In his new autobiography, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau takes pain to distance himself from his father. He really didn't have to do this, though – it's always been obvious that he is everything Trudeau Père was not.
Mr. Trudeau is warm and nice and fuzzy. He doesn't have an intellectual bone in his body. He's somewhere between flower power and New Age. He's often at a loss for words.
When he lets loose, he says things like the situation in Ukraine is "even more worrying now that Russia lost at hockey." Or he professes his admiration for China because "their basic dictatorship is allowing them to turn their economy around on a dime." Or he cracks juvenile jokes about those "whipping out our CF-18s to show how big they are" – as Canada considered whether to join the military coalition in Iraq.
Mr. Trudeau was practically absent from that discussion himself, although it was arguably the country's most important debate of the year. He subcontracted the job of explaining the Liberal position to MP Marc Garneau, while Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Official Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair of the New Democrats were at the forefront, making strong and rational arguments.
Is Mr. Trudeau a born leader? Certainly not. If he became prime minister, could he grow in the function of leader? Unfortunately, leadership is something he doesn't much value. "I am a teacher," he told The Globe and Mail recently. "I believe in sort of sharing in a discussion and coming out with insights on both sides."
That's the description of a community organizer's role. The common definition of a teacher, at least since the days of Socrates, is that of a transmitter of knowledge. Whether it's lecturing or running a seminar, a teacher is a leader who is expected to know more than his students and act as a guide, rather than a friend.
True to form, Mr. Trudeau was altogether charming and evasive when he was interviewed last Sunday on Tout le monde en parle, Quebec's most popular television talk show. He couldn't say anything remotely substantial on international affairs. He could hardly answer questions about the Harper government's role on the world scene or the demands of national security in the context of the rise of the Islamic State. Mr. Trudeau seems chronically blind to the notion that the world out there might be a tough place.
Asked his opinion of Mr. Mulcair, all he could say was that the NDP leader "followed his path," explaining that he prefers not to "attack" or "divide." This reflex was actually epitomized by the spontaneous answer he provided a few months ago to a question about which political system he prefers. There's something to be said "for the way our territories are run … around consensus," he said. Does Mr. Trudeau, the leader of a political party in a parliamentary democracy, really believe that Canada should have the same governing system as Nunavut and its tiny, homogeneous aboriginal population?
Mr. Trudeau was more at ease on domestic issues, but again, he sounded desperately sweet, answering precise questions with vague comments filled with bromides, totally devoid of assertiveness. He didn't even express strong feelings when asked about the invasion of his home a couple of months ago. The incident was "disturbing," he acknowledged meekly.
Is this Peter Pan-like sweetness what Canadians want? Perhaps it is, given how far ahead the Liberals are in polls of voters' intentions. But my guess is that his party will start losing ground as soon as the election campaign begins and the focus is on the leaders.