There is little doubt that the entrance of Justin Trudeau into the Liberal leadership race is big news. The media loves him. Why not? He is the son of Canada’s most popular and polarizing Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau and like his father, Justin exudes charisma and cuts a dapper image, even when he is modeling himself after a Musketeer (I can’t take credit for this comparison alas, it came from here). He’s part of a political dynasty that this country has never had provincially or federally (save for the Bennett’s in BC and the Manning’s) and likely the entrance of Justin Trudeau into the race is exciting news for those hungry for intrigue in Canadian politics.
The question that will occupy politicos and Liberals alike in the coming months until the April 14th 2013 Liberal Leadership convention is this: does Justin Trudeau have what it takes to lead the Liberal party out of third-party status and into the light, back to ‘natural governing party’ success? Below are the reasons why I believe the answer to that question is a resounding, no.
First, let’s leave Justin out of the equation and look at his opponents in parliament. On one side you have Thomas Mulcair, leader of the Official Opposition New Democratic Party. Mulcair is a no-nonsense Quebec federalist who has shown already he isn’t afraid to take on contentious positions (Dutch disease anyone?). He has fashioned a coalition of Atlantic and BC progressives together with Quebec progressives and soft nationalists. Mulcair is actively fashioning this coalition and working to expand and gain traction into the prairies and build up support in Ontario. It will be very difficult to pull votes away from this coalition, which Trudeau will need to do if he wants to break back into old Liberal territory.
On the other side of the aisle you have Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada for the past six years and guaranteed by the Constitution to lead the country into his tenth year in 2016 (as an aside while convention has had majorities call elections after every four years, the Constitution has mandated elections every five years). Harper and his team is a master of labeling. In no time flat he was able to label the past two Liberal leaders Stéphane Dion as “Not a Leader,” and Michael Ignatieff as “Just Visiting” with very little truth to hang off those accusation. Does anybody think he’d have a difficult time labeling Justin Trudeau as “the entitled son, his father’s son, out for himself, inexperienced, hot-headed, or son of the NEP”? There is ample fodder and Trudeau hasn’t even launched his race yet.
In a recent column and in top cynical form, political commenter Andrew Coyne adds another layer to the analysis of Justin Trudeau and his suitability to lead the Liberal Party and it’s something I’ve noted as well. If he has any firm policy stands, few people accept Justin Trudeau likely knows what they are. We know he’s been an advocate for youth, especially the Katimavik program, as well as an advocate for the environment (parliamentary expletives aside) but what else would he stand for? None of Justin’s parliamentary pronouncements nor his public ones give any clue to what he would do regarding the Nexen oil deal, EI claw backs from Canadians living in Atlantic provinces and as Andrew points out, using a deficit to stimulate the economy or reducing it to “reassure financial markets”. On a great many things, mum has been the word thus far.
Justin himself is no dummy (he has a degree in Literature from McGill and a degree in Education from UBC). He is passionate and certainly speaks like a leader at times. He won a difficult riding that many thought would be unwinnable by a Liberal and certainly by a Trudeau. Let’s also not forget that he won the boxing match against Senator Patrick Brazeau and he has a lot of twitter followers. These are all impressive achievements but in my mind, they don’t add up to a successful leader of a major Canadian political party? The missteps he’s made will be easy bull’s-eyes for a Conservative party that has been unafraid to stretch the truth to absurd lengths in the past. The NDP is not likely to give up the gains they have made without a fight, so attack ads from both camps are likely. I’m certain that the governing party already has “separatist” ads in the can just waiting to be released once Trudeau announces his leadership bid this coming Tuesday. With the above standing in his way though, and his apparent inability to watch what he says, he may indeed be the biggest liability the Liberal leadership contest has.
UPDATE: This column has been updated to reflect the submission I made to the Huffington Post Canada. I made some changes and wanted them to be reflected here.
For a characteristically cynical look at Justin Trudeau’s Liberal race check out Andrew Coyne’s article here.
You can read columnist John Ibbitson’s Globe and Mail article here.
Gerald Caplan takes a somewhat parallel look to mine here.