More flash than substance

Contributor examines why Justin Trudeau may not be the best choice for Liberal leadership

Justin Trudeau visited Queen’s campus and spoke to students and supporters on Feb. 13. He is currently running for the leadership of the federal Liberal Party of Canada.
Image by: Alex Choi
Justin Trudeau visited Queen’s campus and spoke to students and supporters on Feb. 13. He is currently running for the leadership of the federal Liberal Party of Canada.

Justin Mathews, ArtSci ’14

Earlier this month front runner of the Liberal leadership race Justin Trudeau visited Queen’s. Speaking to an unsurprisingly packed audience, supporters young and old eagerly shared words of encouragement and praise.

Yet, despite his popularity, Trudeau has thus far proven himself to be extremely inept both politically and intellectually. So much so that Liberals should take a long, sober second to consider if he’s an appropriate fit, let alone the best contender they have to offer to be Canada’s next Prime Minister.

His resumé for starters is incredibly unimpressive. Holding a Bachelor of Arts in literature, he’s had a brief stint as a teacher and actor, as well as a generally unremarkable two years in Parliament except for besting Senator Patrick Brazeau in a celebrity-boxing match. Although he did play one, Trudeau is clearly no Rhodes scholar.

His competition for Liberal leadership in contrast, is quite clearly overqualified. Deborah Coyne is an Oxford alumnus, constitutional lawyer, professor, author, public policy consultant and previously worked in the Prime Minister’s Office. Marc Garneau — Canada’s first astronaut — is a decorated soldier, and engineer and was until recently, the President of the Canadian Space Agency.

But politics is much more than a resume or an intellectual pursuit. To Trudeau’s credit he admits as much when asked about his father: “He [Pierre] was an intellectual. I’m still a person who has very strong opinion.” Unfortunately the strength of conviction doesn’t make a leader, and it’s precisely this form of rhetoric that should worry constituents.

More problematic, however is that in addition to a lack in substance, what he says also lacks judgement. Trudeau is guilty of repeatedly putting his foot in his mouth — complete with apologies and redirecting the blame to his critics for “playing politics.”

Last February, Trudeau clumsily suggested that Canada was so far gone under Stephen Harper’s government that perhaps Quebec would be better off in secession. While he certainly wasn’t paying lip service to Quebec separation, the response is telling. It’s the type of hyperbolic reaction expected by an outspoken pundit or radical backbencher. Moreover, the misstep worsened when he confused the issue of a Harper-led Canada with Quebec sovereignty.

Last fall, he apologized to Albertans for an earlier interview where he pigeonholed the province, equating them to the policies espoused by the Harper government. In his apology he made clear that Canada needs a leader who seeks to unite, rather than divide like NDP leader Thomas Mulcair and Harper who both play up regional cleavages for political points. The irony isn’t lost: Trudeau’s criticisms here are exactly what sparked his apology in the first place.

Most recently, Trudeau called the long-gun registry a failure, a registry he himself had defended for years, had praised for saving lives, and voted not to abolish only few months prior. As complex an issue gun-control is, it’s one thing to say gun-control in Canada needs more than the registry, and something else entirely to tell a rural Hawkesbury community gun ownership is an “important facet of Canadian identity” in an effort to buy their declining vote. In all, it seems Justin Trudeau is best described as Liberal’s “right face with the wrong mouth.”

As for his platform, Trudeau has kept largely silent. He did however offer a welcoming stance on the CNOOC-Nexen deal — which would see to the Chinese state-owned takeover of the Canadian-based oil and gas company — which surprisingly demonstrated a substantive acknowledgement of the economic realities of the oil sands.

Of course, the Conservatives offered a similar position that was heavily criticized by Trudeau. While he endorsed the foreign takeover, Trudeau maintained it was made opaquely. When asked about his own proposed restrictions, he offered none, only that his “policies would certainly be clearer.”

Where Trudeau stands out — aside from his celebrity status — is the time spent in criticizing the Harper government and lack thereof in actual policy. It’s no secret that leftists of all stripes harbour deep resentment towards the Conservative majority and while his insistence to play this card is effective, a brief history lesson reveals this as nothing more than a cheap parlour trick.

It was in fact the Liberals that paved the road for big business, with former Finance Minister Paul Martin cutting 40 per cent of funding to social programs while offering a $100 billion tax cut for corporations. The suggestion then that we should return to them for salvation is almost insulting.

More puzzling is Trudeau’s call to remove Harper and offer Canada a viable alternative, yet stubbornly refuse to talk policy instead of platitudes — just ask Marc Garneau.

The Liberal party has long enjoyed success in federal government with leaders who were all incredibly credentialed before their seat in office. Understandable the rationale may be to push for his candidacy in view of the previously poor performances of leaders who seemed aloof, academic and apathetic, it seems the pendulum is swinging too far in the opposite direction.

Liberals ought to be wary of turning themselves into a personality cult; mistakenly investing in a candidate too heralded for popularity but lacking any intellectual capacity or leadership ability.

Justin Trudeau remains an unqualified, policy-illiterate, foot-in-mouth demagogue better described as a populist figurehead than a legitimate Liberal leader candidate. Not only does he fail to rise above the political games that supporters who have drowned in the Kool-Aid seem to suggest, but he does play it, and he plays it poorly.

More disheartening is that his candidacy wouldn’t be taken this seriously if his last name were anything other than the last name of his father’s.

He may very well embody the vitality, charisma, charm and appearance that young Liberal supporters want, but he’s hardly what a now-defunct Liberal party needs.


Justin Trudeau, Leadership

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