Justin Trudeau’s listening tour reveals more than expected

A surprising amount of ground was covered in the first stop of Justin Trudeau’s transparency traipse across Canada

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with locals as he visits a restaurant in Manotick, Ont. Thursday January 12, 2017. (Adrian Wyld/CP)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with locals as he visits a restaurant in Manotick, Ont. Thursday January 12, 2017. (Adrian Wyld/CP)

Before Justin Trudeau’s transparency blow-up, the first day of his taxpayer-funded, cross-country transparency tour was going swimmingly—for the most part. Sure, the exercise is a photo op. Perhaps, as alleged, it’s an opportunity to cultivate Liberal party donors. Yet if attention can possibly remain on those Canadians who don’t otherwise have a public voice being given an opportunity to raise their priorities and concerns, there’s value in the exercise. If today is any indication, that won’t be the case.

Trudeau’s itinerary as a middle-class champion—he’s skipping Davos to enjoy double-doubles with the hoi polloi—began with early morning stops in small-town Ontario coffee shops and bakeries. He then travelled to Kingston to “listen” to Canadians, an exercise that took the form of  fielding questions for an hour in the city hall’s lovely rotunda. The crowd of 250—old, young, mostly white, peppered with Liberal party members—bristled with Canadian politesse. Trudeau, outfitted a crisp white shirt, grey tie, and dark trousers, received a standing ovation entering and exiting, as people flocked for a photo. Many questions were prefaced by thank-yous. Mention of his father was met with applause. There was no veering into the issues that animated media and government critics—cash-for-access fundraising or the Prime Minister’s recent holiday on the private island of the billionaire Aga Khan. Nor did anyone allude to Jane Fonda, who travelled to Edmonton this week to blast the PM; he “betrayed” his climate-change promises, the actress said, before concluding that “the lesson is we shouldn’t be fooled by good-looking Liberals.” When a man in Kingston stood up to protest pipelines, the crowd shouted at him to “sit down.” “Sir, I am listening,” Trudeau told him. “We are going to try to keep this as respectful as possible.”

Anne Kingston joins our politics podcast to discuss Trudeau’s tour:

Yet anger, frustration, even heartbreak underlined many of the questions. Two furious government employees challenged the PM on the Phoenix payment debacle that thrust many workers into dire circumstances. (Trudeau said he found it “unacceptable” and promised to “work very hard and we’ll make sure we settle this challenge.”)  It isn’t lost that Trudeau’s last highly public visit to Kingston was to attend the final Tragically Hip concert last August; Gord Downie give him a shout-out from the stage: “Well, you know, Prime Minister Trudeau’s got me, his work with First Nations. He’s got everybody. He’s going to take us where we need to go.” Not everyone in today’s crowd was so confident. A self-identified First Nations woman had a gift for Trudeau (“Meegwetch,” he said while receiving it), then cried when asking him what he was doing about undrinkable water on reserves. Trudeau’s answer, couched in inspirational lingo, was vague: “We need to do right by this land which gives us so much and our responsibility to be stewards for future generations,” he said.

By question four, Trudeau’s answering formula was clear: gratitude for the questioner’s passion; identifying the importance of the subject, for him, his government, and for Canadians; itemization of the progress on the issue made to date, often supported by numbers; promises that he “looked forward” to dealing with it in the future.

Once observed, it was impossible to unsee. One woman was in tears questioning the government’s promise to restore lifetime disability benefits for veterans. “Despite what you promised, you resumed the previous government’s fight by hiring the lawyer they hired,” she said to Trudeau. “When are you going to be restoring?” Trudeau cleaved to the formula, ending with how it was vital the country “care for our best and brightest.” “You didn’t answer my question,” she said. By then, though, the Prime Minister was on to the next question.

The anodyne format also betrayed the important issues raised, which ranged from a plea for pharmacare to restoring the prison farms in Kingston shut down by Stephen Harper’s government. A transgender woman, a former member of the Canadian military, expressed concern about the safety of incarcerated trans women. Trudeau, to his credit, said that although he saw himself as a LGBTQ advocate, he was not familiar with the issue. Then there was a little girl named Eileen who started by saying that she was “very proud to be Canadian and to have you for a as a Prime Minister,” before telling the story of her sister born in the U.S. Her sister’s disabilities meant she would not be able to stay in Canada. She asked Trudeau: What will you do? “We’ll make sure we look closely at that file,” he said.

Trudeau is better on the road than in the House. He’s “saleable,” as a Liberal insider put it. He has a way of igniting a room, of making his audience feel self-righteous, as he did today when praising Canadians for embracing Syrian refugees. Trudeau, who goes breathless when tense, is funny when relaxed. When a man thanked him for coming out to mingle with the “unwashed masses,” Trudeau joked: “Leave everyone else out of your personal hygiene.” Another woman asked him how he got stains out of his tie. A mix of soda-and-salt, dry cleaning, and his wife editing his closets, he answered.

A surprising amount of ground was covered over the hour, including Trudeau admitting his bias to a ranked-ballot system, to the disappointment of a longtime Liberal supporter who championed “made-in-Canada proportional representation.” When asked why the 2015 budget “failed to phase out fossil-fuel subsidies,” Trudeau answered: “Great question,” before moving sideways: “We can no longer make the choice between economy and environment,” he began before giving a shout-out to Rachel Notley for putting “an absolute cap on emissions from oil sands.”

The last question was about the dire problem of human trafficking. Trudeau called it “horrific,” sharing that his wife was very much engaged in the issue, as was Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould. Anything more was unclear.

A small, far less merciful press scrum followed. Trudeau, who’d changed into casual grey pants and a V-neck before his next stop in Napanee, stood before Canadian flags and a dozen or so random Canadians culled from the town hall. As the evening’s news reports indicate, the headline was Trudeau’s confirmation of taking a private aircraft—a helicopter—to the Aga Khan’s island without advising the ethics commissioner, a violation of the Conflict of Interest Act. Here too, he stuck with the formula: “I look forward to answering questions from the ethics commissioner,” he said, an answer that was clearly less than transparent. If today is any indication, Justin Trudeau’s transparency tour is destined to reveal more than anyone expected.


Justin Trudeau’s listening tour reveals more than expected

  1. JT and his cross canada 4 province tour into liberal ridings to speak to his servants the guys polls are falling faster than his mom underware at a stones concert. The government travel visa is maxed out so he can’t fly away on his monthly 2 week holiday maybe stay in Ottawa you know that place where you work !! and how come in almost every Photo he always has young swooning girls around him

    • See, your reporting ‘Fake News’ again. Not sure if you ever notice, but every time Trudeau appears on any broadcast, or public appearance, you will notice he always flashes his wedding ring on the TV screen, its hard not to notice. You see, that is a sign of symbolism and unity for him and his wife, you see it the same way in all the movies. Just yesterday when a camera was pointed at him as he leaned over to talk to a young lady, he laid his hand on the back rest of a seat next to the person he was chatting with, at the same time exposing his wedding ring, it’s a powerful symbol, not just to his wife, but anyone who are married(besides he does flash a great pair of guns). Personally i think marriage is just a symbol of religion, and religion to me is just a form of hypnotism, brainwashing, Que Sara Sara.

      • Who’s Sara? Is that a reference to his sister? If so, she spells it with an ‘h’.
        Whatever will be, will be = Que sera, sera.

  2. Trudeau is sucking big oxygen out the the conservative french leadership debate coming up next week, while the cons are trying to figure out if they are far right wing party, or just a right wing party. As they say, anytime you get your name in the news, whether good, bad or ugly, is sometimes better than none, look at Kelly and Nick(Operation Venus Flytrap). I get a great kick out of the media when they complain Trudeau is being complacent, the only ones being complacent right now are the cons and dippers, where is Tom and Rona, if they were that serious about winning, they would be on a plane going from corner to corner of the country raising money and getting organized, instead, they hope TV stations like CBC with Rosie and PnP, will do their dirty work for them, because if anything the CBC don’t want to be called is a left wing organization of the liberal party, well they lost their virginity on that one over Xmas with their Top 5. I don’t hear ‘Ezra’ ranting much about CBC, or Jason Kenny, so the CBC must be doing a good job as far as the right is concerned. CTV is still more of a conservative leaning news organization anyway, i expect them to play a little more to the right anyway, don’t watch them much. I remember when Harper wouldn’t allow his ministers to show up on these political shows. Justin Trudeau has been the most accessible PM, and his ministers, since the 20th century, you may not like everything they say or do, but they are not hiding from the press or public, running down hallways away from the press, or even hiding in closets. The day the liberal party starts to hide from the press, it may convince me, it could be time for a change, until then fill your boots Trudeau because Canada wants to feel and smell you, after all, we should be able to smell and feel the person we elect as PM, we pay for it dearly and daily. I rather a ‘Sunflower’ over a ‘Wallflower Curmudgeon'(Harper).

  3. Anne – I have a hard time figuring out what point you are trying to make. It all reads like a form of passive aggression – you don’t say clearly what you mean but we are left with the impression that this tour reveals something (unsavoury, shallow, perhaps) about JT. Problem is, you haven’t really provided enough information to support any kind of conclusion. You note that he skated some questions – umm, of course, he did. Do you really expect him to be an expert on fossil fuel subsidies? I have worked on that issue and you would not get a straight answer out of anybody inside government on that issue. JT cannot be better than his government experts and you can search for official information on it and you will find nothing substantive that supports the premise of the question. Perhaps JT will go back to his government experts and demand some straight answers. And that is just one issue I happen to know about.

  4. Another remarkably disjointed and unreadable Anne Kingston piece. I got less than nothing out of it. I was left confused as to what Ms. Kingston was even trying to say.

  5. Kingston- You and your ilk slay me. Like many in the Canadian media, you were a hardcore cheerleader for Trudeau V2.0. Just over a year in, you’re getting smacked in the face with his vanity, vacuity, and untter lack of intellect. How’s it feel, especially when you had tens of thousands of us out here in readerland telling that’s exactly what he was?
    The problem is, Annie, that guys like Trudeau leave a swath of economic and human destruction in their wake. Yeah, we were pointing that out, too.

    • These people that you are explaining the truth
      to, have not much more than dead space between their
      ears. They will wait for our help when this comes
      crashing down. They will only hear our laughter,
      as we step over their putrid rotting flesh.

      • You two might wanna go help Alberta with your theories.

        Gawd knows, with the polls high for Trudeau…..you aren’t making any sense elsewhere.

  6. People complain he’s not going into any detail — I wonder what they expect. I think Trudeau has been pretty forthright. To go into Alberta and say the oil sands have to be phased out? That’s amazing. He admitted he liked the preferential ballot system. And I’ve heard him say both things, by the way, for years now. Also, approving pipelines shouldn’t have been a big surprise to anyone.

    Fascinatingly, Kellie Leitch had that awesome interview about how she’d handle aboriginal policy, which is about as regressive as you’ll hear this side of the eighteenth century (but, you know, detailed) but the headlines are about her feeling the need to remind some hapless soul that she has 18 letters after her name (who talks like that?). So there’s criticism that the media focused on that, not what she said before. I don’t know if it was so wrong, it certainly got attention, and it speaks to character. It’s a real dilemma.

    So if someone asked Trudeau what he thinks of Leitch’s proposal, would he answer it up front? My bet is he would, and that’s what I voted for.