Hall Findlay’s ‘class’ remark echoes through Canadian politics

What it means to be out of touch

by John Geddes

Martha Hall Findlay has apologized for her jarring outburst about Justin Trudeau’s privileged upbringing in last Saturday’s Liberal leadership debate. But her misstep is worth dwelling on a little longer if we see it less as an aberration than as a reminder of a tension running not far below the surface of Canadian politics.

“You yourself have admitted that you actually don’t belong to the middle-class,” Hall Findlay said to Trudeau from behind a podium in solidly middle-class Mississauga, Ont. “I find it a little challenging to understand how you would understand the real challenges facing Canadians.”

Her words called to my mind the way Stephen Harper framed, back when he was launching his bid for the leadership of the new Conservative party in 2004, how he was different from then-Liberal leader Paul Martin. “I was not born into a family with a seat at the Cabinet table,” Harper said. “I grew up playing on the streets of Toronto, not playing in the corridors of power.”

He was referring, of course, to the upbringing Martin enjoyed as the son of Paul Martin Sr., a heavyweight in the cabinets of King, St. Laurent and Pearson.  Not only had Martin grown up breathing air heavy with political influence, he went on to make a shipping fortune of his own after a running start as a young executive at Montréal’s Power Corp.

Yet Harper’s bid to portray Martin as an out-of-touch fortunate son never really stuck. Martin had his problems as a communicator, heaven knows, but his manner never conveyed a sense of entitlement. Tories fared much better casting Michael Ignatieff as an elitist, even though his dad was a diplomat, not a plutocrat, and Ignatieff was the author, quite literally, of his own worldly success. They caricatured Ignatieff’s intellectual credentials and, more importantly, his bearing—you just never forgot that the guy had titled Russians in his family tree.

This arbitrary aspect of how different politicians are vulnerable to charges that they are distant from ordinary life is missed by the loaded word “class” wielded so clumsily by Hall Finlay. It suggests wealth passed down for generations. That’s rarely the case in Canada. Justin Trudeau, for instance, isn’t exactly a landed aristocrat; his grandfather made the family fortune in gas stations. Even his entry-level political position wasn’t bequeathed to him. The Liberal party didn’t give Pierre Trudeau’s eldest a safe seat to run in. And Pierre didn’t leave Justin anything like an intact political machine.

B. K. Sandwell’s famous couplet goes, “Toronto has no social classes, only the Masseys and the masses.” That was long ago. Nobody doubts now that Toronto—and Calgary and Vancouver, Montreal and Halifax—have classes. Or that inheriting wealth is an easier route to insiderdom than growing up poor. But Ottawa is a capital where money doesn’t talk nearly as loudly as it once did. The party finance reforms begun by Jean Chrétien and accelerated by Stephen Harper have, by eliminating large individual and corporate (and union) donations, largely decoupled political clout and financial wherewithal.

Which makes it all the more dubious to suggest that income bracket predictably influences perspective on issues. Take Mark Carney, for example. He made a lot as an investment banker, earns plenty as Bank of Canada governor, and has negotiated a hefty (and somewhat controversial) raise for his move to the Bank of England. Yet this son of a university professor expressed support for the Occupy movement’s protest against income disparity, and sounded sincere on the point.

As the immediate backlash against Hall Findlay’s debate line suggested, any crude claim that those with lots of money just can’t sympathize with those who have less isn’t likely to fly. But an opponent’s experience can still be skewered as remote from the real world, whatever that might be.  These days a business background—especially small business—supposedly qualifies you sensible and grounded. Being a professor carries the opposite connotation. Being a lawyer isn’t what it once was.

A humble schoolteacher? That was Justin Trudeau’s pre-politics job, but it tells us no more about him than we learn when Harper is called an economist. What the Prime Minister really is and has been through his entire adult life, apart from a brief stint as a right-wing lobbyist, is a political professional.  But the last guy I heard casually, even proudly, admit to that designation was Chrétien. He got rich as a lawyer, too, but that didn’t alter his persona. His knack for reading an electorate was, like Harper’s, clearly honed by long experience in politics, both during campaigns and filling in the time between them.

If in some future election we discover that Hall Findlay was right after all, that Trudeau lacks instinctive insight into the middle class voter, then it won’t be because he’s upper class. It will be because he didn’t spend enough time, and devote sufficient close attention, to learning the ways of the political class that he hopes to master.




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Hall Findlay’s ‘class’ remark echoes through Canadian politics

  1. “by eliminating large individual and corporate donations largely decoupled political clout and financial wherewithal”

    Gads, which turnip truck did you just fall off of Mr. Geddes?

    Congratulations on the most hideously vapid and naive comment I’ve seen on politics in 2013.

    You’ve set a high bar.

    • You might actually take a minute to explain why you think he’s a turnip farmer.

  2. That’s a good last point about Trudeau JG. What gives me some hope for the guy is his upbringing seems to have grounded him in the value of giving back, using your advantages the best way you can with out being overly apologetic or defensive. His father had that also – mostly from his mother i believe. Good to see sometimes the acorn doesn’t fall that far from the tree. He seems to relish working hard too, another plus…he has so much to learn.
    Obviously i’m pulling for JT in the race. But i find Garneau’s claims on the job to be a little off the mark too. Sure he has any amount of life experience and leadership skills that JT can only dream about. But are they all transferable to politics? He hasn’t held office either; in fact both Murray and Couchon are far more experienced than Marc or Trudeau. I’m not so sure the thickness of MG’s resume is as much of a factor as he would like folks to believe.

    As for MI. To this day i’m puzzled he didn’t push back more effectively to the Harper trash talk than he did. I can only conclude that on some level MI didn’t really believe he was worthy or had earned a shot at the job. That, or the fire in the belly didn’t burn hot enough. Politics appears to me to be an essentially dehumanizing business…at least at the top levels.

    • Maybe Iggy thought to much of the Canadian populace. As someone who would never judge a man for seeking experience abroad then running for public office at home, he though no one else would.

      • Fair enough. Was that naive of him?

        • I’d say it was. In fact that’s why a lot of people have left Canada.

          • Because they’re naive?

          • Because lots of Canadians are small-minded nummies.

      • There’s a difference between seeking experience abroad and staying away for thirty years. Iggy wouldn’t have come back if his marriage in England hadn’t fallen through.

        • Oh, do stop being silly.

        • Did you get that from Miss Cleo, or have you developed your own psychic mind-reading abilities now?

    • MG has been an MP for some time, and also ran the Canadian Space Agency.

      • But he hasn’t spent one day more in govt than JT.[ at least i think he hasn't. I haven't double checked.] That was the point.

        • LOL I think when you’re down to counting days….

        • You’re correct, he hasn’t – but he did spend 4 years running the Canadian Space Agency and managing a 300M taxpayer-funded budget.

          • And that’s great. I respect the man. Does it necessarily qualify as political experience? It sure doesn’t hurt, that’s for sure.

    • Ezra Levant (yes, I know) had a post concerning Trudeau’s speaking fees. In it, Levant claims that Trudeau was charging elementary and secondary schools $10K or $20K for a speech. *If* Levant’s article is correct (and I have no idea if it is), then it would be hard to match up those actions with someone who believes in giving back.

      OTOH, if Levant’s article is not correct, then Liberals need to have a response ready showing how it’s not accurate.

      [Personally, I didn't see a big issue with MHF's remark; certainly not to the extent it deserved booing from the audience, but that's just me]

      • Seriously? What sort of high school could afford that large a speaking fee? I have my doubts about JT as a leader, but I don’t buy that claim.

        Frankly, if organizations are stupid enough to pay for vacuous speeches, I can’t blame JT for taking them up on it.

        • Presumably at some point the Trudeau will respond and we can see how valid the claim is. As it’s Levant that wrote the article I’m willing to take it with a big grain of salt while waiting for clarifications.

          As for blaming him for taking the money – I don’t think there’s an issue if some private sector organization pays him for a vacuous speech (other than the question of whether a future prime minister Trudeau could be looked upon as owing a favour to the organization). It’s a totally different issue *if* we’re talking about typically cash strapped public schools. An altruistic person would have at most charged for flight and hotel expenses.

          • JR, I agree with you, and I haven’t seen Levant’s column. I just can’t see schools coming up with that kind of money for a 30 min speech.

      • “In it, Levant claims that Trudeau was charging elementary and secondary schools $10K or $20K for a speech. *If* Levant’s article is correct (and I have no idea if it is), then it would be hard to match up those actions with someone who believes in giving back.”
        But here’s where Levant didn’t push further – if this happened, is it really Trudeau’s fault? The school had the option to pay or not. Suppose if it was instead Sidney Crosby charging $25,000 to speak at a school and the school paid it… suppose that ends up as a news story, would you blame Crosby for accepting the money, or the school and the school’s principal for paying it? Keep in mind the schools have every right to say ‘no’ to this stuff.
        On a side note, it hasn’t yet even been clarified he’s charged to speak at schools. From what I’ve read so far, I only know he’s spoken to school boards – does this mean schools, or school administration?

        • Hockey players are basically mercenaries, so I would expect Crosby to take the money and run (skate?). Trudeau is being portrayed as much, much more, so it would be reasonable to expect more from him than Crosby.

          And you’re right, schools would have the right to say ‘no’, and I personally would consider any public school that payed Trudeau (or Crosby) $10K or $20K for a speech to be manned by idiots. Having said that, *if* Levant’s article is correct, then you just can’t whitewash Trudeau because the schools should have known better – Trudeau should have known better as well. (Again, this assumes Levant is correct).

          • When cornered on the issue, Mr. Trudeau stated that he had conferred with the Ethics Commissioner and he was within the law. That’s not the point. I don’t care if he is within the law, somebody with his inheritance, and an MP’s salary and benefits should not be charging schools a fee plus expenses to speak. Mr. Trudeau refused to comment further.

          • So at exactly what dollar value do you stop being allowed to charge for what you do?

      • Hmmmm, well i don’t see the giving back as being a question of money – not principally. But…as you say if true that does look predatory on the face of it, if he was charging schools that much. It is hard to believe they have that kind of money to throw around these days. And I wonder how much Ezra charges for his speeches and whom he gives them too? IOWs is this common practice?
        Still, it is JT who is the politician. Whatever you think of him, he might want to avoid looking overly opportunistic,[edit] or simply greedy.
        Do you have a link to that story? Is it on the sun site? I’d like to check it out at least.

          • thx

        • When Ezra is in the running to be a potential PM, and his ability to relate to average Canadians is questioned, then we will talk about any speech fees he may have received.
          Until then you should concentrate on making excuses for your anointed one.

          • Thanks for making the point that i have already made moron. Although you seem to have missed the part where i wondered if it was right to be charging schools these fees. Clearly nuance is well beyond your capabilities.

      • your numbers are accurate…think JT released a lot of them on his own

        • Numbers alone only tell a partial story. That’s why some elaboration from Trudeau would be useful.

  3. Findlay’s first big sin was to mention the word ‘class’…..as in socio-economic class.

    ‘Class’ isn’t supposed to exist in Canada. We’ve spent years pretending it doesn’t.

    Her second big sin was to suggest that we could actually want to elect someone with an education…..rather than somebody we’d ‘like to have a beer with’.

  4. A humble schoolteacher? That was Justin Trudeau’s pre-politics job, but it tells us no more about him than we learn when Harper is called an economist.

    It tells us a LITTLE more about him. Trudeau actually worked as a school teacher once. I’ve always held that as he never once worked as an economist, calling the Prime Minister an “economist” is about as informative as calling him a musician.

    • Thumbs up – to my knowledge, Stephen Harper’s only experience outside of politics is working in the mail room at Imperial Oil.

      • I wish you’d drop this Harper has no experience. What do you think running a political party is? Washing the dishes?

        • You know, my comment may be a little pre-emptive. Let’s just wait and see what the CPC attack ads against Trudeau will look like. I have a feeling they’ll prove my comment as valid.

          • I actually thought the attack ads were – wickedly funny. Dion – not a leader. What did you think when you saw that pathetic video Dion made and then the excuse for it “we aren’t used to being in Opposition.” Then the Ignatieff “Just visiting” and sure enough he’s now teaching part time back at Harvard. Somebody in the CPC is very perceptive.

          • I find Community funny. I find The Big Bang Theory funny. I find the attack ads repulsive – on all sides. You, sir, have a twisted sense of humour. I will grant they were effective. But “funny”?

          • Oh come now. They were extremely insightful. They were certainly better than the Liberals “soldiers in the streets” or “Harper’s hidden agenda”. i said wickedly funny – more in a British sense. They were the equivalent of a political cartoon.

          • 1) I said they were effective.

            2) I said ALL the attack ads were repulsive. Liberal ones included. NDP ones included. CPC ones included. Including the upcoming ones I’m sure we’ll all be treated to.

          • I think they established that a REAL leader is NOT someone who has the education and background for a job but someone who can APPEAL to people who NEED capitalization to UNDERSTAND the meaning of a few words.

            Monty Python in their Brand New Bok (there is a wiki entry on this) gave a BRILLIANT example of this theory in advertising in their text on the FAMOUS Welsh art of self-defence called Llap-Goch. Valid 40 years ago, and still valid today.

          • Actually Ignatieff is a professor at the University of Toronto, and you’ll find that well within Canadian borders.

          • He’s teaching part time at Harvard.

        • No doubt about it – Trudeau and Harper have similar background. Making $450,000 plus a year giving speeches and running a political organization are very similar occupations.

          • To make a speech you step up to a podium, say what you have to say and walk away with your cheque. That is hardly running a political organization.

  5. It’s cute. If you want to make absolutely sure that the liberal party stays at the status quo … vote for JT. Any strides the liberal party has made in the west will be set back exactly 30 years,

    • So we should pander to idiots?

      • Interesting use of the word “we”… You’ve stated how many times on these boards you’re not a Liberal.

        • We Canadians…….we normal people…..we serious people…..we educated people…we the ROC….

          • Not my rest of Canada. You still think Justin is upper middle class.

          • You live in the ghetto do you?

            Sorry, he’s just upper middle class….like thousands of other Canadians.

          • LOL!

          • Not including those mouth breathers west of Sudbury and east of Langley, right?
            Those knuckle-dragging “idiots” have no place in EmilyOne’s “Canada”.

      • Not sure if you’re

        a) calling voters in the west idiots, or

        b) calling those voters in the west who won’t vote for Trudeau idiots, or

        c) something else

        Please elaborate so this person who lives in the west knows how indignant, or not, to be.

        • Heh….well my daughter was born in Alberta, so I know not all of you are nummies.

          I mean the ones that never understood the NEP in the first place, blamed Trudeau Sr for a world oil problem, and all these years later are still blaming him….and now blaming his son!

          • Good thing you’re not a Liberal – with that attitude towards the NEP, don’t count on any votes between Kenora and the Vancouver suburbs.

          • a) Good, keep it that way.

            b) So long as the NEP is not reintroduced. Fortunately the political consensus is as such these days.

            c) Not even sure who this is directed at. The very link you posted though does concisely show just how reviled the NEP was in Alberta. Thanks for sharing.

          • a) I have already spent two terms in office.

            b) You’ll manage to screw up your oil no matter what is introduced.

            c) Not my problem none of you have the brains to understand the NEP. Norwegians are much brighter.

          • a) Prove it. Otherwise your credibility is only that of an anonymous commenter, and the comments you make.

            b) “You’ll”? I don’t own any oil. The extent of my involvement in the oil industry is to buy gas and put it in my car.

            c) They are – the Norwegians sell oil at world prices. This is precisely contrary to what the NEP did with Alberta oil. Thanks for trying, though.

          • Hey, you wanna be an ass on here….feel free. Not my problem.

          • Seems the extent to which I’m an ass is I corrected your misunderstanding of the NEP and asked for proof you’ve been elected to office. Meanwhile, on this thread you’ve called Canadians “small-minded nummies” and Albertans “kooks”. Yeah, I’m the ass here.

          • No, yer just an ass as usual. I’m not interested as usual. Ciao.

          • Yes, you’re interested. You keep responding. If you’re not interested, go do something else.

          • I am hon….that’s why I said Ciao. LOL

          • You’re still responding! Ergo you are still interested.

          • And I bet you really think that’s clever.

            You musta cracked em up in grade 5.

            Now stop stalking me, and find something better to do with your time.

            Last warning.

          • Last warning until what? You keep responding. Stop talking to me.

          • He’s not stalking you and stop being such a psychopath.

          • I don’t recall asking for your opinion.

    • I think the big issue with Justin is he’s not been in deep ***** yet. Another way of saying he’s a bit lacking in experience. That he’s had a very comfortable upbringing is something of a disadvantage, and comes as much from who his parents were as how much money they made.

      To me, the best of all possible worlds would have him as Martha’s minister of justice (;-)) With luck, he’ll do as well as his dad!

      –dave

      • I suppose scandal, divorce, mental illness, death….and constantly being confused with his father…..doesn’t matter?

  6. The obvious problem with Canadian politics is the leaders are never properly vetted by the voters.

    Remember all the questions that Harper took from citzens last election?

    Remember all the questions Iggy took from citizens before becoming Liberal leader?

    Remember all the questions Mucair took from citizens before becoming NDP leader?

    The citizens are not only being short changed by the parties but by the media! The sad part, they are vasly overpaying for both!

    Huh

  7. My issue is the fact the guy is part of the 1% and yet he is double dipping with his speaking engagements. We pay him a salary at the federal level and then he goes on speaking engagements mainly to the provincial public sector which is still on our dime.

  8. I have a lot of respect for Hall Findlay and believe she’d be a real asset in a government leadership role. However, her attack on Trudeau’s “class” was about as witless as the Cons’ anti-intellectual bias against academics, “elites”, and cosmopolitan urbanites (especially from Trawna’).

    I guess in Canadian political circles, the perfect résumé includes a predilection for beer, hockey and ATVs, and experience in a “real” job, defined as wage-earning rather than salaried. While there’s much to be proud of in such a background, the class bias revealed in this “profile of an ideal Canadian politician” explains a lot about the calibre of many of our politicians today.

  9. JT is at best simply a buffoon that wants to everyone to warm up to him because of his heritage. What he hasn’t figured out yet tho, is he’s trying to build his little campfire in the leaking wooden lifeboat known as the ‘Liberal Party’.

    What he lacks is ‘in the middle’ all right-as in between the ears so as an opponent of the socialist liberals, he may be the best man for the job to keep the party down & out for years.

  10. I’m tired about hearing all this whining from politicians who grew up middle class or or in worse financially shaped homes telling Canadians how the children of wealthy families can not possibly understand Average Joe Canadian’s plights.
    I don’t dismiss my Dad’s doctor just because he doesn’t suffer from every malady my father has. I assume that the degree he’s earned might give him adequate insite into my father’s health problems.
    Similarly, a good politician accumulates enough knowledge about low income, middle class, ane even wealthy people and their concerns sufficiently that they are able to juggle ALL of their priorities and can appeal equaly to all of these people.

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