Ever since he was elected leader of the Liberal party, there have been questions and doubts regarding Justin Trudeau’s competence to be prime minister.
He has been a member of parliament since 2008, and so has had the time to dispel most of the misgivings Canadians have about his capacity to lead the nation. By now, we should be seeing more political adroitness from the 43-year-old son of former Liberal prime minister Pierre Trudeau. More cleverness in his political attacks and, perhaps, a few well-thought-through and substantive policies and positions by which Canadians could judge whether he and his party are worthy of their trust, and to decide how dependable is the man’s moral compass.
Not that Trudeau the younger is a dud as a political leader. To the contrary, he speaks well and seems to have grasped the importance of a financially healthy middle class and how important certain progressive values are to a wide cross-section of Canadians.
Furthermore, Trudeau seems to have repaired much of the damage done to the Liberal brand by a series of inept leaders, namely, Paul Martin, Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff. And thanks in good part to Trudeau, the Grits have increased their party’s membership significantly and restored its financial viability through modern, aggressive fund raising.
Moreover, under Trudeau, the Grits have surged in national polls and have led the Tories consistently for most of his tenure as leader. The Tories have tightened the race in recent months (more on this later), but few will argue that Trudeau has not played the pivotal roll in the resurgence of the Liberal party’s fortunes.
Working against him, though, is Justin Trudeau’s apparent penchant for the political misplay. Let’s recall some of the most notable.
Only a few months after his successful leadership campaign, we learned that, while he was an MP, Trudeau had earned tens of thousands of dollars from non-profit organizations in speaking fees. Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall put it well, saying at the time:
He’s now an aspirant to be the prime minister of the country. I think it’s wrong for MPs or MLAs, for those elected to office, to take money for speeches that we ought to be giving because we’re already paid our wage and so, because these are charities in the main, I think an offer of reimbursement is the right thing to do.”
Trudeau did not even seem to realize his ethics here were questionable; though, he did eventually offer to give the money back to any group that asked.
Later, he talked about admiring China because “their basic dictatorship is actually allowing them to turn their economy around on a dime.” Here again, Trudeau seemed to miss the obvious—China’s government operates one of the most brutal, oppressive dictatorships in history and has little or nothing to be admired, other than their individual citizens, of course.
On another occasion, Trudeau told us Russia’s incursion into Ukraine had something to do with Russia’s loss in Olympic hockey. People were dying in Ukraine and Trudeau could see humour in that?
Besides, it wasn’t long before Trudeau was at it again making light of serious issues when lives were at risk. This time he made a joke about Prime Minister Stephen Harper trying to “whip out our CF-18s” just to show how big they are.
This latter gaffe marked—perhaps precipitated—the beginning of the end of his commanding lead in public opinion polls, combined as it was with his political miscalculation of not supporting Canada’s military actions against ISIS in Iraq. Trudeau misread the mood of the people on this one and his party has been scrambling to backtrack and recover lost ground ever since. In October, Trudeau said:
As the months unfold I am certain that Canadians will realize that the Prime Minister did not think about Canada’s long-term interest or even what Canada has best to offer in the fight against ISIL ….”
Well, months have unfolded and Canadians have realized nothing of the sort and the Liberals are down in the polls.
On strictly political grounds, the Liberal leader’s record is also marred by miscalculations and inconsistencies.
Think about the shabby way he treated the former Liberal senators who had been staunch party supporters and organizers and who were Grits to the core. Trudeau cast them out of his caucus like one might throw out old shoes, but with less apparent gratitude for past service.
Then there was his announced policy of allowing “open nominations for all Liberal candidates in every single riding in the next election.” A policy that—in Shakespeare’s words—seems to be “a custom more honor’d in the breach than the observance.”
Consider the example of former long-shot leadership contender David Bertschi being blocked from seeking the Liberal nomination in Ottawa-Orleans so that Trudeau’s foreign policy adviser (retired) general Andrew Leslie could have the nomination to run in the Oct. 2015 general election. And who can forget the earlier blocking of a bid by Christine Innes to seek the nomination in Trinity-Spadina.
Following Trudeau’s career, one can see why Jonathan Swift would write, “Promises and pie crusts are made to be broken.”
I also found Trudeau on shaky moral grounds when he denied his MPs their right to vote their consciences on the moral issue of abortion, forcing them to vote pro-choice regardless of their personal or religious convictions.
The foregoing notwithstanding, I’m puzzled that, despite Trudeau’s mature age and length of time as a politician, he continues to exhibit uneven political judgement.
Moreover, sometimes Trudeau shows no political judgement at all, as seems to be the case with former Tory MP Eve Adams’ opportunistic floor-crossing.
As Margaret Wente of the Globe and Mail put it recently, Trudeau chose to “embrace a trouble-making reject that the Tories are obviously glad to get rid of.”
I believe Trudeau really harmed his image among both fellow hard-core Grits and non-partisan voters when he sat beside his new protégé at the press conference to announce her road-to-Damascus-like conversion to his cause. Adams’ mean-spirited parting shots at Prime Minister Stephen Harper and her former colleagues did little to enhance either her appeal to Liberal insiders or Trudeau’s street cred as an astute political leader.
To many watching the show, Trudeau seemed less like a principled statesman who saw himself as a prime minister in waiting and more like a cynical opportunist.
To use Trudeau’s own words, “when you start to compromise your principles, you’re through.”
He does have a way with words.