Editorial: Justin Trudeau has the potential to be a leader

But until he demonstrates a true understanding of policy, he’s still just a name

Justin Trudeau. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Justin Trudeau. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

The Conservatives claim he’s in over his head. But, after a year on the job, pollsters say that if an election were held this week, he’d likely find himself prime minister. True, the actual campaign is a year and a half away, but Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is clearly keeping his head well above water so far.

Since capturing the leadership in a landslide last April, Trudeau has had a beatific effect on his party’s fortunes, including the critical concern of fundraising. In the last three months of 2013, the federal Liberals boasted 44,000 individual donors—outpacing the Conservatives in this regard for the first time in a decade. The ruling Tories may still be the champs in total dollars raised ($9.6 million vs. $4.8 million in the last quarter of 2013, including transfers from riding associations), but the pendulum is beginning to swing in the Liberals’ favour.

The Trudeau effect is even more impressive in the public sphere, where he’s cemented himself in the national media firmament and come to be seen by voters as the unofficial leader of the opposition and potential prime minister. Since Trudeau became leader, the Liberals have led, or been tied, in nearly every national poll, the latest giving them an eight-point advantage over the Harper Conservatives. Poll aggregator Éric Grenier, who blogs at Three Hundred Eight, notes that the last time a majority government found itself trailing in the polls for this long was in the final, convulsive years of the Mulroney regime. And Thomas Mulcair’s official Opposition NDP is nowhere to be seen.

All this to the good, as far as Trudeau is concerned. Yet an unsettlingly large part of his success to date appears to stem from his name, good looks and uncanny knack for the spotlight. Political charisma is certainly a wonderful asset, as the success of the Kennedys or Trudeau’s own father attests to. But to be effective, it must be backed by something a bit more substantial, a point those Conservative attack ads have been making for a year now.

It makes little sense for an opposition party to reveal its full playbook this early in an election cycle. Thus, the modest policy hints Trudeau has provided so far deserve close and careful consideration for what they portend about Canadian politics.

His policy on marijuana—that it should be legalized and regulated—is bold, distinctive and risky, a welcome surprise from an opposition leader so far from an election. Then again, Trudeau is likely just slightly ahead of public opinion on this matter, particularly given recent events in Colorado and Washington state. It also has the beneficial political effect of forcing the Harper government to fall back on its cranky, law-and-order base, while Trudeau presents himself as open-minded and innovative.

His other bold stroke of banning (mostly elderly) Liberal senators from his caucus similarly serves to make him look young and forceful in comparison with Harper, although it does little to solve any of the larger problems with the upper chamber.

In broader policy matters, his comment that “the budget will balance itself” has been seized upon by the Conservatives as evidence that he lacks depth on economic issues. This may be true, but the phrase itself is simply a truism that economic growth will bring any budget into balance if expenditures are held constant. Ronald Reagan repeatedly made this claim in the 1980s. It’s in good company, and hardly a fatal gaffe. Unfortunately, that’s about it for the Trudeau policy binder. He has talked in loving tones about the middle class, supported foreign investment in the oil patch and backed the Keystone XL pipeline.

But all these are motherhood issues for large numbers of Canadians. And he has steadfastly avoided the difficult tangles that come from digging deeper in these policy areas. How exactly will he boost the fortunes of the middle class? And what of the trade-offs inherent in the conflict between resource development and environmental policy?

The lack of sophistication underlying Trudeau’s glibness was revealed in a speech to the Vancouver Board of Trade earlier this month. While giving himself ample credit for backing Keystone during a trip to Washington, Trudeau then claimed, “If Canada had had stronger, more credible environmental policies in place, the Americans would have approved Keystone XL a long time ago.” It is an absurd suggestion that betrays a complete misunderstanding of the American political system. More seasoning on matters of foreign policy is clearly required.

To date, Trudeau has manoeuvred his party into top spot, fixed many internal problems, avoided major missteps and kept himself solidly in the limelight. In other words, he’s proven himself an able politician. The bigger test, however, is yet to come.




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Editorial: Justin Trudeau has the potential to be a leader

  1. Personally, I think Justin needs another 4 years in the “trial by fire”, so-to-speak, before he becomes a PM of Canada. Give Mulcair a shot first, and then Justin. ?

    But no matter what, as long as Harpo, and his CONS are gone forever, I’d be happier, and atleast, more hopeful.

    • Personally, I have to be honest with you, can you really trust Mulcair to take control of the taxpayers purse knowing that Mulcair has had personal financial problems in the past ? Didn’t we just see 4 senators tossed out of the senate for their past bad financial misbehavings, sure he knows how to ask questions in HOC(after all, he dosnt let his own MPs speak until late in QP). Do you want someone to run the country, that dosnt even know how to use their own personal money(and im not being sarcastic either, im serious). As far as im concerned, and again im not being partisan when I say this, I would never let anyone take care of monies or bank accounts belong to me, knowing that the person suffered financial setbacks over the years in their personal life(seriously, take 11 mortgages), that scares me away from him . That would be like giving up your bank account to a person like Steve Harper(spent 150 billion in 8 yrs)(im being partisan now too).

  2. You denounce him for not explaining more of his platform a year and a half early…..even though it’s not necessary as he’s in the lead….and then you jump all over him for his remarks on the pipeline…..when it’s something even Americans have said!

    Confusion or what?

  3. The Cons have to go, and between Trudeau and Mulcair, I’ll vote Liberal. Trudeau may not be as experienced as Mulcair in the political arena, but with the right and more experienced people to advise him, I believe his party can do a great job for Canada, beginning with cleaning up the mess Harper will leave behind.

  4. Justin is already a grown man. If he were going to develop the skills and understandings required to lead a G-7 country he would have shown some signs of it by now. I’m sure he was a wonderful drama teacher, but his skill set resembles more Ben Mulroney than PET.
    Mulcair is the author of the first sustainable development law in North America. He showed courage and great integrity when, as Environment Minister, he told Jean Charest that he wouldn’t sell part of a provincial park to Charest’s buddy. (he was willing to loose his position as Minister to do it). He can stand in front of 20 journalists and whip off competent answers to questions on a dozen different subjects. (Trudeau got asked a softball question like “which country do you most admire besides Canada?” at his Lady’s Night in T.O. an the best he could come up with is “China, cause they’re a dictatorship and can turn their economy around on a dime.” Good grief, Charlie Brown!
    There really isn’t any question who is most fit for the big chair.

    • I understand you support Mulcair, and there are valid points to be made about his intellectual capacity to govern.

      But whining about media favouratism is just silly, and puts you in the same park as the conservative whiners.

    • It is too early to put policy on the table. What I like about Trudeau is his philosophy – govern by expertise and not ideology.

      I also like the fact he is above the fray – let Harper and Mulcair fight it out in the gutter. (Where they will join hands and work together to defeat Trudeau).

      I am pretty sure he is aware the biggest test is yet to come. I think he is situating himself nicely for it.

      • This was not meant to be a reply to Jambon. Not sure why it posted like that?

      • “I also like the fact he is above the fray-” Above the fray? He’s off cruising above the clouds somewhere hoping he won’t shoot himself in the foot and that the media party will nurse him through to the PMOs office.

        • If you want to be taken seriously, I suggest you drop the “media party” nonsense.

          • It isn’t nonsense if it’s true.

            Seriously.

            “The budget will balance itself…”

    • Are you talking about the guy who is going to spend his tenure trying to shut down the senate and still hasn’t told us how he will do it. The first day Tom is elected, you can be sure he will be putting his stamp on the senate with his plumb choice too. This is another one of Toms many fables. I don’t trust him. I would never have a beer with him because I would be afraid he would ask me to pay for it.

      • LoL, but we are already “paying” for his beer too. ;)

  5. ^^“If Canada had had stronger, more credible environmental policies in place, the Americans would have approved Keystone XL a long time ago.” ^^

    The boys in short pants will tell ya: It doesn’t have to be true, it just has to be plausible, and face it, it’s not like Harper hasn’t crapped the bed with this file.
    Perhaps an adult conversation with Joe Canadian would have worked better than vilifying environmentalists and lowering, and then failing to meet, national emission commitments. And who could forget that “ethical snake oil” carny sales pitch preaching to true believers.
    Tim Hortons.
    Hockey scholar.
    Regular guy.
    Bad plan and lousy execution. Unless of course, this is how 3D chess is played.

  6. The vapid airhead Turdeau 2 is no leader, never will be.

    • The deceitful, duplicitous, hypocritical and secretive Harper is a poor excuse for a leader in an open democracy.

    • When you write something that is so obviously and clearly untrue, it is not the subject of your comment that looks stupid, but rather the author.

      Just sayin’…

      • I can’t wait for the televised debates in the run up to the next election, heh heh heh

    • Billi Bob, you have the right to call Trudeau a “vapid airhead” as I have the right to call Harper a hypocrit and a liar, but demeaning him by calling him Turdeau doesn’t achieve anything and just shows how immature you are.

      • Sorry, hypocrite, not hypocrit.

        • harpercrite

      • Apparently it has, it’s got your knickers in a knot.

    • I realize “Deliverance” and their characters were based within the sounthern Appalachian hills, I just didn’t know they reached all the way up to Eganville here, but hey, if that’s where you’re from, that’s fine too.

    • Sheesh! Mr. Billy Bob repeatedly points to where the lowest common denominator is in Canadian political discourse…somewhere above him.

  7. Trudeau has taken the LPC from the brink of oblivion to a contender, from near bankruptcy to fundraising that looks to be rivaling the CPC in the near future.

    He does not have to win the election to be a successful leader. He already is.

    (And I for one do not believe he wants to win the next election).

    • This comment has been removed.

      • Meh

        • That’s all you’ve got, typical Liberal.

          • Is Rob Anders a microcosm?
            Hmmmmm??

          • If you feel like addressing the content of my original post I will consider responding, but as it stands, your comment called for nothing more than “meh”.

  8. ” Trudeau then claimed, “If Canada had had stronger, more credible environmental policies in place, the Americans would have approved Keystone XL a long time ago.” It is an absurd suggestion that betrays a complete misunderstanding of the American political system. ”

    Not so absurd if you actually weren’t being as glib in this editorial as you claim Trudeau to be. Try reading http://www.businessweek.com/news/2014-04-24/how-obama-shocked-harper-as-keystone-frustrator-in-chief but your right that Harper also was screwing this up even if we had better environmental policies.

    As so his statement on the deficits, you don’t need to hold expanses constant since Canada’s tax base grows naturally. And he was completely right that the government finances Harper inherited would produce surpluses, even growing surpluses over time. The finances Harper and Saint Flatherty created left us with a $20 billion deficit even once all “Action Plan” spending ceased and the extra EI costs had largely stopped. This was just another glib bit of analysis by Maclean’s.

  9. Well Roger, Anders lost the nomination for his riding in an open and transparent contest.

    Can’t say that about the Turdeau Liberals.

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