Tonight, a few blocks from where I am sitting right now, Justin Trudeau will announce he is running for the federal Liberal leadership, at the William Hingston community centre in Parc-Extension, Montreal.
I have been pondering what to write about this event for a few days, and the mainstream media's political observer authorities (Hébert, Ibbitson, Coyne, and McGill prof Antonia Maoini) have already drawn most of the same conclusions as me. The conclusion is that his odds of accomplishing anything in the role of Liberal leader (which of course he has already been de facto declared, despite not uttering a single word) are quite slim. How can they draw conclusions when he has yet to even officially announce of his leadership campaign? Well, you see, this is the problem with Justin Trudeau. The nature of his life and his persona is such that he will be a prime target to be defined before he can define himself, and that is because he has already defined himself.
There are so many things that are misguided, revolting, and just plain wrong about choosing Justin Trudeau as Liberal leader that it is difficult to know where to begin. But this article has to be written, so let me try to get them off my chest in a collected and semi-coherent manner. Let's start with my statement that he has already defined himself.
Growing up in the limelight as a Prime Minister's oldest son, the hopes and expectations were always quite high for Trudeau fils, perhaps unfairly and unrealistically so. But we do not choose to be born son of a Canadian Prime Minister any more than we choose to be born to a dirt poor basket weaver in a smelly alley in Dakar, Bangladesh. It is up to each human to make the most of the circumstances they are given.
So Justin could have laid low, made something of himself, been a businessman, an academic, maybe cut his teeth in something really gritty and realist and day-to-day, but not at all glamourous, like, I don't know, Quebec municipal politics or something. He had all the resources to become an erudite scholar, a continent hopping CEO, even a feared and respected backroom political operator. This is all speculation, but my point is that he had every opportunity to define himself in such a way that people would say "Here's a successful guy who happens to be Trudeau's son" rather than the "Oh god,..." rolling of the eyes he currently inspires.
Why does he inspire such sentiments? Isn't a few years teaching high school, and another few years of looking pretty in the House of Commons at $157,000 a year, representing a riding he doesn't even live in good enough to lead a national party and one of the most developed countries in the world? Am I being unfair to Mr. Trudeau, who has sternly admonished all those who critique his thin and unimpressive resume as unjustly comparing him to his larger-than-life father?
Yes, I am being unfair. Because politics is a game of images, of impressions, of theatre and of manipulation. Barack Obama and Mitt Romney and Stephen Harper and even Vladimir Putin are, inasmuch as being real humans with all of the same earthly trappings as the rest of us, definitions of a series of assumptions and values and aspirations that are then packaged into their respective personas and fed back to the nebulous, shifting, uncritical "electorate". Three of my four references are successful politicians because they and their operators have succeeded in this process. Progressive and terse pragmatist, rational and incremental conservative, unifying and ruthless strongman. Can you match the persona to the politician and then tell me who you can match the fourth "waffling and out-of touch tax evader" persona to (ok, that could be Putin too, but that's another column), and then tell me why the predictions for the November U.S. Presidential Election are looking so dim for him? Because the only chance of winning elections (or in the case of Russia, being legitimately accepted as the only realistic authority figure) is to succeed in this propaganda battle. It has nothing to do with beliefs, substance, policies or actions. It's what adjectives that ultimately imply trustworthiness and confidence come to be associated with the person. That is why Justin is doomed.
Other than a steady stream of vague and saccharine platitudes about youth (the youth are the future of Canada...hmm, when weren't they?) and the environment (I have a vision for a greener Canada...oh, I thought Canadians were actually all hoping for a dirtier Canada - please enlighten us), Mr. Trudeau has yet to make any statements that demonstrate significant knowledge of economics, our three-layered democratic system and its institutions, international affairs, Canadian regional specificities, or laws he would like to amend or pass. You can find many M.P.s in the house across all parties, including in his own party, with much deeper knowledge in these areas.
Mr Trudeau, on the other hand, has mostly made an impression on me by saying that marijuana should not be decriminalized because of his mother's past drug use, that the environment minister and former Global TV anchor Peter Kent is a "piece of shit", and that Quebec should separate if Stephen Harper continues to be Prime Minister of Canada.
In other words, these facts would lead to believe that as of right now, Mr Trudeau, if he is not the complete idiot that the first position reveals him to be, is a bit of a loudmouth and a flake. A person we probably wouldn't even be listening to if he wasn't his father's son, which he is so quick to remind us we are not supposed to primarily define him as. Do you see the problem with the image and the definition here?
There are other problems related to Canadian regional realities. The name, the Quebec address and the French language abilities of Mr. Trudeau (not to mention the totally outdated, hardline anti-Québec attitude of his father) give the Ontario delusional Liberal braintrust wetdreams of a sweep in Quebec in 2015. They forget that #1 - the name is more synonymous here with Ottawa arrogance and dismissal than an exciting national project and #2 - Mr. Trudeau is an anglophone more than anything. He grew up in the rich part of Ottawa. He went to McGill and UBC. His Twitter is all in English. He is obviously more comfortable in English than French. Nothing wrong with all that of course, except that as usual the downtown Toronto liberal diehards need to give their heads a shake. Trudeau père and his successor, Jean Chrétien, were patently enamoured with English Canada and its language, and had no time for their own provincial compatriots or their language, because a majority of them possessed some degree of nationalism. These kinds of pan-Canadian francophone Quebeckers in the Trudeau/Chrétien vein are a dying breed. It was actually the two anglo Quebecker premiers, Martin and Mulroney, who talked to the province like a adult in its language regularly and took its aspirations seriously, instead of dismissing like some too-busy parent of a developmentally disabled child. Instead of blindly submitting to nostalgia for a time that no longer exists, Toronto Liberals should wise up to that fact.
Of course these same Toronto Liberals (the people I referred to earlier as the Ontario delusional Liberal braintrust) are Trudeau's bigger problem blocking his success. He could get over his anglophilia here in Quebec: he has chosen to raise his kids here, after all, and has actually uttered a separatist sounding sentence. Except he's running off to the GTA every two weeks to help out these same delusional Toronto Liberals. The Toronto mayoralty race, seats in Brampton for the federal election, provincial by-elections. The desperate Ontario liberals call Justin in to lend star power for electoral battle after electoral battle that they keep losing anyway, and he has been gullible enough, naive enough to listen to these Liberals constantly whispering in his ear "We need you Justin. You're our only hope Justin. Run for the leadership Justin." Why? He should have trusted his own instincts, and his initial judgement.
Because make no mistake. All Justin's campaign is run by old Federal Toronto hacks and worse, paragon of incompetence Dalton McGuinty's kitchen cabinet of advisors. These people are so deluded they staged a putsch to make a windbag who had lived outside Canada for his entire adult life party leader. These are the people who gleefully whisper about recruiting Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney to lead the Liberals. You read that sentence in the paper every day. Again, why? What has Mark Carney ever said or done in his life that would lead you to believe he would run the country any differently than Stephen Harper? Oh, well, that's a rational question and we Liberal operatives only deal in delusion. He's a middle aged white guy who Canadians trust on the economy, like Stephen Harper only smarter cause he's like, a Goldman Sachs economist and stuff. Voters will flock to us if we get him even though nobody's ever, you know, confirmed publicly that he's the least bit interested in the job.
Everything the Liberal party does has everything to do with getting power back and nothing about anything new. They've been talking for six years about new ideas, top issues, consultation, and renewal but because they don't stand for anything except opposing Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair, nobody cares. It's why the party has gone from 164 seats in 1980 to 35 today and is today chasing it all the way down the toilet to two (Westmount and Rosedale, where these diehard hacks all probably live).
So I actually had a little respect for Justin when he initially turned the job down at the beginning of the summer. Because nothing precludes him from being ready to go for it in ten years. It would have shown that he's his own man, and that he's strong enough and independent-minded enough to resist the temptation of those idiotic McGuinty Toronto Liberal whisperer sycophants. Instead he's been absorbed into the high flying Liberal delusion machine, which come 2015 he will be asked to crash straight into the mountain. In the meantime I have to look at that stupid photo of him with his blazer slung over his shoulder in front of Parliament Hill for the next four years while the media chronicles Liberal delusion ad nauseum which, of course, they are going to do because he's Trudeau. Meanwhile we'd get once a week on page 6 if it was anybody else deciding to lead a third place party. And Justin knows that. Which makes this whole "decision" of his even more nauseating than it already is.