but just getting our youth to the polling booth is a huge public service. 

The more traditional wing of the party is comfortable with Trudeau, because of his roots and because they really need a winner after almost a decade in the dugout, and third place at that.  And Trudeau understands that, so has taken a moderate, small cconservative approach in articulating his policies: retaining the Senate, building the middle class, promoting the Keystone XL pipeline, better developing the oil sands, and even more free trade.

Colourfull – yes.  Depth – we don’t know that yet but the signs are good.  The Senate decision was a good one.

Justin is among the most articulate and communicative of recent Liberal leaders, benefitting in large part from his theatrical training,   He claims his campaign is about fairness –  and it is a vision which he links to his fathers Just Society.  His opponent on the right has been publicly attacking him over his promise to legalize cannabis.  But on this issue, anyway, he sees himself getting on top of the wave sweeping this hemisphere, right behind Mexico and Uruguay and the US states of Colorado and Washington.

Trudeau has also said and done things that have got him into trouble.  His joke about Putin and the Ukrainian crisis has handicapped him on that important file.  There was his comment about admiring China, about the need for more Quebecers in Parliament, and that whole messy speaking-tour business – which he should have done for free as an elected member.  

So is Trudeau ready for the job?  Some said that Joe Clark, Canadas youngest PM at 40 years, wasnt ready when he was sworn to the job back in 1979, yet he ably stick-handled the Iran hostage crisis and won the acclaim of the much of the world.   Mike Harris used to attack Dalton McGuinty as not up to the jobthough McGuinty gave us some of the best government in the provinces history, reconstructing our eroded health care and education systems and balancing three of his budgets before the recession hit – and before he pulled that stunt with the gas plants.

Pierre shocked many, especially the Monarchists with this stunt in London.

Pierre, Justins father, was also attacked as immature for some of the antics he pulled, pirouetting behind the Queens back, uttering fuddle-duddle in Parliament and giving the finger to the media.  But when Canada was facing its greatest national crisis in October 1970, he knew what to do and did it.  Experience and training are essential for most careers but there is no apprenticeship for being PM – you either have it or you dont.  So the real question for the pretenders to the throne is what do they stand for, what is their vision and where are they getting their advice.

Mr. Harper threw his closest advisor under the bus after Senate-gate broke, so at least he knows what to do when he gets bad advice.  But his vision for Canada is retrograde.  Whether it be criminal law, environmental policy, political science, trade and industrial development, or taxation and fiscal policy he represents the past.  That isnt always bad and I do agree with a few of the measures he has introduced since 2006.  But if your fantasy is turning the clock back he is your man.

Mr. Mulcair has been very impressive in the House of Commons as a debater representing the official opposition.  Probably most people respect his perspectives on social justice and equity and are comfortable with how he has distanced his party from external lobby forces, such as the labour unions.  He was a good environment minister in Jean Charests Liberal government in Quebec and has a huge electoral base in Canadas minority language province Quebec.

However, Mulcair has endorsed his partys policy on Quebec separation, the Sherbrooke Declaration, which would entitle Quebecers voting 51% for sovereignty to begin the process of separation.  This was Jack Laytons legacy, one which had lifted his party to official opposition by playing to the separatists.  The Supreme Court has ruled that there needs to be a reasonable majority and nobody except Mulcair and the separatists believes that is 51%.  My vision for Canada includes Quebec.

That is big hair.

Mr. Trudeau has been Liberal leader for less than a year, so its still early to pass judgement on him.  And he has been spouting generalities which most people could only agree with: no tax increases for middle class Canadians, politically independent Senators, and legal weed.  I know at least one of the good people advising him, and my expectations for a detailed progressive platform in time for the election are pretty high.  So maybe the question, come election day, is  are we ready for Trudeau, and what he promises – rather than the other way around.

Ray Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking.  Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington where he ran against Cam Jackson in 1995, the year Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution swept the province. He developed the current policy process for the Ontario Liberal Party.


Background links:

Sherbrooke Declaration


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7 comments to Justin Trudeau – To the manor born – or does he have to earn it? In this country he has to earn it

  • I guess a lot of people would WONDER whether WONDER BOY ever rehearses his routine before going public.

    I think he does!

  • bill statten

    A reasonably balanced article on Justin Trudeau. I will certainly be watching him closely leading up to the next election, even though I lean towards fiscal conservatism.
    One continued item in his general statements has me concerned though. He continues to say he will enhance the economic position of the middle class. Now just how is he going to do that? By running a deficit to hand money back to the taxpayer? Subsidize industry? Create artificial jobs?

    Could we please have his plan to do this enhancement. Or is there a plan at all? Or it just empty talk and wishful thinking?

  • Tony Pullin

    A-plus for shock value! Didn’t realize that Mr. McGuinty had set the bar so high. Could be a big boon for the pulp and paper industry, making all those rolling papers and all. “Are we ready for Mr. Trudeau?” I’m not sure if his handlers have told him who he is yet, so no, I’m not ready.

  • Gary

    So Trudeau never thanked you for the book you gave him, even though it was a paean to his father and it broke new literary ground in Canada by proving that fiction is stranger than truth; e.g., separatists weeping over the death of Pierre. That should be your first cautionary note — “fool me once, etc.” By, the way, I paid $20 for that book, did you ever thank me? I even read it, (did you thank me for that) which may not be the case for Trudeau the younger.

    I am fairly open-minded about the next election and I willing to pay attention to Trudeau, but I was not much impressed with what came out of the Liberal convention (you don’t mention much about that)with it’s call for “National Strategy” for Industry, Child Care, Middle-Class Care, Old People Care, fill in the blanks care, and so on. In fact, it sounds very much like the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in terms of “let’s dabble in a bunch of new stuff and see if it works: after all, it’s only money and it isn’t even our money so it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work” that his father was famous for doing.

    While de-criminalizing ganga is OK by me, I am certainly not going to vote for a party on that issue alone. We have had a Marijuana Party in Canada for decades, I have never voted for it because that was its only plank.

  • Charles Doherty

    Not a big Liberal fan. But, this Trudeau provides for a nice contrast on the federal scene. However, he should step away from the legalization of pot issue. Trudeau also has a bit of maturing to do to get credibility on the international stage.

    As for McGuinty, the OPP are now in the process of investigating files that were under his management. That is not a sign of good governance, and the provincial debt doubled in 10 years, so, that probably is not a very good indicator of good governance either. And stepping away prematurely from the premier role was not very honourable.

    I still want the Harris regime to come back and finish the job they failed to complete.

  • Greg Fabian

    Thanks for the article.

    At least you have pointed out a few of the many shortcomings and gaffes of Justin Trudeau such as:

    -more like his mother
    -jokes about Ukraine
    -admiration for dictatorship China
    -taking speaking fees while an MP from schools, charities, etc.

    Here are some other thoughts.

    You contend that “Justin is among the most articulate and communicative of recent Liberal leaders, benefitting in large part from his theatrical training.” Yes, compared to Ignatieff, Dion, Cretien, and Turner. But then again almost anyone is compared to that lot. Although I would say that he uses a lot of um, uh, and hems and haws and is brilliant at dancing around a question, saying a lot but actually not saying anything. That is a true gift for a politician.

    That he speaks in generalities and motherhood statements is quite frankly an understatement. He has brought forth no real policies except legalizing marijuana (of which I am not in favour). Let’s see if the recent Liberal biennial policy convention will help him articulate something concrete.

    As Russ has already pointed out you mentioned “… McGuinty gave us some of the best government in the province’s history”. Thanks for injecting humour into your piece. Surely you jest if you believe McGuinty governments have been so fantastic. I beg to differ. I think they have been horrendous.

    It will be interesting to watch the lead up to the next federal election. More immediate though, it will be very interesting to watch Quebec and Ontario elections.

  • I liked the piece, but “though McGuinty gave us some of the best government in the province’s history”? Really? Wow!