Justin steps up

Justin steps up
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September 28, 2000 was the day Pierre Elliot Trudeau died, and though his death was hardly unanticipated or traumatic, my memories of that evening are still pretty vivid. I was listening to my little bedroom radio (as I did a lot in those days) and sat glued for hours as the host of my favorite Vancouver drive-time chat show spent the entirety of his program discussing the former prime minister.

Note that I say “discussing” not “mourning.”

“I’m not gonna get all weepy over this old goat just because he hung around for so long,” the guy said over an endless background loop of intentionally cheesy funeral organs. “He ruined this country’s economy, he completely sold us out to Quebec, and liked chasing younger women.”

“Wow,” he continued, his pitch rising painfully with sarcasm, “what a legacy!”

It says something about Trudeau’s toxic reputation in western Canada that far more callers phoned in to compliment the host and offer anti-Trudeau gripes of their own than reprimand him for speaking such crass ill of a dead man whose body had barely cooled. Their complaints were the predictable mix of partisan bitching and untamed crankery that tends to define Trudeau-hate out here, with complaints spanning everything from ’70s-era partisan shibboleths about the deficit and bilingualism to amazingly self-confident, conspiratorial assertions that the late PM was a Nazi, communist, and pedophile. As far as real-world equivalents to Orwell’s “two-minute hate” go, I’ve never experienced anything closer.

Five days later, Trudeau’s funeral was held, and the late prime minister’s eldest son, 28-year-old Justin, delivered a remarkably charismatic and eloquent eulogy that made all the headlines the next morning. Few had seen much of the kid since his father’s resignation in 1984, and his reappearance prompted murmurs of bemused surprise that he had grown into a handsome young man so strikingly similar to his father. Poised and silver-tongued, hammy and wry, he immediately lept into the national consciousness in a manner unlike any prime ministerial child before him. Perhaps he’ll go into politics someday, the reporters said. God I hope not, said the radio callers.

It’s now been almost exactly a dozen years since all that, and tomorrow — one day shy of the funeral anniversary — Justin Trudeau will announce his candidacy for leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada. In doing so, he finally brings some much-needed closure to the suffocatingly omnipresent cloud of media speculation that has enveloped his future for so very long. At last the answer is clear and definitive: yes, Justin wants to be PM too.

Swiftly shifting gears in the wake of his announcement-to-announce last week, the press’ will-he-or-won’t he gossip has promptly given way to endless speculation as to whether or not the man whose leadership potential was once so endlessly hyped actually possesses any, you know, leadership potential.

Scoffing at his undistinguished record as a just-barely two-term member of parliament (his only elected office to date), critics have been savage about Justin’s notable lack of political experience, skill, and smarts, even by the low resume standards usually afforded to Canadian party bosses. But at the same time, even if the expert consensus is pretty strong that no, Justin is clearly not qualified to lead the world’s tenth-largest economy, there’s also been a weird undercurrent of resignation to the fact that he’ll probably wind up getting the job anyway.

The Liberal Party has never been in darker straits, the pundits note, languishing since 2011 in the unprecedented indignity of Parliament’s third-place, with outright extinction not far from view. Since 2003 they’ve been led by a trio of much-lauded men with impeccable credentials; a fiscally-conservative businessman, a French-Canadian environmentalist, and a world-renown foreign policy scholar, but each proved spectacularly incapable to stop their party’s steady hemorrhage of vote bleeding. In such a context, hereditary rule may very well be the justifiably desperate measure these desperate times are crying for. They can’t say it’s a rushed decision, after all.

If one presumes that Canada needs a party of the pragmatic/moderate/centrist/intelligent left to combat the socialistic excesses of the NDP and the heard-hearted conservatism of Stephen Harper’s Tories — as many figures in the Canadian establishment clearly do — then Justin’s percieved ability to keep the Liberals on life stupport through charisma and photo ops and headlines alone may be good enough for now. At the moment, the public’s somewhat paradoxical desire for freshness and familiarity certainly seems to be working in JT’s favor; his poll numbers are deliriously high for no obvious political reason, and his star power may very well intimidate all other prospective candidates from contesting his right to the Liberal crown. Undemocratic or not, his coronation by divine right would almost certainly provide a far more unifying spectacle than some dreary seven-month race featuring a bunch of nobody MPs nattering back and forth about “strategic rebuilding.”

The only trouble, as the cartoon says, is that name, novelty, and narrative can be a two-sided blade that cuts both ways. If Canada’s leadership standards are lowered to the point where party bosses are being selected by amorphous criteria of branding and nostalgia, then there’s nothing to stop elections from being fought over mindlessly reactive games of name-association, either.

After all, for every Canadian mired in fuzzy memories of a handsome 28-year-old choking up over his father’s casket, there’s still an awful lot of angry talk show callers, too.


  1. spaaaaaaaaaan

    To be honest, I think he's about the only candidate that can really convincingly renew the party with a fresh start, as he's the only one who is both new enough to be able to separate himself from their past failures of the last decade or so, but notable enough to still be elected as leader.

    Considering how torn apart by in-fighting the Liberal party has been since Chretien, having a bit of an outsider that has a name respected by the party faithful may be the only thing that could keep the party from consuming itself. He may not be electable in Alberta or even Quebec, but at the moment they have to worry about survival as a party and not winning votes from people who probably wouldn't vote for them anyway.

  2. David

    Just because you haven't encountered much PET love out there, doesn't mean there aren't places in this country that people think of him and his legacy fondly. The "traditionally Liberal" areas of the country seem to think of him fonder.

  3. Conrad

    "with outright extinction not far from view" – Not unlike how things looked for another party in ~1993?

  4. Yannick

    The Liberals' showing in the last election is still much better than anything the PC accomplished in the post Mulroney years.

    Or one could point at the ebbing flow of the NDP, switchinb between 6% and 20% of the vote in perpetuity up until their big shift last year.

    It's unbelieveable how these reformists imagine that Liberals who voted NDP one are somehow never going to vote Liberal ever again.

  5. M_T_Cicero

    And that party arguably did go extinct in the end as the ex-Reform elements had far more MPs (and I do presume more activist support) at the merger. Also note that a respectable number of ex-PCs are now aligned with non-Conservative parties.

  6. M_T_Cicero

    I'd note that Trudeau was widely reviled on the Praries (and, I believe, in the West in general), but Justin might reasonably be able to rebuild the party's position in Montreal, Ontario, and the Atlantics. At the very least, though, his election would be justifiable as a Hail Mary play by a party in real danger of either extinction or perpetual third party status.

  7. Tweeg

    lol anti Trudeau sentiment from the west is always HILARIOUS.

    I hope Justin can bring back the good old days and have the west pissed off as bad as the separatists.

    Get back the hilarious "let the eastern bastards freeze" garbage going.

    Its funny hearing all the belly aching over Quebec that comes out of the west, when Alberta is just the other side of the looser province coin.

  8. @HeavyE79

    I would correct you and say that you meant 'loser' and not 'looser, but that would be insane to call one of the economic powerhouses of Canada a loser and compare it to Quebec and trust you wouldn't be trying to make such a baffling insane comparison. So I'm left trying to figure out what a looser is.

  9. forivall

    If Mike Layton goes for the NDP leadership eventually, it'll be interesting to see what parallels and differences there will be with this Trudeau thing.

  10. replica watches

    ust because you haven't encountered much PET love out there, doesn't mean there aren't places in this country that people think of him and his legacy fondly.

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