I don't care what your politics are. It was impossible not to be moved by Wednesday's ceremonies, held on the kind of luminous, golden day only a northern autumn can produce.
We aren't a grandiose country. Our rituals are simple. The swearing-in of a new prime minister is a solemn but low-key moment, suited to our national temperament. Even the Prime Minister bows to the Governor-General, who is there to remind us that our parliamentary roots go back for centuries. Our patriotism is thankfully less fervent than the American kind, but equally heartfelt. The stars have aligned for Justin Trudeau, and he wore his new power well – with grace, confidence and the right touch of humility.
Mr. Trudeau and his team are masters of symbol manipulation. The new female cabinet ministers, the turbans, the poppies, and the little girl greeting her happy parents at Rideau Hall all converged in a splendid photo op that said it all: This new government brings exuberance, diversity, and, above all, youth. There was scarcely a grey hair to be seen. The photo told the story. This is a seismic generational shift. Bye-bye, boomers. You've had your turn. Now it's ours.
The day was perfect, the cheering throngs ecstatic. It all looked like a Coke ad dreamed up by Don Draper. I don't mean this to sound cynical. That Coke ad was brilliant.
Although Mr. Trudeau emphasized the team, he won with sheer star power. He succeeded by reflecting an idealized version of Canada back to us. He told us that what we believe about ourselves is the way we really are. He told us that Canada's diversity is its greatest strength. He promised that Canada can once again be a light unto the nations. These are our most cherished self-conceits. If we can't be important in the world (and we are! we really are!) at least we can be virtuous.
The day also told us much about the man. Mr. Trudeau is very much a new-age man. He's a hugger. He regards his team as an extended family. He will rely on close personal relationships and loyalty to move ahead. His role as a father is important to him, and he wants us to know it. It would never occur to him to shake hands with his son. As for women, he breezily dismissed the issue of gender parity in cabinet by saying, "Because it's 2015." No retort to that is possible – none, at least, that won't make you seem like a hopeless old fossil.
On the CBC, the day sometimes felt more like a coronation than an investiture. But you can't really blame the reporters for gushing. They're charmed by him too. Also, most of them are (L)iberal. After the long dark night of the Harper years, the folks in the press gallery are sounding like traumatized puppies who gratefully realize the beatings have stopped. Sometimes, for the sake of balance, they remembered to throw in something faintly critical (gee, there really are a lot of rookies in the cabinet!) but their hearts weren't in it.
I remember the last seismic generational shift – when Trudeau the First was elected in 1968. I was 18 then. I was giddy with excitement, just as people are today. Pierre, too, promised that Canada could matter, and the world went gaga. Of course the images were different. Pierre showed up for his swearing-in wearing a sharp three-piece suit and a pair of kick-ass shades. His grim-looking henchmen appeared ready to kick ass too. No women in the picture, needless to say. The message was: Don't mess with me. The press gallery were terrified of him. He used to rip reporters to shreds. He didn't care much for the public, either. He disdained the adulation of the crowds. He would have hated selfies.
Then, as now, women swooned. Like his father, Justin Trudeau is physically attractive. But Trudeau the Second's appeal is completely different. He's the opposite of menacing. He's tactile and empathetic – the kind of man who will listen to your troubles while he rubs your feet. It's obvious that he understands his mother much better than his father ever did.
The picture of his mother, Margaret, and wife, Sophie, clasping hands as they watched him being sworn in, was the most intensely human moment of the day. Margaret Trudeau hasn't always aged well, but these days she looks lovely and serene. In many ways Sophie Grégoire reminds me of Margaret. She is not career-oriented. She is not pretentious. She is a yoga-organic-spiritual seeker kind of person. She is a gentle reminder that not all women aspire to be Sheryl Sandberg, leaning in.
Margaret is only 67. I realized with a shock that I'm not much younger than she is. I honestly don't feel I'm old enough to be handing things over to the kids just yet, but there you are. I hope they'll manage to hang on to their dreams and energy as long as possible. I doubt they'll screw things up more than we did.
There are some folks crowing that we finally have our country back. Those folks should get a grip. We never lost it. Our peaceable, prosperous, egalitarian country has elected 23 prime ministers without a fuss. That is not a partisan virtue. That's a Canadian virtue. And that's what Wednesday was really all about.