Colleagues at the sprawling Maclean’s nerve centre in downtown Ottawa note that we are sometimes asked why Maclean’s carries such a torch for Justin Trudeau. I hotly dispute the claim: that’s no torch, it’s more like a lighter, of the kind fans hold aloft whenever REO Speedwagon breaks into Can’t Fight This Feeling. Herewith, the greatest hits of our decade-long thing for Justin.
We can’t fight this feeling any more. We’ve forgotten what we started fighting for. It’s time to bring this ship into the shore.
And throw away the oars.
In 2002 Jonathan Gatehouse got Justin drunk in an Old Montreal bar and then started talking about the future. Soon enough the 30-year-old let slip a line about his political plans. The resulting cover story — I seem to recall the coverline was “When I Run…” — isn’t on our website, but an excerpt is here. Super-awkward pull quote: ” I haven’t done anything. I haven’t accomplished anything. I’m a moderately engaging, reasonably intelligent 30-year-old, who’s had an interesting life — like someone who was raised by wolves, or the person that cultivated an extremely large pumpkin.”
At the end of 2006 — this is back in the old days, when the Liberals took only one year to find a new leader — Nicholas Köhler was following Trudeau around when the 34-year-old let slip a line about his political plans. His friend Gerald Butts, a former Dalton McGuinty chief of staff, tried to exert message control. Unskillfully! “He doesn’t want a lot of publicity around this until he’s made up his mind,” Butts said. “Off the record, I think he’s pretty much there.” Köhler scribbled notes furiously. “He just doesn’t want a speculative story published before he’s ready,” Butts concluded. Got it, chief. After the story ran, Köhler moved to Alberta for a few years.
By 2009, Trudeau was in Ottawa, wearing a real suit, clicking a pen for the photographer. Aaron Wherry began cautiously building the case for Trudeau. Pull quote: “For the record, Justin Trudeau is not an idiot.”
Aaron also asked whether Trudeau wanted to be prime minister some day, and the answer was so freaking long it became a separate blog post.
In March of 2011, Jason Kenney spent a solid week using Trudeau as a punching bag after Trudeau criticized a document Kenney’s office put out. I recalled a pro tip from my Big Book of Columnists’ Clichés — “There is no column idea better than a painfully contrived column idea” — and declared that Kenney and Trudeau represented the future of their respective parties.
By early this year we were overdue for a curmudgeonly take, and along came Colby. But even Colleague Cosh was not totally immune to the man’s charms: “…my attitude flips back and forth from contempt to sympathy, almost from second to second. He is at best an intellectual middleweight, and often speaks nonsense when he steers into deep political waters.” Don’t fight it, Colby!
But then in March it was Trudeau’s turn to beat a man silly in an Ottawa hotel, and John Geddes was there with his fancy writin’ pen. The resulting ode to, I’m not making this up, Morley Callaghan is the link you should click if you’re only clicking one, and it also reveals a fair bit about why some of us actually do take Trudeau seriously in the non-pugilistic arena.
Seven weeks later I met Trudeau for breakfast at the Château Laurier and it was no longer necessary to ply the guy with Mai Tais to get him to speculate. The resulting cover story was, if nothing else, well-timed. When I told the bosses I wanted to write a Trudeau leadership story, it felt like a silly way to spend a week. Within a few days after it ran, it was clear something was actually happening. In June, Geddes descended from the clouds to discuss the operational nuts and bolts of an eventual Trudeau candidacy.
And, the odd swoon and fluttering heart aside, that’s how we and Justin got this far.