Justin Trudeau has become a punching bag. Despite his third straight election win, he’s seriously wounded, critics maintain, so much so that he’ll limp off to the exit gates in a couple of years.
Don’t bank on it. As those with a sense of history know, the loathing of Mr. Trudeau is nothing out of the normal. After many years in office, almost every prime minister has found himself a target for torment. Baggage has accumulated, promises have been broken, senseless mistakes have been made.
For Stephen Harper, condemnation was so intense that it was described as “Harper Derangement Syndrome.” Following two big election triumphs, Brian Mulroney was vilified. So was John Diefenbaker. Jean Chrétien wasn’t beaten up by the press so much as by his own party, which rebelled against him. Pierre Trudeau was despised by legions.
As with the others, a lot of the wrath aimed at Justin Trudeau is justified, a lot of it is knee-jerk partisanship.
He had a close-up view of the abuse his father took. One of his traits he shares with him is tenacity. He’s not likely to succumb to pressures and let the haters drive him out. Not while haunted, as so many leaders are, and he appears to be, by hubris.
He’s just 49 and has been in office only six years and there is no heir apparent. Men of his age do not relinquish enormous prime ministerial power unless forced. He has a progressive policy vision to implement, maligners to spite and his Liberal Party behind him.
Why wouldn’t the party back him? While not getting a majority and scoring a pathetic popular vote total, Mr. Trudeau still smashed his nearest rival by 40 seats. He extended his own mandate while leaving other leaders fighting for their jobs or losing them. He gave life to the People’s Party, which suits his party just fine as it divides the right.
As for most of the anger that comes his way, Mr. Trudeau has only himself to curse. Critics rightly have at him for his ethical transgressions, his overcentralization of power, his cloying personal style, his boneheaded, tone-deaf manoeuvres such as his National Day for Truth and Reconciliation holiday detour to Tofino beach.
But there’s a larger framing to be made. Historians won’t pay much heed to ill-timed vacations and scandalettes like We Charity. They’ll look at how he handled the most dire challenges.
With the pandemic, he faced the most life-threatening crisis to hit this country in ages. Even opponents give him some credit for getting Canadians through it with a low mortality rate compared with other developed countries. The fourth wave isn’t his doing. Vaccine refusers are to blame, as well as conservatives such as Alberta Premier Jason Kenney.
Enormous challenge No. 2 is the escalating existential crisis of climate change. He took the critical step in confronting it, being one of the first leaders to bring in a strong tax on carbon.
The third great threat was in having to face the most vile U.S. President Canada has ever seen. Mr. Trudeau held steady, warding off the mad king’s provocations and securing the trade relationship.
Politically, Justin Trudeau’s three and zero record (his father was four and one) is highlighted by the exceptional feat of rescuing the party from third-place oblivion to No. 1 with his 2015 victory.
All said, the record and the hate do not equate. Barring some huge setback – he’s playing with fire on debt and deficits – the record is one he’ll want to extend. In winning again, he’d equal Wilfrid Laurier’s record of four victories in succession and with no defeats he’d better Laurier who lost three.
He needs imagine that if he does, he could again be confronted by Mr. Trump. The demagogue is chomping at the bit for a return to power, so much so that he wanted to announce his candidacy last week, only to be dissuaded by advisers.
Some of his support has drifted away but not enough, political handicappers reason, to deny him his party’s nomination.
The alternative universe, reality-shredding show this man has created endures. Jan. 6 hasn’t scared away adherents, nor has the threat of a repeat of that day, nor has his explicitly fraudulent claims of having won the election.
He’s just lost a recount in the state of Arizona. No matter. Yet another insider, his former press secretary Stephanie Grisham, has just released a tell-all book detailing what a reckless egomaniac he is. No matter.
Health problems or legal problems could emerge to block him, as Mr. Trudeau would surely hope. If not, he could become the world’s most powerful man again, setting the stage, god help us, for more bedlam, lunacy and insurrection.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that if Mr. Trudeau won again he would be the only Liberal leader to win four times in succession. This version has been corrected.
Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.