Eight questions about Justin Trudeau

Conservatives have been salivating for a crack at Trudeau, says Jason Lietaer. ‘Now we get our chance’


Justin Trudeau’s leadership run has been decades in the making.  Most of us knew we’d end up here about 12 years ago.  Looking back, I remember Oct. 3, 2000 very well.  I was in “issues management” in Mike Harris’ office in Ontario. I was pretty confident there weren’t going to be any real issues to manage – it was the day of Pierre Trudeau’s funeral.

A group of conservative staffers in Toronto were watching the funeral on TV as we absentmindedly did our work. At one point, a young man took the podium, and – overcome with grief – gave a speech that sent most Liberals into what I would call a melancholy frenzy. It was passionate and heartfelt and interesting – everything a good eulogy should be.  I was really, really sad for this guy I didn’t know because he’d lost his father. But, I’m a little embarrassed to admit, I sat there thinking the speech was more than a little melodramatic and just a little too much about him.

See, that’s the thing with Justin Trudeau, and ultimately his challenge. He’s polarizing. I felt guilty about thinking the way I did about his speech on what must have been an awful day.  I still feel a little bad about it today. But what I couldn’t see from my biased perch was the way the eulogy would be received in Liberal circles and in most of the media.  It was a smash. Full of charisma and panache. I remember people openly musing he would be Prime Minister someday. He was not yet 30. It woke me up a bit to the fact you can’t always trust your own eyes on this stuff.

He’s a genuine Canadian celebrity in a way that not many other people are – famous inside our borders, well known in every street corner, hamlet, town and city. Not quite Wayne Gretzky or Rick Mercer, perhaps, but at least Gord Downie or Claude Giroux. Women go crazy for him…I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Just the other day, a client of mine asked me “for his wife” to set up a lunch with Trudeau. I laughed and told him the price just went up.

Back in 2000, it would have been hard to predict the Liberal party would be where it is today. Broken, broke, weakened, and consigned to small pockets of the country. It needs a turnaround. And the fundamental truth is that Justin Trudeau has both the biggest possible ceiling and the lowest potential floor of any Canadian political candidate in history.   Literally any scenario is on the table here, ranging from majority government to leading the party to a quick extinction.

After the initial Trudeaumania dies down (and it will), some questions:

Can Trudeau show some substance? 

When he’s not boxing, he looks like a lightweight. He’s been given junior jobs by his bosses: Associate Critic for Youth….Critic for Youth, Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism…noticeably absent from the resume: “Finance Critic.” Given that the next election is most likely to feature a debate on resources, jobs and the economy, he’s got some serious work to do.

How will Quebec react?  And what about the West?

His father has political legacies everywhere – some good, and some not so good. Will Quebeckers support their native son, or see him as some sort of “centralisateur”? Quebec is so unpredictable right now that I don’t think any of us knows. And what of the West? To win, the Liberal party has to win some seats west of Kenora and east of Vancouver. Can the son of the man who proposed the National Energy Program pull it off? Can westerners ever trust this guy to defend the oil sands both inside and outside our borders?

What will men think?

When they do poorly, the Liberals have a historic gender gap: their support amongst men significantly lags that of women. It’ll take more than fancy hair and a mischievous grin to get guys like my buddies or my dad to vote for you. On the other hand, there are certainly some that long for the Trudeau years and love the mystique. How will it break?  Nobody knows.

How will it affect the NDP?

Don’t let their determined smiles fool you – the NDP knows Trudeau is a serious threat to its new-found success. Trudeau might not be humble enough to employ a “two-election” strategy, but if he were able to keep his ambition in check and prove himself, he could definitely overtake the NDP for second place. And would his leadership put an end to ongoing discussion between the two parties about merging or co-operating? I imagine so for two reasons: his arrogance and the NDP’s dislike for him specifically. Hard to imagine Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair negotiating a truce.

Will Conservatives be able to keep their emotions in check?

This is a big one. Many conservatives are over-confident about Trudeau, and certainly are itching to take a round out of him. The spectacle with Senator Brazeau proved it’s easier said than done. I prefer an attitude of healthy respect and fear when sizing up any opponent, but it’ll be tough to keep our instincts in check with Trudeau. The challenge here will be for Conservatives to assess him through the eyes of others, not themselves. Too often, political parties can’t see the allure of their opponent (it happens now with the left: some can’t believe anyone could like Stephen Harper). We must remember to see Trudeau how average Canadians see him and take away those perceived strengths.

Can he handle the glare and pressure?

True story: the first time I met Justin Trudeau, I stuck out my hand and introduced myself. His first words were “Do you want a picture”? I just about spit out my drink as I laughed and said no.  He’s used to cameras on him, but now it’s gonna be a little different. He’s had some goofy moments (being mocked for speaking two languages in the same sentence) and some real missteps (attacking the government for using the word “barbaric” to describe honour killings). Political campaigns are not a walk in the park. He’s handled some stern challenges before (winning and holding a really tough riding under difficult circumstances). But he’s going to have to grow up in a hurry and he will be tested like never before.

Will he be able to sustain the frenzy of new supporters?

I think it’s safe to say that Trudeau will energize a new group of younger voters, especially out of the gate. Just look: HE’S HUGE ON TWITTER!!! He’s young, brash, and talks like them.  The question is will he be able to sustain it? Will all the people who “join” the Liberal party to elect him leader be there for the general election?  If they can’t even be bothered to take out a $10 membership card, will they be there when he needs them?

Will he change the Liberal party for the better?

The recent Liberal party has shunned the hard work of rebuilding a political party and standing for something for the quick fix… the savior…the easy route…seemingly always believing that this shiny handsome new leader can return them to past glories and RETAKE THEIR PLACE AS THE NATURAL GOVERNING PARTY, THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

Oh, wait a second….

You know, Conservatives like me have been salivating for years over the chance to have our crack at this guy – maybe to exercise the demons of the past, maybe because he just rubs us the wrong way.   Well now, it appears that we’re going to get our chance.  My gut tells me we’ll have our work cut out for us.  My goal is simple: to show everybody that this is not the second coming of Camelot and there is no happy ending to this epic fairy tale. We will demonstrate that Canada still needs a leader who actually doesn’t care if he has his picture taken or which celebrities he may meet, but just wants to get the job done. I think we’ll succeed.  ust watch us.

Jason Lietaer is a communicator and strategist with Ensight Canada, specializing in strategic branding, crisis management, communication and political and marketing campaigns. During the 2011 federal election, he headed the Conservative Party’s war room.


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Eight questions about Justin Trudeau

  1. You don’t like him. Check.

  2. …seemingly always believing that this shiny
    handsome new leader can return them to past glories and RETAKE THEIR

    What were you saying about seeing things through other peoples eyes? The liberals have made this mistake once precisely – with MI. Dion was surely an anomoly, everyone’s second choice and no ones first – and it showed. [ well i must admit the Carney thing was getting a bit silly]
    Liberals have certainly been gulity of sitting on their laurels and taking the voting public and their own members for granted. But this saviour theme is just something you and the media largely hung around their necks…to the point you actually believe it now, hell half the LPC even believes it.

    ” We will demonstrate that Canada still needs a leader who actually doesn’t care
    if he has his picture taken or which celebrities he may meet, but just
    wants to get the job done. I think we’ll succeed. Just watch us.”

    This is intended as irony, right! Or is it satire and high comedy?

  3. I stopped reading after you wrote about gender gaps and men need something more than hair and a grin to vote for. You really think hair and a grin can cause a significant gender gap?

    • Bit of a giveaway that eh. Could have been worse, good job there isn’t a section on will he inspire FNs?

      edit: could have been even worse.

    • Lol. Neo-Con troglodytes are stuck in the 1950s, less the Keynesian economics. Scratch that. More like the 19th century. They favor a simplistic clockwork economic ideology, towering levels of inequality and a corrupt robber-baron dystopia…

      • You are of the lunatic type who riot over hockey games in Vancouver and destroy property.

    • It’s ok to criticize, but let’s try and be civil kids.

  4. “I was in “issues management” in Mike Harris’ office in Ontario.” …. “A group of conservative staffers in Toronto were watching the funeral on TV as we absentmindedly did our work.”

    Sounds about right…

    • Accent on “absentmindedly” eh?

        • I think you might need your bolts tightening up a touch.

          • I need your lips pried off of my testicles…

          • You have testicles? I can’t imagine why?

          • To decorate your chin….

          • One more good reason for remaining anonymous on the net.

          • Anonymous?

            Yes… I know them well…

    • Oh, as I wrote below I stopped reading after he gave his theory of the gender gap. A Harris-type conservative? Ok. We all know which party has the most MPs who share his neanderthal view of women.

    • I guess nobody died from tainted water that day…and no native Canadians were murdered.

      • The list of poisonous propaganda and lies Lietaer is probably responsible for is long.

    • You think it was easy hiding tricky jim’s six billion deficit? I do remember from that day how unprepared and inarticulate Harris seemed about it all, I guess it was because everyone at the office was asleep at the switch.

      Ugh, what an ugly trip down memory lane the author brings up for most Ontarians!

  5. I find the first question the most interesting one. Why has he received so little responsibility or seemingly not demanded it? That’s good and maybe bad. The good is he has enough judgement to not push himself forward too early; the bad, well i’d rather not go there. But the cynic[ or is it realist?] in me wonders how much this had to do with internal Liberal party politics. Neither Dion, MI or Rae wanted him in a position to do any harm to their leadership aspirations.[ doesn’t speak well about continued factionalism within the party] Likely it’s just the spot that he could do the party the most good in. Now those youth portfolios might pay off, as far as getting the youth vote onside anyway.

    • It’s all about optics and Justin has those in spades for the vain and shallow.

      • Right, and you know that for a fact don’t you!

  6. Good to see an alternate point of view on Macleans again. Weird, but good.
    I love the shocked disdain from the commentariat… (what?? you’re not wildly supportive of the LPC???)

    • Did you even read the comments before posting that?

      • Yes, but I’m guessing you didn’t.

  7. Now I’ve got my own questions about Trudeau… But breaking down and criticizing his eulogy for his father, calling it melodramatic, and inferring that it was self-serving… that there is some cold poop.

    Jason… your passive aggressive style is obvious and embarrassing.

    Issues Management in Mike Harris’ office you say… I bet you had some busy, not so “absentminded” days during Walkerton

  8. Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.

  9. “What will the men think”?

    Really? Do you think female voters will vote for Trudeau solely for his looks? Are we that dumb that we have no interest in actual politics? Give me a break. The ‘gender gap’ with the Liberals has a lot more to do with women being more likely to be socially-minded than us voting out of lust, and frankly it’s insulting that you would boil us down to such a sheep-minded lot.

    Shame on you.

    • So wait, the basic premise is of this comment is: women have brains…. and yet it is the most unpopular comment on this board. WHAT is going on?

    • Trudeau looks kind of gay to me, I don’t know if that turns girls on nowadays, with all the metrosexual feminized males promoted in the media…

  10. “I was really, really sad for this guy I didn’t know because he’d lost his father.” are you sure your a Conservative? Conservatives don’t have feelings about humans only money, now that you outed yourself you might want to join the Democrats it’s all about the human condition and making it better.

    • Oh puh-lease the Liberal world of Narnia.

    • Wow. Such impressive ignorance and bigotry!

      • True, but try reading Jason’s post again before you finally make your mind up.

    • Of course, we all know only progressives can have feelings. If you’re not progressive, you’re a sociopath. With that arrogance, it’s no mystery why the progressive forces in this country cannot win an election – they’ve written off a full third of the country as being wing nuts. (Of course they blame the electoral system, but the fact is, progressives used to do just fine under exactly the same system we have now.) Perhaps more baffling – you still don’t get it. You were probably one of the numerous posters on the Internetz in the days after the last election lamenting how “stupid” Canadians were. Please keep it up.

      • Progressives have brains about the same size as mouse droppings…

    • Hahaha! Goodness do you honestly believe we have provinces full of people who “don’t have feelings about humans’. Goodness this is what happened to the Liberal party. They really thought Albertans weren’t human. WOW

  11. One important question you missed…

    Will the media be able to treat him objectively? Or will they destroy what remains of their credibility as the American media have done , treating him as the saviour of the left the same way Barack Obama has been? Mistakes glossed over…gaffes ignored…scandals buried.

    • You must have been sleep walking through the birther garbage i suppose?

      Treat him objectively! Are you for real? All i’ve been reading since the guy entered politics is what a wuss and and celebrity light weight he is. He ‘s going to have to prove he has what it takes in spades, way and above your average common or garden liberal leader – even to his own party. You couldn’t possibly more wrong.

      • Any media that doesn’t report what john g wants to hear isn’t being objective. I thought you knew this already.

        • JG isn’t looking for objectivity, he ‘s looking for reciprocity. If his guy is bad in one area it’s a given the other guy must be as bad or worse in another – preferably courtesy of a cover-up or whitewash if at all possible.

  12. He has no political savvy, I don’t care who are you, where you are from, which school you went to, as long as you have raw political instincts and know what is needed to run this country. But he will kick Mulcair’s butt though, he has to know that.

    • Based on what…or you just “know”! because you just know!

      • Imagine Claudia’s glowing praise if young Justin (hah! he’s almost as old as me!) were running in blue colours instead of red…

        • Oh I am not that kind of partisan, I like brains and mostly people who knows how to make decisions, even if that means that you are not the most popular kid in school. : )

      • Mulcair is in a pickle, as much as I dislike the idea to have Trudeau winning he will make a killing fundraising and in Quebec. He has that kinda charisma, very Obamesque, will get young people involved in a “too cool” campaign and will get the votes, unfortunately.

  13. After reading the comments it’s easy to see intelligent people don’t troll this site.

    • Oh they do, but Wells usually only comments in his own articles. :)

    • and that’s the most astute observation so far, the Harper bashing is getting tired and lame, compare how Canada is doing compared tot he rest of the world…Government both Liberal and Conservative made this possible and there is no great Satan other than a US republican, yeesh

  14. The conservatives and NDP should be very afraid. Stephen Harper compared to both Trudeau and Mulcair comes across like a peice of cardboard. Compared to Trudeau, Mulcair will look like an angry spitting frothing at the mouth, interspersed with well practiced smiles which will come across as very odd between his tirades.
    The way this guy speaks, he can raise the hair on your arms and make you proud to live in Canada, even when he’s not saying anything of substance.
    That alone, should make the Conservatives and the NDP very afraid. Canadians have tuned out of politics due to the school yard bully partisan antics of the Conservatives, voter turnout is at an all time low. In short, around half the population doesn’t vote because they dont have anyone worth voting FOR, and the current government isnt bad enough that they are motivated to get out and vote them OUT.
    However the Conservatives, like any other government, slowly die a death from a thousand cuts. Issues ranging from proroguing parliament to an influence peddling cocaine posessing former MP to sitting reporters in a cage 40 metres back to misleading robo-calls to a senior advisor who as previously convicted of fraud getting convicted again, to today’s meat crisis, and all the issues before, in between and in the future will slowly hobble the Conservatives, like any government.
    When faced with a choice between a good looking, inspirational guy who seems younger, more positive and different than the other two guys, who are hyper-partisan and either angry (Mulcair) or smug (Harper), the huge danger for the NDP and Conservatives is that people may just collectively stand up and say to themselves, “I like this guy. I’m going to vote FOR him.”
    Between feet riddled with their own self inflicted bullet holes and the strain of a long serving government, I dont think the Conservatives are forming a government next election. I dont think that the NDP will keep Jack’s gains in Quebec, that was such a fluke it doesn’t matter who is at the helm of the NDP. That leaves the Liberals to form a minority government.
    All the pundits will be shocked at the election result. That is becoming a normal thing, as Ontario, Quebec and Alberta show. You are almost guaranteed these days to bet against the pundits and win.

  15. Couldn’t agree more. And I’m not Conservative. However while you “exercise the demons”, others probably will exorcise theirs.

  16. “but just wants to get the job done.”
    What job is that precisely?
    Lowering Canada’s stature as a voice for reason on the international stage?
    Coat-tailing the work of Finance Ministers past to proclaim their ability to manage the economy while running up a deficit and leaving us with the weakest manufacturing sector we have known since the 70’s?
    Or perhaps it is the job of running the most effective smear campaigns Canadian politics have ever seen.
    Whatever “job” you are referring to I stand by my opinion the day Harper was granted a majority. “This is the worst day for Canada.” I have yet to be proven wrong.

    • Manufacturing what exactly?

      American cars or American aircraft?

  17. When you speak of his eulogy to his beloved father as being too much about himself, I think you might have failed to realize that when we lose someone we love, it really is about us — about OUR love, and OUR loss, and OUR heartfelt cry: How am I going to live without him/her?

  18. Wake up Canada, he is a refreshing hope for the political system as we have known it. Bring him on and we will see a renewed Liberal Party. Amen (I’m 82 and I hope I will live to see the fulfilment of the next sweep in elections)

  19. Cons like you no longer exist at the federal level. You sold your souls to the Reform party. They bought you for your name and to beat first past the post and it worked. You have to live by Harper’s rules, reforming an MP from representing the people to representing the party. I’m an undecided voter; I’m an ABC voter. Anything But Conservative. “Just watch us”, so arrogant. I don’t know who I’ll vote for yet but it won’t be you.