“I touched his hand, I touched his hand,” cried one woman. Another said she showed up only in case he took his shirt off, an unlikely prospect in the minus 10 wind chill. Yet another admirer, this one a man, fanned himself dramatically, as if about to faint, after Justin Trudeau agreed to sign a picture. A throng of photographers, cameramen and selfie seekers like nothing seen since the notorious days of Rob Ford mobbed the Prime Minister as he made his way across Nathan Phillips Square, the windswept plaza in front of City Hall.
A touch of Trudeaumania came to Toronto on Wednesday, and for an hour or two, this buttoned-down city acted like a giddy teenager at a rock concert. Protocol officials told the mayor's office that it was the first time a prime minister has made an official visit to City Hall since the city took its current shape under amalgamation in 1998. That in itself was remarkable. What is even more remarkable is the hopeful buzz this particular prime minister – fresh, young and pledged to help cities succeed – is generating in the country’s biggest urban centre.
Toronto is facing big challenges, from gridlocked roads to crumbling public housing to underfunded transit. City leaders are hoping almost desperately that Mr. Trudeau will be their knight in shining armour.
Appropriately, a young man and young woman peddling T-shirts came to the Justin show wearing a “Dreamy Trudeau” shirt that showed him riding a horse against the backdrop of a glittering night sky. Nearby, a rough-looking fellow scooped up a handful of road salt and threw it in the air over the crowd like a wedding guest tossing rice. Large men with earpieces huddled close as the crowd pressed around the man they are sworn to protect.
Mr. Trudeau, obliging as always, stopped and turned on a smile that appeared extra white on his vacation-bronzed face, looking first left, then right, then centre, so no one would miss the shot.
Inside City Hall, the atmosphere was just as dizzy. City councillors often absent from their second-floor offices were suddenly present and accounted for, paws outstretched for a handshake with “Justin.” Civil servants sworn to impartiality lined the balcony above the marbled lobby to wait for him to emerge from a meeting with Mayor John Tory. When the fire alarm sounded, nobody made a move. A wisecracker said it went off because Mr. Trudeau undid the top buttons of his shirt. Even an official city Twitter feed got excited, exclaiming “He’s here!”
When Mr. Trudeau finally emerged to take the podium, whoops and cheers rang out. Mr. Tory, surrendering to his role as Prince Charles to Mr. Trudeau’s Princess Diana, said, “Let’s hear it for the Prime Minister.” More whoops, more applause.
Can Mr. Trudeau ever hope to fulfill the soaring hopes Toronto (not to mention the rest of the country) has placed on his square shoulders? It won’t be easy. Just weeks into his prime ministership, he finds himself facing an economic scare that will make it hard for the government to come up with the promised billions for cities without digging a deep budgetary hole.
At a meeting in the mayor’s office, the two men are said to have talked in general terms about green retrofits of public housing, hastening Ottawa’s promised infrastructure spending and helping the Toronto Transit Commission with repairs and maintenance.
At their joint news conference afterward, neither Prime Minister nor mayor had anything much new to say or to announce. Mr. Tory looked forward to a “solid, productive partnership” with the new Liberal government in Ottawa. Mr. Trudeau anticipated “a long and productive positive relationship.”
Still, mood and tone matter in politics. That the Prime Minister should come to City Hall so soon after his election sends an encouraging signal. That he seems to understand the importance of thriving cities matters, too. It doesn’t hurt that the message of what he called “optimism and positivity” is being delivered by an appealing messenger who comes across as open and genuine – and doesn’t mind stopping for a few selfies on his way across a frigid square.
Mr. Trudeau’s sunny ways are infectious. Who can blame City Hall for basking for an afternoon in the rays?Report Typo/Error