Sometimes a guy can't catch a break.
"Justin. Unplugged." read the eye-catching invitation to a Toronto fundraiser held last week. The come-on offered well-heeled professional ladies (their word, not mine) the chance to hear the "future prime minister of Canada" address such hardball questions as, "What's your favourite virtue?" and "Who are your real-life heroes?"
Ladies, sometimes I cringe for my sex.
"To be honest, when I first saw the invite – complete with Warholian photos of Justin – I thought it was an attack ad, thought up by the Conservative Party's war room," blogged government-relations expert Lisa Kirbie. And she's a liberal.
It went downhill from there. During the event, Mr. Trudeau was asked which nation's administration, besides Canada's, he admires most. "Not the fluffy questions some were expecting!" exclaimed Amanda Alvaro, the host. Justin's response to this brain-buster showed why he can't be trusted to go around unplugged.
"You know, there's a level of admiration I actually have for China," he said. He went on to observe that dictatorships are able to do things faster than democracies, like going green and investing in solar panels. Sensing that he was neck-deep in the swamp, he tried to recover, but it was too late. Everybody pounced on him – Conservatives, New Democrats, Tibetans. Right-wing pundits posted photos of smog-choked Chinese cities, where people die of air pollution by the thousands. An Asian-Canadian coalition formed to fight Chinese oppression held a press conference that was covered by the CBC. They demanded an apology and a meeting to describe their personal experiences of persecution. "Can I use the word 'foolish'?" said one.
In the big scheme of things, this is a nothing. But it's trouble Mr. Trudeau doesn't need. It reinforces the impression that he's the guy in short pants. He's supposed to be the master of social media, but thanks to ladies' night, he's been trending on Twitter for all the wrong reasons.
Anyone who watched Question Period during the Senate scandals could see that Mr. Trudeau was totally outclassed. As the NDP's Thomas Mulcair dissected Stephen Harper's changing version of events with surgical precision, Mr. Trudeau came across as an earnest amateur. When debate time comes around again, those two will carve him up. Poor Liberals. They have the wrong leader.
As Mr. Trudeau spent all weekend gamely tweeting to defend himself, Mr. Harper stroked some of the ethnic groups his party has courted with such success. He showed up in Toronto to celebrate Diwali, where he declared that India is at the centre of the government's Asian policy. He spoke at the Ukrainian Canadian Congress convention, where he got five standing ovations.
Perhaps wisely, Mr. Trudeau has mostly stayed away from boring policy stuff. After all, his strongest asset is supposed to be his personality, and the next election is far away. Still, I am beginning to suspect his policy needs work too. A couple of weeks ago, he said he thinks Canada should put a price on carbon – even though the main (and only) effect would be to raise prices for consumers while making Canadian industry less competitive. Mr. Harper, meanwhile, is going to campaign on unbundling your cable fees. If Mr. Trudeau plans to fight for the middle class, maybe he should think up something else.
As Ms. Kirbie blogged the other day, Justin's biggest political problem is that he looks vapid and lightweight. The trouble is, whenever he takes a stab at saying something really substantive, he winds up looking … vapid and lightweight.
That's a problem. Even when he's only talking to the ladies.