We all know know what Justin Trudeau did on his summer vacation, apart from spending time with his family. “Sitting on a patio with the kids on Sydney St in Charlottetown,” he tweeted last week. “Loving the family time this summer.” He was confronting his destiny, or at least some people’s idea of it.
The 41-year-old Liberal MP from the Montreal riding of Papineau, impossibly handsome, charming and much more comfortable in his skin than the bearer of such an iconic yet troublesome political name has any right to be, is almost to D-Day. As promised, he will announce soon, under intense pressure from party members, whether he has changed his mind and will seek the party leadership.
He is slated to attend an end-of-summer Liberal barbecue in Windsor in early September, at which the refreshments will include “hot dogs, hamburgers, pasta salad and non-alcoholic beverages.” And quite possibly hot buttered scion.
Oh Justin. I, too, have pondered your destiny. At first, the thought of your leading the now tattered but formerly great political party once led by your father, Pierre Trudeau, seemed to many pundits a cruel joke. What on earth have you done so far to deserve this responsibility?
You, with the expressive mane of hair and the explosive pronouncements that sometimes rival the idiocy of our other Justin, the Beeb. He put his purple suede high-top in it by maundering on about native Canadians getting free gas at the pumps. You called Environment Minister Peter Kent “a piece of – shouldn’t say that word” in the House of Commons, and once said you would rather live under separatism than the repressive policies of the Harperites. You walked it back, but still.
Sure, you beat Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau in a pretty-boy charity boxing match last March and looked surprisingly impressive as you danced like a butterfly and stung like a bee. The marriage of physical prowess and leadership has always been a heady one, perhaps not seen in this country since your father paddled his solo canoe. But that can’t be all it takes to lead a country.
Until recently, you were firm that this wasn’t your time. Your family is too young. You’re too inexperienced. But when interim leader Bob Rae, literally at the other end of the spectrum in terms of age and experience, threw in the towel, polls or pronouncements started to show that a certain Justin Trudeau, just by leading the Liberals, would catapult them back into popularity.
Are we that shallow? Yet watching you and your vibrant wife, Sophie Grégoire, on Tout le monde en parle, the Radio-Canada talk show that is better than any political blabfest in English Canada, I began to think, almost against my will, how refreshing it would be to experience a political leader who seems so lively, idealistic and real instead of the highly scripted robotic candidates who roam the land, chewing on chicken and dampening hopes everywhere.
You have an ability to connect and that may be what a desperate party really needs. Dangerous, though, if there’s no substance to back it up. So let’s parse what you would bring to the job. First, education and experience: Finished a couple of degrees (BA in Education), left a couple dangling, taught high school, became a professional politician in 2008. Held on to a tough riding through two elections in a province in which the Trudeau name is anathema to many. Spoke up for the environment, youth and citizenship issues.
I’ve heard from people who know you that, contrary to the easy spin, you are not shallow or a goofball but great company, a very good politician, and hey, what are the odds, a decent guy too.
How much drag does your famous name really give you? Author Ron Graham, who wrote an essay in Walrus magazine excoriating the Liberal honchos for anointing the drastically ill-suited Michael Ignatieff as leader, points out during an interview: “There’s a whole bunch of people in the country – maybe half – who have no political relationship” with your father. They are young and new, and all they see, Mr. Graham says, “is a very interesting young man with a glamorous name.” In short, all recognition, no baggage.
If there’s to be any Trudeaumania, it would have to build from scratch. Like the new Bourne Legacy movie, a new actor is taking over the lead role.
There are moments, looking at you, when one sees a breathtaking physical resemblance to your father, who so prized reason over passion, but you turn slightly and become your mother’s son.
In 2010, Margaret bravely came out with Changing My Mind, a moving bestseller in which she talked about her bipolar disorder and advocated for the mentally ill. Perhaps what you get from her is an emotional openness and ease that reminds us that you are the son of not one but two remarkable parents.
Soon, the people who care about your father’s legacy will be a distinct minority. But we always care what personal forces formed an aspiring political leader; one of the most poignant things about you is how you recall your father not as “the boss of Canada,” as you once childishly called him, but a great “Papa” who, despite being prime minister and a single father, devoted himself to his three sons and brought them up to know self-discipline, knowledge, faith, family and the outdoors.
Justin, only you can decide whether to take the plunge, to further sacrifice time with your young family, to place yourself in a highly vulnerable position in which, because of your liabilities, you are more than likely to be eaten alive.
Unless, of course, that boxing match is a metaphor for your political life. Looked like a lightweight until it came to the actual fight. Then, no knockout blow, but enough endurance and resilience to win.
Run, Justin, run. You may not win, but it will definitely be the making of you.