Hype is Justin Trudeau's blessing and his curse. His popularity seems to float on a rising tide of expectations.
Accordingly, his Saturday speech to the Liberal Party's convention in Montreal had been comically overanalyzed long before it began; even if, as some have suggested, this was Mr. Trudeau's "biggest" or "most important" or "most crucial" speech since he assumed the party leadership, it's unlikely to prove any more consequential than any other convention address by any other leader.
He'll score some soundbites, and he's dropped a few more breadcrumbs on his way to the 2015 federal campaign, but this weekend's "big speech" won't change history. "Big" speeches almost never do—except, occasionally, for the worse. (Michael Ignatieff's announcement, at a 2009 Liberal caucus meeting, that, "Mr. Harper, your time is up" leaps to mind.)
So, if you're looking for analysis of events of real consequence, go to your favourite search engine and type in "Ukraine."
With that disclaimer, here's a simple observation about Justin Trudeau's speech: If it was less important than it seemed, then what he said (and how) was less significant than what he didn't.
Here are three things that weren't in his speech:
1. His passion. When he opened the convention on Thursday, Mr. Trudeau entered the room at the rear and meandered his way to the front, glad-handing along the way. A natural politician—which Trudeau is—draws his energy from his audience, and a leader who reaches the podium having navigated a sea of adulation is more likely to feel (and sound) jazzed than one who enters from stage right and just starts speaking. On Saturday, Mr. Trudeau did the latter. His presentation was more subdued than spectacular, more mellow than melodramatic. Don't think this was an accident; by toning down his delivery, Mr. Trudeau seemed to be trying to tell the story of his own maturation—of the boy leader quickly growing to fill his own shoes.
2. His party. Since the twilight of the Chrétien years, Liberal leaders have traded on the party’s glorious past in their efforts to save its future. Few recent leaders have passed up their opportunity to name-drop Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin, Kyoto and Kelowna, the Charter and childcare, Medicare and the maple leaf. Mr. Trudeau did. His speech was delivered to Liberals, but it wasn't about Liberals. That, too, is no accident; the party's pooh-bahs have evidently decided to stop begging the question, "but what have you done for me lately?" Not a single former Liberal leader has a keynote speaking role at this weekend's convention. For a party that often likes to talk about itself, that's no casual omission. Mr. Trudeau's Saturday speech featured remarkably little navel-gazing, by Liberal standards. It's about time.
3. His policy. It's unreasonable to begrudge Mr. Trudeau for refusing to unveil his platform nearly two years before the next election. Neither the New Democrats nor the Conservatives have or will release theirs any sooner. Mr. Trudeau's speech spoke of ends, not means; he promised rising middle-class incomes and university attainment rates without explaining exactly how he'd get there. At this point, that should be fine. If he doesn't eventually provide a plausible package of policies in his platform, then voters may punish him and his party at the polls. In the meantime, broad promises, political posturing, and specific policy on a few particular issues—foreign investment, energy infrastructure, Senate reform, and marijuana, to name a few—will have to suffice. Saturday's one possible revelation came only briefly, when Mr. Trudeau mentioned the policy resolution on euthanasia that delegates discussed at this weekend's convention. He didn't take a position on the issue, however, setting himself up for either an unexpected policy pronouncement or a bit of artful evasion when the press inevitably asks him to elaborate. With that exception, Mr. Trudeau's speech confirmed the pattern that will continue until the 2015 campaign begins: despite the pundits' protestations, he won't announce his platform before he announces his platform.
By the time he left the podium on Saturday, Mr. Trudeau had given more than 3,000 Liberals their money's worth. For what his speech was and wasn't, it left its immediate audience energized. After a decade's worth of Liberal existential crisis, that happiness should be success enough—for now, anyway.
Adam Goldenberg is a former Liberal speechwriter and a Kirby Simon Human Rights Fellow at Yale Law School.Report Typo/Error