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(For The Globe and Mail)
(For The Globe and Mail)

Lawrence Martin

Battling it out on the nation’s bookshelves Add to ...

Prime Minister Stephen Harper might want to steer clear of bookstores in the coming months. Not only is his arch rival, Justin Trudeau, bringing out a book, one designed to portray the Liberal Leader as a consensus-builder as opposed to a polarizer. But there are other upcoming volumes that will hardly serve to burnish the PM’s legacy.

There’s one from journalist Michael Harris who, with a twist on Shakespeare, has described Mr. Harper as the “Merchant of Venom.” His book is entitled Party of One. The theme, as described in the book’s promo literature, is that Mr. Harper is “a profoundly anti-democratic figure” who has “made war on every independent source of information in Canada.”

This will be followed by an offering from Mark Bourrie, another member of Mr. Harper’s beloved Ottawa Press Gallery. It’s called Kill the Messengers: Stephen Harper’s Assault on Your Right to Know. Mr. Bourrie provides chapter and verse on how the Harper machine has tried to shut down the free flow of information through intimidation and smear campaigns. He examines the range of anti-democratic measures taken to override the checks and balances in the system. If Mr. Harper wins again, writes Mr. Bourrie, “he’ll have created a new undemocratic way of ruling Canada.”

No doubt the books will have the Harper communications boys in overdrive in an attempt to discredit their contents. They’ve already started taking whacks at the Trudeau autobiography, as have others. The critics are rightly asking, isn’t it a little early for this guy to be writing a book about himself? How can there be more than one chapter?

The book is called Common Ground. That’s not a bad title, but the subtitle – My Past, Our Present, Canada’s Future – has a sanctimonious tone. Mr. Trudeau needs to be careful of appearing that way. It’s how he sounds in his current TV spot, the one where he grandiosely concludes by beseeching Canadians to give him their time and their hard work. It is cringe-inducing.

The PM’s publicists have been quick to make the point that their guy has written a book as well. But rather than an egotistical exercise, it was a book about hockey. They have frequently accused Mr. Trudeau of having a wafer-thin resumé that makes him unfit to be prime minister. In response, Mr. Trudeau’s defenders suggest Mr. Harper should cast a glance at his own resumé when he was running for the top office. You want wafer-thin, they say. Try that one.

Alleged lack of substance was a major reason for Mr. Trudeau writing his book. If the volume serves to lessen the criticism, it will be worthwhile. Thus far the attacks haven’t had much sting. The latest poll published on the weekend by Ekos puts the Trudeau Liberals at 38 per cent, the Conservatives 25, the NDP 23.

But Liberals worry that the “he’s lighter than soufflé” image will eventually register and thus are pleased to see him lay out his story. It’s not like there aren’t some interesting twists in his life. He was raised in the household of one of Canada’s most famous men. He saw his parents’ marriage crumble. He had a close brother, Michel, killed in a snow avalanche. His presence has raised the Liberal Party from the depths.

Another good reason for his doing the book is that if Mr. Trudeau has any embarrassments in his history, it gives him a chance to get them out on his own terms as opposed to those of his opponents.

With their fortunes declining, the Tories could well get desperate. They did so earlier this month, going so low as to accuse Mr. Trudeau of cavorting with al-Qaeda supporters because he had once visited a Montreal mosque. U.S. intelligence agencies suspected the mosque had ties to extremists, but they hadn’t yet made those suspicions known by the time of the Trudeau visit.

The attempted smear backfired. It had the look of being straight from a merchants of venom playbook. Better for Mr. Trudeau to have his own book, even if premature or hastily written, define him than one of those.

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