Who’s up for a third-generation Trudeau prime minister? Anyone? Bueller?
Always one to think ahead, the current Prime Minister Trudeau, Justin, was on the TV this morning from Niagara Falls, where two visiting American daytime TV hosts, Kelly and Ryan—or as I still call them, Regis and Kathy Lee—asked him which of his three children he’d like to see as PM.
Suppressing the urge to say “All of ’em,” Trudeau named Ella-Grace, his middle child, who’s 8, and therefore younger than some of Trudeau’s cabinet ministers. “I have one daughter and there is something very special about imagining a woman Prime Minister,” he said. The live audience, which was prone to whooping no matter what he said, roared its approval. “I think it’s long overdue,” Trudeau added. Perhaps Kim Campbell has thoughts.
Now, of course the PM was simply playing along with a lob on a daytime show, and no particular weight need be put on his prognostication. He’s not Macbeth’s witches, after all; just because he says something will happen doesn’t make it so. And as recently as January, Trudeau was telling a crowd in Fredericton that Ella-Grace “doesn’t seem to want to be a prime minister.” (FLIP-FLOPPING ALREADY?!?!)
With that, let’s leave the kid to her childhood, but consider more broadly the question of politics as a family business. In the United States, “founded in rebellion against nobility and inherited status,” there’s long been nervousness about the durability of your Kennedys, Bushes, Roosevelts and maybe Clintons. Sometimes the nervousness gusts to outrage, usually when the candidate of the party one dislikes is a member of a political family.
In Canada, where we’re kind of OK with hereditary aristocracies, or at least with one, there’s usually less angst over political dynasties. There’ve been a few: Ernest C. and Preston Manning, Paul Martins Sr. and Jr., Elmer and Peter MacKay, some Laytons, some Notleys.
But the question came up a few times when I was doing radio interviews during the 2015 election: is it healthy for political office to be inherited?
The obvious answer, no less true because it’s obvious, is that it really isn’t inherited. Voters get a say, and sometimes their enthusiasm for the family project is perilously limited, as Al Gore, Jeb Bush and, in a way, Hillary Clinton learned. Children get a say too, which is why there are way more cases of political children pursuing another field than of children following an older family member onto the campaign trail.
But these things are also conditioned by supply, not demand, and in the end is it really surprising that politicians sometimes breed politicians? It happens in other fields too. I know of few really good musicians whose parents weren’t interested in music. Real estate developers sometimes have children who are real estate developers. The New York Times and the Toronto Star have been family businesses for generations.
Politics is more of a skilled trade than an art or science, after all: to do it well, you need to accumulate a body of lore on questions that don’t occur to, or even interest, most people: Where do the important people sit for a lunch speech? How do you ask for money? When does a campaign really begin? How do you inspire a crowd or brush off a petitioner? The earlier you start learning these things, the more of an edge you have. Not a guarantee, just an edge.
And then there are the names, big names, resonant names that inspire followers and make adversaries nervous, derisive, edgy—all states of mind that any politician would feel grateful to provoke in an adversary. It’s said that Caroline Mulroney is tempted to run. One is getting used to seeing Ben Harper at political events. They’re free to do what they want. Electorates remain free to judge, if any of them takes a run. But who should be surprised if members of political families see the life as something noble and alluring? The wonder is that anyone else still does.