Justin Trudeau’s choppy waters

The Liberal leader’s conference in Montreal was a promising moment surrounded by sharks

Ryan Remiorz/CP

Ryan Remiorz/CP

Overheard conversation from a Friday-night stroll in Old Montreal:

“And are Justin and Braeden supporting your candidacy?”

“Well, not of?cially. But they’re very supportive.”

I turned into the doorway of my hotel and caught a look at the potential federal Liberal candidate from a British Columbia riding (Justin Trudeau is the party’s leader; Braeden Caley is the president of its B.C. wing). He looked youngish, earnest and impeccably scrubbed. And in his intention to run for the Liberals in the 2015 election, he has a lot of company.

The biennial convention of the Liberal party in Montreal was the first important Liberal event I’d attended in two years. After the creepy forced bonhomie of the party’s 2012 Ottawa convention, back when Bob Rae was the party’s interim leader and Liberals were quarrelling about whether he should stick around, I used my book-writing duties as a handy excuse to skip all Liberal leadership debates and the final event last April where Trudeau became the leader on the first ballot. But almost a year later, the Liberals consistently lead in national polls, so I thought I should catch up with them.

The most striking thing about the weekend wasn’t anything Trudeau did. It was the truly extraordinary number of Liberals I met who are planning to seek their party’s nomination as 2015 election candidates.

A few played high-profile roles at the convention. Andrew Leslie, who used to command the army. William Morneau, who runs the country’s largest human-resources firm. Chima Nkemdirim, chief of staff to Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi. Jim Carr, who ran the Manitoba Business Council.

I met half a dozen others and had little trouble coming up with the names of dozens more. In many cases they’ll have to beat other Liberals before they get to run as candidates. In Ville-Marie in downtown Montreal, Liberal organizer Brigitte Legault is running against two prominent lawyers, Marc Miller and Bernard Amyot, for the nomination. Amyot is a former president of the Canadian Bar Association. Jean Chrétien had a fundraiser for him. According to Amyot, the former PM later told him, “T’es ben mieux de gagner, tabarnak.” It translates as, “You had better win now, for goodness’ sake.” More or less.

Of course every party always finds candidates to run in almost every riding, but it’s usually much more of a last-minute rush. I’ve never seen this much candidate activity among Liberals this long before an election. For a decade, it’s been much easier to find Liberals sitting back, wishing somebody in Ottawa would fix the party. Now a generation of Liberals is jumping in.

They must hope there will be water in the pool when they land. Enthusiasm is great, but New Democrats and Conservatives are enthusiastic too, and in the real world, elected members of those parties still have Liberals far outnumbered. I haven’t seen Liberals this excited since 1993. But they went into that election with more than twice as many seats as Trudeau will, against a governing party half as popular as Stephen Harper’s is today. Chrétien held nine different ministerial portfolios in previous governments. Trudeau taped a talk show before the Montreal convention and couldn’t figure out when would be the right time to make a hockey joke. He picked the moment he was asked to comment about the situation in Ukraine. After the show aired on Sunday he spent Monday watching his MPs on TV insist he had nothing to apologize for. And he spent Tuesday apologizing to assorted Ukrainians.

The Liberal weekend in Montreal was a promising moment surrounded by sharks. The moment was Trudeau’s keynote speech on Saturday afternoon. He was poised, understated, often funny. The crowd loved it. He built his speech around the economic plight of an imaginary Montreal woman, Nathalie. Economists spent the next few days debating whether Nathalie’s plight was made up, too. This would land Trudeau’s speech squarely in a great tradition. His father won the 1974 campaign by campaigning against wage and price controls he later introduced. Chrétien in 1993 promised to scrap the GST. Harper ran in 2006 against a congeries of straw men: income-trust taxation, health care wait times, an appointed Senate and the “?scal imbalance.”

But while shaky logic and a highly approximate command of the facts can clearly help you win a Canadian election, they offer no guarantee. You also need some message discipline and a bit of luck. The Liberals remain short on the former at least.

Trudeau recruited Andrew Leslie to beef up the Liberals’ credibility on military issues. A week before the convention, news leaked of Leslie’s $72,000 relocation settlement for an in-town move after he retired from the military. Somebody decided to use Leslie’s convention speech as a chance to reveal that the Conservatives had talked to him about running for them, before he decided to advise Trudeau. This raised a lot of questions, which Leslie spectacularly couldn’t answer during an endless press conference after his speech. Leslie’s job was to raise questions about Harper’s competence on military procurement and veterans’ benefits. He ended up raising questions about Andrew Leslie’s job search.

Meanwhile the convention passed resolutions calling for a future Liberal government to implement national strategies on transportation, energy, housing and more. There was much talk of an infrastructure deficit. Jim Carr, the Winnipeg candidate hopeful, put the “infrastructure deficit” at $7 billion for his city alone. Filling that hole, and treating the rest of the country equitably, would cost nearly half a trillion dollars. Of course Trudeau doesn’t plan to spend that much money. So Carr was just talking. Everybody at the convention was just talking, until Trudeau gave his speech and left without meeting reporters to take follow-up questions.

If he gets elected, he will have many of those shiny candidates helping him as newly elected MPs. Such big swings happen sometimes—in 1984 with Brian Mulroney, in 1993 with Chrétien, to some extent in 2011 when Jack Layton tripled the number of NDP MPs. Trudeau has defied gravity for close to a year. He has another year and a half to float up there before Canadians vote. Well, to float or fall.

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Justin Trudeau’s choppy waters

  1. I’m confused. Should I be calling you a Liberal cheerleader or a Conservative toady for this one?

    • A floater, judging by his last word.

    • He is even more inept than Iggy.

      JT, to put it bluntly, is a simpleton.

      Justin Trudeau, not a leader.

      • Somebody update the OS on this one.

        • You are confused.

          This OS is up to date, you just do not recognize the strategy.

          • Recognize the strategy – that never the changes – it’s the phrases – they’re from another campaign.

      • Many in the Liberal party have come to that conclusion as well.

        • True Izatos, and they keep sending in money in the hope the Liberals will buy a new leader!

    • Having to think and consider is always such a pain, isn’t it? Over at Sun they tell me exactly what I should think.

      • LOL!

        You would let others, tell you what to think.

        • Leftists are quite content to let their overlords tell them what to do.

          • Sort of like the Harper’s minions in the Con caucus, virtually all of whom are apparently denied by their “overlord” in the PMO the option of having an independent thought fleet through their brain cavities.

          • Sure dawg, keep dreaming.

          • More like a nightmare, watching those mindless bozos sleepwalk obediently through QP everyday.

          • You watch QP everyday…………you’ve got Leftist Mental Disorder.

          • You’re a somnambulant, obedient Con sycophant. You wouldn’t understand. Carry on.

          • Sorry to disappoint dawg, but you’re the obedient, subservient, half asleep, yapping mongrel.

            Critical thinking abilities are not associated with those on the left of the political spectrum.

          • Whatever…I’m tired of swapping mindless insults. As I said above, carry on.

          • You don’t tell anybody what to do………you’re a dog

          • OK then, don’t carry on. That’s even better.

            I’m dog-tired of swapping mindless insults.

          • Then quit posting them.

          • I wasn’t even swapping them with you. Who are you, anyway? Billy Boobs bully friend? Did he have to go get help? Can’t he look after himself?

          • Got your second wind, I see… Bummer.

          • Don’t go away mad, just go away.

          • Aw-w, you’re getting all school yardy on me.

          • That’s your area of expertise.

          • Carry on, lib shill.

          • I shall, thank you.

            Small correction: I’m not a Lib shill; I’m an ABC shill – Anybody But Cons.

          • Well, in that case, I’ll correct you.
            You’re what Karl Marx calls a, “Useful idiot”.

          • Sort of like how the shiny pony can’t form one independent though all on his own.

            JT dodges the press better than a deadbeat dad dodging the collection agents.

          • Independent thought? Ask around the Liberal caucus whom he consulted about eliminating senators from caucus membership. Turns out Trudeau initiated that one all on his own. More actual senate reform than Harper has accomplished in 8 years in office.

            As for dodging the press, you must be joking. If you want to know who’s more elusive, Trudeau or Harper, just ask any member of the parliamentary press corp. They’ll tell you it’s not even close. Trudeau often makes himself available to press scrums after daily QP. By comparison, Harper is little more than a myth among the media covering the Hill.

          • “Senate reform”?

            You actual BOUGHT that?


            Anyone with even the slightest bit of intelligence saw through that fakery.

            All JT did was cover his arse so when a senate inquiry into expenses is conducted, he can say they are NOT liberal senators.

            Why did James Cowan, the lib senate leader openly state that they are STILL liberals?


            “Despite the fact that they were ousted by Justin Trudeau, Liberal senators declared Wednesday afternoon that they will continue to refer to themselves as “the Liberal Senate caucus.””

            Oh, it’s no joke, unfortunately.



            Consider your bubble, burst.

            You should consider reading something other than the Liberal party press releases for your source of misinformation.

        • I forgot that sarcasm (and irony) is lost on your crowd.

          • You forgot that you’re typing, and that the tone isn’t read…

  2. Paul doesn’t need to be a cheerleader……the rest of Canada’s media (excpet SUNTV) is doing it for him.
    Who needs policy when you have nice hair, a famous dad, and a Trust fund?

    • Im not sure what papers your looking at that cheerleads Trudeau. Sun News are a division of the Conservative Party of Canada, bar none, they strictly tow the con line, but I don’t get where other papers cheerlead for Trudeau, as a matter of fact, most news outlets are just waiting for a shoe to drop on Trudeau and most of the media also still think Trudeau is a lightweight, but they don’t realize how much choppy waters Trudeau has already faced, they seem to forget that part of his life. No other party leader in this country has faced the amount of scrutiny that Trudeau has gone through since he became leader. Trudeau is resilient and stronger than the media give him credit for. He may fall and stumble at times, but Trudeaus resilience will stay in tact. Trudeaus genuine and honest approach to politics will carry momentum through choppy waters to the next election in 2015. It seems the cons have this huge fetish for Trudeaus hair, how much do the cons think it costs to keep Steves hair in tact and his toe nails clipped, about 10 million a year, and it still looks like a chia pet.

      • Why do you hate chia pets?

        • I apologize to all chia pets I have offended. I don’t hate the pets, but I don’t have to like the hair.

      • Root canal….
        If you believe ANYTHING you just wrote…………your intellect is on par with Trudeau. That should make you feel better.

        • I used to vote P C before your guy(harper) hijacked the party, I blame some of that stupidity on McKay, and I believe if McKay had his time back, this would’ve never happened today. I thought a lot P Cs had high intellect value until the joined up with this bunch bone heads, they have dumbed down the countries way of thinking. I believe Trudeau is right, there are a lot of good conservative voters out there, its just their still trying to come to terms with how corrupt and unethical there party has become. That will change in 2015. And Trudeaus intellect is far more advanced than the dinosaurs, that’s running this country today, you included. real voters don’t listen to your snake oil and witches brews.

          • Root Canal I have to agree. The Conservatives calling Trudeau lacking in intelligence — the idiom “People that live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones” comes to mind.

          • Did any Conservatives insult the entire population of the Ukraine?

          • Yes they did(cons), they decided to do their own dog and pony roadshow of how our democracy works for them and not for the rest of the country. The stupid mistake the cons made was to leave the opposition parties in Canada out of a statement of trying to show the world we in Canada work together on nonpartisan basis when it comes to solutions to problems in the world, no your guys had to snub other members of parliament for political gain, but I think harper and the cons will take a bigger hit on this, than anything else they screwed up since they stole power in 2006, by bribing Chuck Cadman on his dying bed, and the support of the NDP under Jack Layton.

          • LMAO!!!

            Wow, you will do ANYTHING to excuse your liberal masters.


            Do you see any other country in the world, making statements that include a second, or even in your case, THIRD PLACE political party?

            You merely sound desperate for attention.

            It’s unseemly.

      • “Im not sure what papers your looking at that cheerleads Trudeau.”?

        The CBC, is a good place for all Liberal, all the time, news.

      • “Trudeaus genuine and honest approach to politics…”?

        Oh yes, insulting the entire country of Ukraine was just what’s needed… /sarc

        • Listen, Trudeau was breaking sweats climbing mountains, crossing deserts, moving overland meeting people throughout the world while your guy was still applying for a job in the mailroom at imperial oil. so as far as harper knowing anything about Foreign policy, the only thing he knew, was how to criticize Chretien for not going to war in Iraq, and we know how that all ended.

          • LMAO!

            What does daddy’s little boy and his vacationing have to do with leadership and intelligence.

            Do yourself a favour and read both party leaders biographies.

            One is a part time teacher.
            The other has Master’s degrees in economics.

            Go ahead, and weasel your way out of those facts.

            The only thing Chretien did was send the military, after years of cutbacks and lack of funding, into a war in Afghanistan, poorly equipped.
            To such an embarassing degree that Harper had to spend billions fixing the problem and give our troops the kit they needed to survive.

            Yeah, that wash SUCH a brave thing to do on Cretin’s part.
            I’ll even mention the military personnel who DIED thanks to Chretin’s ignorance.

    • Well, Harper has policy. And then there’s what he does. And seldom the twain do meet.

    • Today – the National Post – on the announcement of Trudeau’s new child said the name that has been chosen would lose him Jewish votes. If that’s cheer leading, I would hate to think what they might come up if they turn on him.

    • Wells pays a lot of attention to Quebec. He’s seeing stuff. Like:

      Mulcair certainly looking to defend Canada as thoughts of a PQ victory and referendum emerge on the political scene.

      As someone said on the radio this morning, who will wear the Captain Canada jersey?

      Trudeau will wear the Captain Canada jersey, not Mulcair, not Harper.

      Trudeau is appealing to the middle of the road so called conservative base.

      Wells is noting I think that a lot of moderate conservatives are coming on board as candidates. You would think Conservative Party types might do better than to attack Pierre and Margaret!

      • 1 – You live in the land of fairy tales, lollipops and unicorns.

    • And one more thing, drop the damned hair thing. You’ve worn out the hair thing.

      • 2- You live in the land of fairy tales, lollipops and unicorns.

  3. I consider myself centre right on the spectrum. I voted for the conservative candidate in my tony downtown Toronto neighbourhood (spoiler alert: she lost) in the last election, but now I’m ready for a change. Harper has just demonstrated an appalling lack of ethics and disregard for the principles democratic accountability. I can’t imagine voting for Trudeau though. He just doesn’t have the experience or the demonstrated intellect to convince me that he could lead a governing party and manage the affairs of a G8 nation. I like Thomas Mulcair, he has an impressive resume, but his party just represents the worst of socialist populism. So I imagine I’ll be parking my vote with an independent candidate or perhaps a Green candidate (they tend to be the most reasonable in the local debates). I wonder if my attitude is similar to other red tories/blue grits.

    • So you think a leader who takes 8 mortgages out on his house in a generation of his life, has an impressive resume. If he was reckless with his own money, then you think he would not be reckless with the treasury ? I doubt it !

      • Yes, I think he has an impressive professional resume. This is the first I’ve heard of this mortgage issue. I tend not to equate personal finances with public finances and I think comparisons are bizarre. I will further point out that I already noted I don’t support the policies advocated by Mulcair’s party.

        • What do you think of Trudeau’s resume?
          “Dad’s name was Pierre”
          that’s it.

      • So you think this resume:
        Dad was former PM….mom former pothead…..me, former substitute teacher, current pot head, with a tendancy to say stupid things, but rake in thousands from charity speaking engagements……..
        qualifies one to manage an economy reaching close to a trillion $’s?
        Sorry….I’ll take the economist who doesn’t steal.

    • I’m in much the same boat. I can’t see voting CPC as long as the current bunch hold the reins, but I think I’ll otherwise be paying close attention to the local candidates as well as watching to see who JT has on his team (a strong bench might make up for a weak captain as long as they play well as a team).

      • Nobody could have accused Ronald Reagan of being the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he could communicate and connect with folks, and was apparently smart enough to surround himself with competent people. So perhaps Trudea will be Canada’s Reagan. For the sake of the country I certainly hope so as JT has a very decent shot of being the next PM.

        FWIW, I too am in a boat similar to Peter’s. I’m 95% certain I’ll be voting for the local candidate, not the party, in the next election.

        • For the sake of Canada, pray JT gets nowhere near being PM.

          At least Reagan could form his own opinion, and not stick his foot in his mouth, every time he opened it.

        • Reagan also ran that little corner of the world known as California before getting the top job. Justin was in and out of University programs at almost 40. There is no comparison.

    • Unfortunately, Peter….
      Sometimes you need to vote for the party you think will do some good, or the least damage. Harper has made some poor choices (or forced to make poor choices by Opposition parties) but for the most part, he’s on the side of taxpayers (Gazeboo’s nothwithstanding) and isn’t a crook.
      Trudeau is an airhead…..but very popular.
      NDP…..you nailed it. Mulcair has the leadership….but he lacks the knowledge of an actual economy.

      • “Sometimes you need to vote for the party you think will do some good, or the least damage.”

        Righto, then – Liberal it is.

        • You forgot to read the part of that statement where it said “think”.

      • Wow – were you down on one knee when you posted that. That is sounding desperate…

        • Sounded logical.

          You should try it some time.

      • What exactly do you mean by “Gazebo’s notwithstanding”… “He’s on the side of the taxpayers except when it might land him some votes?”

        • Compared to the Liberals barely veiled organized crime party, the CPC is the best option.

          • Yeah and we voted those scoundrels out too.

          • They didn’t clue in and fix the rot in their party, though.

            Just added some window dressing.

            Putting lipstick on a pig, so to speak.

    • 15-18 months in politics is an eternity. Something will happen that will help guide your vote.

  4. “Well, to float or fall.”

    Someone’s looking for a new book subject…well, maybe not just yet? But I hope so; we could do with someone writing about Trudeau with the same degree of balanced praise/criticism you manage with Harper

    I’m not sure you’re going to strike oil looking for a message consistency that matches SH or even JC. And in a way i hope not too. We could do with a bit of unscripted mayhem in Ottaw and even a tad of spontaniety after 8 years of a sometimes toxic brew of disciplined stupidity, mediocrity and often enough, barely guarded malice. Trudeau is going to be what he is [at least i hope so. Although the slipping out the back door worries me] A bit like as OB said, a liberal version of Ralph Klein[ i’ll probably get shot if anyone on liberal.ca reads this] A bit of a lovable sometime bumbler and sometime savvy political gambler; but essentially someone that most of the public will forgive cuz he’s young, handsome and does know how to say sorry nicely eventually. I lived in AB during Ralph’s reign and never could figure out why Albertans didn’t throw him under the bus every single day. Instead they kept on forgiving him because he was a likable guy, and underneath the bluster a good guy really.[at least as good as politicians can be] I suspect Trudeau has the same thing going for him in addition to that family name. It amazes me how many partisan Trudeau haters never seem to grasp the fact that pet didn’t just stick around for 16 years just because he was smart or eventually got some good things done on national unity and the constitution. As Ron Graham pointed out, he had a facility for making people trust him even if they didn’t always like him[ hmmm might be true of SH too on his better days? Pity there are so few of them] that carried him over the rough patches.

    Sadly towering intellect is valued much less in politics these days than celebrity; but pet’s boy isn’t so very different from him in some ways. Jeez, i wonder who might have helped to undermine the value of the public intellectual in this country over the last 30 odd years? More and more this Harper/Trudeau saga resembles one of the Baird’s[Bard’s] plays…not sure which one though.

    • Baird writes plays? Glad to know he has another career to fall back on. Kinda like SH and his writing…

      • lol

        I wonder if that was Freudian at all?

  5. cant wait till he gets chewed up in an election, which we all know he will….

  6. I follow your twitter Paul – shouldn’t you mention the possible confusion about which Justin was being referred to up at the top?

  7. The steely substance of an astronaut versus the pretty emptiness of a celebrity name.

    The Liberals chose poorly. They will see how poorly on election day.

    Harper will gain seats, as will the NDP. The Liberals will be close to oblivion.

    • I would have preferred Garneau myself. However, Harper is past his “best before” date. He’s battling himself and his tattered image as much as he is Trudeau or Mulcair.

      • “battling himself and his tattered image”, that’s just an empty construct of the leftwinnngnutz media, bloggers and commenters.

        They all pretty much said the same thing when Harper faced Iggy and Mad Tom.

  8. I think Trudeau’s direct personal appeal to our “neighbours” called the Conservative base who have welcomed him so warmly in town halls all across Canada has the Conservative Party, nowhere near the “base” going absolutely crazy.

    • You live in the land of fairy tales, lollipops and unicorns.

      • And I just love it there. You sometimes meet debaters with great points to make.

  9. Gross exaggeration doesn’t make your “point”

  10. Interesting article. Sounds like Trudeau is doing exactly what is needed- rebuilding the party. I’m not even worried about who wins the next election at this point. Before Trudeau the LPC were on the course to oblivion. Not any more.

    That all is not yet perfect does not concern me. The fact Conservatives are clinging so desperately to each “gaffe”, not to mention their gross exaggeration of their seriousness, just gives me more confidence Trudeau was the right choice.

    • Those gaffes are self written election ads provided for free to the Conservative Party by the gift that keeps on giving………….Turdeau 2.

      The Chretien/Martin civil war still rages within the LPC, it’s very telling that Martinites tend to take every chance they get to take a swipe at the “hair”.

      • You keep clinging to that desperate hope


    Canadian. 1. the ruling oligarchy in Upper Canada in the early 19th century. 2. any influential clique. (COLLINS ENGLISH DICTIONARY)