On the morning this article appears on the blog, Justin Trudeau will be sworn in as Prime Minister of Canada and will name his first cabinet. At just 43, he is the 2nd youngest PM in Canadian history and the first child of a former PM to be elected to the post. Media the world over are fawning over the young, handsome leader.
A quick primer on Canadian politics to set the stage here: Canada has a multi-party system. There are dozens of registered political parties, but really only three viable federal parties. On the right lies the Conservative Party of Canada, currently led by Stephen Harper. To the left of the political middle are the Liberals led by Justin Trudeau. And further over on the left is the Social Democrats, the New Democratic Party led by Tom Mulcair.
Every tactic the Conservatives used against him in the election seemed to backfire, and this was one of the first: Just about anyone who has engaged in debate online has experienced being deliberately misquoted. For Trudeau, it was a quote that his Conservative rivals repeatedly tried to use against him. The quote was “and the budget will balance itself” and the approach was to make Justin appear as juvenile, inexperienced and just not credible as a leader. Canadians might get a little ribbing for their English, but they know that “and” is a conjunction. That meant that the sentence was taken out of context, and a few seconds on Google finds the full quote. It was taken from a CPAC interview on one of Harper’s budgets. Trudeau was correctly criticizing the budget for not doing enough to adequately stimulate the Canadian economy, explaining that it’s a more productive way of balancing the budget, as when your economy is flourishing and you have a healthy tax flow from it, then budgets suddenly get a lot easier to balance. People grew quickly weary of the deliberate dishonesty of the misquote.
Trudeau’s apparent honesty seems to be the undoing of all the schemes against him. The differences in the leaders of the biggest three political parties were laid bare in their answers to one simple question. “Have you smoked pot?”. Trudeau freely and nonchalantly admitted he had smoked pot, more than once, even while sitting as a Member of Parliament. He said he doesn’t think it’s a big deal, but it didn’t do much for him so he has no real personal interest in it. The tough-on-crime Conservative Harper flatly denied ever having smoked it, and called Trudeau’s judgement into question for having done so. Social-Democrat Mulcair tried to be the hip stuffed shirt and said he had, but refused to say where and when he had last partaken of it. People trusted Trudeau’s answer. These answers encapsulated the approaches in each of these leaders’ election campaigns.
The Conservatives even hired an Australian muckraker named Lynton Crosby to run a campaign of fear, suspicion and division for the Conservatives. That backfired spectacularly, and the Conservatives tried to pretend it didn’t even happen, refusing to acknowledge that they had ever hired the Aussie in the first place (after boasting that they had a long relationship). The more divisive the campaign got, the further Harper dropped in the polls. Canadians do not tolerate the politics of intolerance.
So what is he really like?
We’ve seen some goofy things from the usual sources, such as The Daily Show making fun of a youthful Trudeau showing off his “party trick” of falling down a flight of stairs, but what is Trudeau like? Why is he so popular? Is it just his looks? His legacy?
Politically speaking, Trudeau is a Kennedy in the making, in what is the closest to a Canadian “Camelot”, complete with the same ambition, power, and tragedy. The younger Trudeau is every bit as charismatic, ambitious, popular, capable and innovative as his father was. Some of his detractors have tried to paint him as a privileged playboy who has never known “the struggle” and is out of touch with Canadian voters and their values. That image has never stuck. Here’s why – he can show that he’s as much an average Canadian as anyone else.
Recently he went trick-or-treating with his kids, dressed as Han Solo and his wife as Leia dressed for the ice planet Hoth scenes from The Empire Strikes Back. There are photos of him at the 2012 Montreal Comic Con being “arrested” by three Star Wars cosplayers. He’s a geek, and he’s not ashamed of it.
He has a tattoo on his left shoulder of a raven in Haida style. (The Trudeau family was made honourary members of the Haida tribe in 1976). The tattoo was on plain display during a charity boxing match in which Trudeau surprised his critics again and bloodied the nose and face of a young Conservative Senator and brash challenger named Patrick Brazeau. The physically conditioned Brazeau was considered a heavy favourite, but the underdog Trudeau was relentless and the referee stopped the fight.
Justin’s father Pierre balanced leading the country with his family life. If his father had an afternoon or a few hours off in his day, he made sure to spend it with his family. Justin intends to do the same.
For his critics who say he is a spoiled rich kid with no working world experience, he turned his two degrees into a teaching career, teaching high school French, math, law and drama in Vancouver, and has an extensive work history beyond that, including some acting work.
I am proud of the way our country came out of that last election. I am not a Liberal supporter, but in short, Canada is potentially looking at the most dynamic and progressive government it could possibly have hoped for. At least, that’s the potential. The reality will be borne out very quickly.
Justin Trudeau says he will be an ambitious prime minister. If his campaign platform is any indication, he is correct. It is the widest-ranging, most detailed and aggressive platform I’ve ever seen in my 35+ years of watching Canadian politics.
When Canadian leaders get ambition they do amazing things. They design and build world class interceptor aircraft, the design team of which would go on to create NASA’s space shuttles and the Concorde. They create a whole new role for military in the Peacekeeper force. They institute national socialized health care, and so on. If this Prime Minister is that ambitious, then Canada is in for a modern golden age.
One of his first moves as Prime Minister showed he was willing to “think outside the box”, or at least think outside partisan politics by putting the most qualified people to work where they can have the most impact. At the end of November, the United Nations summit on climate change is occurring in Paris. He did not hesitate to name as the first member of the Canadian delegation one of his political opponents – leader of the Green Party and Canada’s most prominent political environmentalist, Elizabeth May. That is a radical shift from the ousted Conservative approach to climate science.
So what of this cabinet he appoints this morning? He has promised to create a cabinet with gender parity, with equal representation from men and women. This is a novel idea in politics, but I am a proponent of political appointments by qualification or merit, and not simply by gender quotas or partisan appointments. Luckily, though, Trudeau can easily accomplish his goal with the large number of highly experienced and qualified women in his caucus. This is certainly shaping up to be a government unlike any other before it, and one that reflects Canadian values.