The sketch: Justin Trudeau, somewhere between hope and a hockey joke

Taking stock of the Liberal leader

Justin Trudeau. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Justin Trudeau. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

“We are here to hope,” he said last Thursday evening, standing in the spotlight before a room packed with supporters. “We are here to work hard. We are here to build. We are here put together the team and the plan to make this country better.”

Shortly thereafter he was done and he was off the stage and off to record an episode of Quebec’s favourite talk show and it was there, in the midst of a discussion about the strife and turmoil of Ukraine, that he decided, badly, to make a hockey joke. “I think President Yanukovych is now illegitimate,” he said in that television studio, “and it is even more worrying now that Russia lost in hockey and will be in a bad mood. We fear some involvement of the Russian government in Ukraine.”

He was, he said, just trying to lighten the mood.

Three days later that video aired and the next morning his joke became a point of outrage to be addressed officially by a minister of the crown, and after a day of a fuss from his rivals and a demand for an apology from the ambassador and some attempt by Liberal MP Marc Garneau to claim that there was nothing to apologize for here and an email to Conservative supporters encouraging them to watch and share the incriminating clip, Mr. Trudeau took to Twitter on Tuesday morning to convey his regrets and shortly thereafter he proceeded to the Ukranian embassy to sign a book of condolences.

So, if nothing else, Mr. Trudeau’s claim to the title of The Most Easily Interesting Man in Canada must remain undisputed (Stephen Harper is quietly interesting, Rob Ford is less interesting than depressing, Justin Bieber is disqualified by residency). But so how should we currently assess his basic state of being, both as a politician and a potential prime minister?

His party’s basic lead in the polls, coinciding perfectly with his election as leader, is now ten months old. For three consecutive quarters, covering the last nine months of 2013, his party has boasted the most donors. In the abstract, even if it would be too much to proclaim him the frontrunner, it would seem fair to surmise that Mr. Trudeau has a somewhat-better-than-decent chance of becoming the 23rd prime minister in this country’s history (and just the 16th to win the office as the direct result of an election). He is an obviously talented individual, whom 42 percent of respondents to a recent poll identified as the best of the potential prime ministers.

The question of his fitness persists. Is he a Serious Person? To what degree should he be taken seriously?

You might start to roll your eyes at various points. At the very idea of him—the celebrity son of a former prime minister, blessed of good skin and good hair, but lacking in serious pursuits before suddenly, after five years in Ottawa, he was the leader of the Liberal party of Canada. (When this magazine presented him as the next leader of the Liberal party, it had to be clarified that the claim was serious.)  He of the long-haired, third-person declaration of allegiance to the country and the boxing match and the strip tease and the toke. There was the fuss over his speaking fees and the fuss over his opinion of the long-gun registry and that odd comment about China and those old comments about Alberta and that rambling response to the bombing in Boston. There is that he is 42 and that habit of leaving the top two buttons of his shirt undone and that time he allowed himself to be videotaped wearing shorts and that, more crucially, he is not the steadiest performer when in scrums or in the House.

There is that “hopey changey” stuff. To stand today, as a politician, before a packed hall and a dozen cameras and speak the sentence, “We are here to hope” is to dare the ridiculous. And to speak as he does, with those pauses and that pronunciation and that obvious ambition. We are supposed to be far too cynical—sorry, wise—for such stuff these days.

But then, however grudgingly or sparingly or guardedly we are willing to invest, it is hope that they’re all selling hope (even those with wins to claim). It is all down to who sells it best.

If you wish to do so, you could construct a story about this past weekend as an unimpressive showing for Mr. Trudeau. The rehearsal of his Thursday speech was inadvertently broadcast to reporters. The debut of a star endorser, already undermined by a spending controversy, was unnecessarily complicated by a leak that could not be explained and questions that weren’t answered—the resulting fuss overwhelming what was a very good speech. There were no new policy commitments from the leader and his Saturday speech was not perfect—the Nathalie anecdote went nowhere, the middle part dragged and the ending lacked oomph. And then Mr. Trudeau declined to meet reporters at weekend’s end, leading to a mostly unanswered scrum and inciting the usual gnashing of teeth.

And yet. It was an interesting speech and an ambitious speech—perhaps as interesting and ambitious a speech as we will hear all year (and perhaps those are the two adjectives that best describe Mr. Trudeau at this point). And throughout the weekend, there on stage, were the individuals Mr. Trudeau has convinced to stand beside him: the former Commander of the Canadian Army, the regional chief of the BC Assembly of First Nations, the chief of staff to the mayor of Calgary, the chairman of the board of the C.D. Howe Institute, the founding president and CEO of the Business Council of Manitoba, not to mention the former managing editor of the Financial Times and the former Quebec MNA who have already been elected under the Liberal banner since Mr. Trudeau became the party’s leader. Are these people wooed simply by the prospect of winning that Mr. Trudeau currently represents? Even if so, can their involvement be discounted?

There is the possibility that his decision to remove senators from his parliamentary caucus is one of the most meaningful reforms in the institution’s history (and that that decision took some chutzpah). There is the fact that his position on marijuana is now the law in the states of Colorado and Washington. There is at least the possibility of political reform. And a basically reasonable position on Keystone XL.

And then there is the simple possibility that some significant number of the general population quite likes this Mr. Trudeau and what he has to say and what he seems to represent—at least so far. (Note: A simple conclusion it took me some counsel to appreciate.)

On Tuesday afternoon, he stood in the House to ask the sixth, seventh and eighth questions of the day in a forum in which he has been generally overshadowed and outdone by Thomas Mulcair, a more-obviously “serious” person, but one whose temperament is criticized for different reasons.

“Mr. Speaker, in the last election the Prime Minister’s income splitting commitment was precise,” Mr. Trudeau reported as the Conservatives heckled and yelped in his direction. “It was not some other type of tax cut. It was not some other time. It was income splitting within the current mandate. Did the Prime Minister ever intend to keep his 2011 campaign promise?”

Mr. Harper dodged and then swung back.

“Mr. Speaker, as we have said, we will look at tax reductions for families when we actually have the budget balanced,” he said. “This party on this side understands, unlike him, that the budget does not balance itself.”

The Conservatives laughed. So eager are they to demonstrate Mr. Trudeau’s unseriousness that they are now chasing after even vaguely interesting sentences of his—in this case seemingly undaunted by the prospect of a debate about why and how precisely the budget is being balanced.

Now the Prime Minister stumbled a bit and referred to this weekend’s gathering as an NDP convention before catching himself. “I got confused over the weekend,” he joked.

Mr. Trudeau came back at this. “Mr. Speaker, I am sorry about the Prime Minister’s confusion,” the Liberal leader offered. “It is true, an open convention is something he has never seen.”

The Liberals stood and cheered this one, the Conservatives heckled some more.

Mr. Trudeau proceeded with an entirely reasonable question. “During budget week, the Minister of Finance said that income splitting still required ‘a long hard analytical look,’ ” the Liberal leader recounted. “Why did the Prime Minister not ask the finance minister to conduct this analysis before the election promise was made three years ago?”

Mr. Harper, up smiling, would not let Mr. Trudeau’s mockery go unreturned. “Mr. Speaker,” he quipped, “I do not recall ever having to leave one of my conventions through the back door.”

The Conservatives stood and cheered, delighted with their man’s retort. (Presumably when Mr. Harper avoids engaging with the press gallery he has the decency to walk out the front door.)

Back then to Mr. Trudeau. “Mr. Speaker,” he responded, “I recommend to the Prime Minister that perhaps he try using the front door of the House of Commons and actually talking to people.”

The Conservatives yapped and laughed.

An hour later, after waiting his turn behind the leader of the opposition, Mr. Trudeau strode up to the middle microphone in the House foyer, the one setup before the grand wooden doors of the House. The CBC would broadcast this scrum nationally.

He was asked first about his apology.

“I wanted to make sure that I had the chance to express directly to leaders within the Ukrainian community,” he explained, “including Paul Grod at the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and the ambassador himself how seriously the Liberal Party takes the situation in Ukraine and to say that I regret my comments about Russia which made light of some very real fears and concerns that Ukrainians have about Russian intervention.”

He looked contrite and he nodded along as questions were asked and he was pressed further on this and other matters. At one point, a reporter suggested simply that this was not the first time he had placed his foot in his mouth and so perhaps he was lacking somehow in judgment. He explained himself en francais and was then asked to repeat himself in English.

“The Conservatives have decided that they want to make the make election about judgment and I’m actually quite pleased that I will be up against someone who had the judgment to decide that Pat Brazeau, Pam Wallin and Mike Duffy weren’t suitable members of our Senate,” he responded. “I think there’s a lot of questions to be asked, but ultimately what I’ve heard across the country and where I trust Canadians is that Canadians are open to having people who aren’t tightly scripted, who are willing to talk like people talk and from time to time take risks and from time to time have to apologize or withdraw their comments. I’m confident that my values, my approach and my openness with Canadians is exactly what people from across the country are looking for in their representatives in Ottawa.”

So from time to time he will say something for which he will have to apologize. And that will be the price of change. Or that will be part of why Mr. Trudeau never becomes prime minister. Or that will be what has to change for him to become prime minister.


The sketch: Justin Trudeau, somewhere between hope and a hockey joke

  1. This comment was deleted.

    • When Minister Ritz joked about ‘death by a thousand cold cuts’ when people were dying there was no apology. Instead Harper defended the joke.

      Give me a leader with the balls to apologize over some sanctimonious coward like Harper anyday.

        • Thanks for the reminder that the Cons needn’t be so finger-pointy about insensitive gaffes. I wonder if they appreciate your bringing it up again.

      • Was Ritz running for PM?

        • Ritz couldn’t run a lemonade stand without supervision

      • Liar

  2. “He is an obviously talented individual” — WHOA!!!! Even when you were drunk in The Gazette office I can’t imagine you’d say such a thing…. okay, maybe in the darkroom…

    Justin carries traits from both his parents. Unfortunately for Canada, both were flawed. His mother’s only redeeming quality was her appreciation of the music of The Rolling Stones, but maybe just the band members… His dad was prone to extremism (War Measures Act), hyperbole (ZAP! you’re frozen) and the biggest spending orgy in Canadian history (you’re paying interest on that today).

    Justin is only mysterious or “obviously talented” to those with boring lives. PET was much more qualified to be PM and he messed up big-time. Help us.

    • I think he only bugs people inside the bubble of Ottawa, like you, the talking heads, reporters, Sun News and the conservative government. How come harper is getting off the hook for having an sexual predator in his band and using metal detectors during Halloween to screen kids collecting candy ? You tell me, was that was good judgement. Don’t try to talk circles around me, tell me straight, was that good judgement by your guy ? Let me say another thing about harper right now, the senate scandal and the robo call scandal are presently in remission right now, but I can assure you, Canadians are very aware that this is yet to come, and with a whole new generation of voters, we will see who is in way over there heads. Harper is going to end up being the most corrupt PM in our country in Canadian history, and yes I would take a scattered flub from a young and energetic genuine young man trying to bring respect and dignity to our democracy, any day over a corrupt PM.

    • Exactly what things did PET spend on that we are still paying for today? Conservatives who put forward this hypothesis are never able to come up with any details. Probably because the idea is ridiculous.

      No doubt, right-wingers have a number of things in mind that are not attributable to Trudeau: universal health care, CPP, unemployment insurance, OAS. In short, their idea of fiscal responsibility is to tear down the social safety net and turn Canada into Chile.

      Fact is Trudeau left government in 1984 with the same debt/GDP he came into office with in 1968. He also had the highest GDP growth of any prime minister that came after him (Harper the lowest.)

      • …and had the highest per GDP funding of the military (3.4%)


      Where do you think Justin’s Ukrainian killings joke ranks?

      10. What’s that sound? Trudeau gets confused defending himself

      defending himself from accusations that he lacks substance, Trudeau
      gets confused by ‘decibel’ (the unit used to measure sound) and
      ‘decimal’ (used in math). Demonstrating again, that Trudeau is like,
      totally, qualified to lead Canada’s economy.

      RELATED VIDEO: Are you smarter than Justin Trudeau?

      9. Called Peter Kent a piece of sh*t

      Trudeau might want to claim that he practices the politics of positivity, but evidence suggests otherwise.

      December 2012, Trudeau screamed at then Environment Minister Peter Kent
      in the House of Commons, calling him a “piece of sh*t!” Not exactly
      prime ministerial behaviour.

      Listen closely just after the 0:12 mark.

      8. Confused and conflicting statements on gun registry

      would hope that a wanna-be prime minister has clear thoughts on an
      issue as significant as the gun registry, but that might be asking too
      much of Justin Trudeau.

      First, Trudeau said he always supported
      the gun registry. Then he said it would be too “divisive” to
      re-introduce it. Followed quickly by a statement supporting Quebec’s
      efforts to bring it back in that province. He finally said the gun
      registry was an example of failed public policy.

      READ: Trudeau targeted over gun registry flip-flop

      voted to keep the firearms registry a few months ago and if we had a
      vote tomorrow I would vote once again to keep the long-gun registry.
      However, the definition of a failed public policy is the fact that the
      long-gun registry is no more. . . . The fact is, because it was so
      deeply divisive for far too many people, it no longer exists.” – Toronto
      Star, December 3, 2012

      Is anyone able to follow Trudeau’s logic on this?

      READ: Justin Trudeau’s scattershot approach to the gun registry

      7. When asked a tough question by the CBC, he thought it was Sun News

      CBC once actually asked Trudeau a real question. When the CBC asked if
      Canada should negotiate with the Taliban, not only were we surprised,
      but Trudeau was too. So much so, that Trudeau mistook the CBC reporter
      for Sun News.

      6.Trudeau blitzed with wrong pot numbers

      August, Trudeau was quoted as saying that Canada’s current marijuana
      laws “left 475,000 people with criminal records since the Conservatives
      took office in 2006.”

      Statistics Canada reports the number of all
      criminal incidents reported by police for possession, production,
      trafficking and/or distribution of marijuana at just under 480,000 since
      2006. But a reported incident does not mean an arrest has been made, a
      charge laid or a conviction earned.

      You’d think Trudeau would get the details of his signature policy right…

      press aide initially described the mistake as a “slip of the tongue,”
      but Trudeau repeated the same false statistics the next day.

      READ: Trudeau sticks to pot possession arrest stats

      5. He ‘admires’ China’s basic dictatorship the most

      a level of admiration I actually have for China. Their basic
      dictatorship is actually allowing them to turn their economy around on a
      dime.” – November 8, 2013

      READ: Trudeau admires China’s ‘basic dictatorship’

      4. Honour killing and female circumcision not barbaric?

      the federal government released a new immigration guide that denounced
      so-called honour killings and female circumcision as barbaric, then
      Liberal immigration critic Justin Trudeau was quick to notice.

      Trudeau was indeed offended,
      but seemingly more with with the term ‘barbaric’ than the actual
      violent acts against women themselves. Trudeau lamented that the feds
      should have qualified honour killing as “absolutely unacceptable” and
      suggested that ‘barbaric’ was belittling to other cultures. – March 2011

      3. Boston Bombers just misunderstood?

      there is no question that this happened because there is someone who
      feels completely excluded. Completely at war with innocents. At war with
      a society. And our approach has to be, where do those tensions come
      from? …But we also need to make sure that as we go forward, that we
      don’t emphasize a culture of fear and mistrust. Because that ends up
      marginalizing even further those who already are feeling like they are
      enemies of society.” – April 2013

      LORRIE GOLDSTEIN: Justin Trudeau naive to think he knows root causes of terrorism

      2. Trudeau a conditional Canadian?

      of Canadian values, and the values of the conservative government,
      Trudeau said that Quebec should separate from Canada:

      “I always
      say that if, at a given time, I believed that Canada was really the
      Canada of Stephen Harper, and that we were going against abortion, that
      we were going against gay marriage, that we were moving backwards in
      10,000 different ways, maybe I would think of wanting to make Quebec a
      country,” he said.

      READ: Trudeau says he’ll help Quebec separate if Harper “gets his way”

      the Radio-Canada interviewer was surprised by Trudeau’s pro-separatism
      comments, but Justin went on: “Oh yes, absolutely. If I no longer
      recognized Canada, I know my own values very well.” – Radio-Canada interview, February 14, 2012

      1. Canada belongs to Quebec and problems with Albertans

      When asked about challenges facing Canada, Trudeau took aim at Alberta:

      isn’t doing well right now because it’s Albertans who control our
      community and socio-democratic agenda. It doesn’t work…I’m a Liberal,
      so of course I think so, yes. Certainly when we look at the great prime
      ministers of the 20th century, those that really stood the test of time,
      they were MPs from Quebec. There was Trudeau, there was Mulroney, there
      was Chrétien, there was Paul Martin. We have a role. This country,
      Canada, it belongs to us.” – Interview in French on the Télé-Québec program Les Francs-tireurs, November 2010
      …and did he also say Paul Martin was a prime minister who “stood the test of time”?

      • Oh we are so screwed.

      • Good boy, now go get your hero biscuit from the PMO.

      • This is probably the only context in which Sun Media Network material will ever be read (albeit accidentally) by a thoughtful, intelligent audience.

        They should put you on their payroll, Bubba…if you’re not already there.

      • Peter Kent was being a piece of … at the time.

  3. “And then there is the simple possibility that some significant number of
    the general population quite likes this Mr. Trudeau and what he has to
    say and what he seems to represent. At least so far.”


    • Yupper, but it’s fun watching the Con ‘headless chicken brigade’ anyway.

    • Rick and Charles have been telling you for months now that Stumbles is unfit and will continue to screw up.
      You guys should have listened to them.
      Might be a good time for you Liberals to apologize to them for your disrespect.

      • Oh yeah. I will get right on that. I am just so disgusted that Trudeau has carried the LPC all the way to first place in the polls, with the highest number of donors, raising lots of money for the party and attracting great candidates. Wow – if only I respected Rick and Charles’ opinions.

        ha ha ha ha ha

        PS – You do know that Charles/Biff does not actually believe what he writes, right?

      • And if occasional “slips” uttered during moments of refreshingly unscripted candor are the most damning flaws they can expose, we’re happy to see them amuse themselves this way.

        A professional babysitter couldn’t invent a more harmless diversion for them.

        • Unless it starts an international incident. Don’t forget as PM he is also playing to the international community which might not be as forgiving.

          • I somehow doubt the international community could be destabilized by a fleeting, feeble attempt at humour on a relatively obscure, domestic (in fact, regional) talk show.

            If you think diplomatic relations are potentially so fragile, perhaps you should restrain Harper from trivializing a politically-charged matter of American energy/environmental policy as a “no brainer” while discussing the issue in America, broadcast on American media outlets.

            That, IMO, is real foot-in-mouth disease.

    • Trudeau is loaded with charisma. He’s charming enough to make a dumb joke seem funny in an intimate setting. But he’s also very vague about offering solutions to problems he points out. This is likely purposeful. Instead of defining himself to Canadians, he will win over a lot more people if he lets them project their own ideas onto their image of him.

      The big problem with this, of course, is that the myriad of illusions will burst once he comes to power. Then the great Hope turns out to be a great Nope.

      • Yet more rehashing of other people’s analysis and tiresome cliches…

        • You must love tiresome cliches if you’re a Trudeau supporter.

          • I get you now. You are a Prentice conservative.

            No wonder all the boring “analysis” and cliches.

            That is all

  4. Well, Marc Garneau did try and warn us, didn’t he? The media loves a spectacle so they love Trudeau but the LPC brain trust should have known better than to rush for Derek Zoolander.

    The more i see Trudeau the more I see Tom Mulcair eating his lunch during a campaign.

    • Blue Steel !!!

    • Garneau would have been the better choice for leader. Trudeau should have waited a little longer before seeking the leadership. He’s still a little green, IMO.

    • Derek Zoolander. Perfect!

  5. “……ultimately what I’ve heard across the country and where I trust Canadians is that Canadians are open to having people who aren’t tightly scripted, who are willing to talk like people talk and from time to time take risks and from time to time have to apologize or withdraw their comments.”

    A refreshing change. Not only a willingness to actually speak – UNSCRIPTED, YES, UNSCRIPTED – to Canadians but to a willingness to admit error and apologize. When was the last….ummm….any….time you heard that from Harper?

    • Don’t you know? Conservatives believe in personal responsibility and accountability – so long as they do not have to be personally responsible or accountable.

      Show me someone who believes it is a personal weakness to admit an error, and I will show you a liar and cheat who will do anything to avoid taking responsibility for anything.

      Mind you, that is exactly why no one likes Harper and so many people like Trudeau.

  6. Why did Trudeau apologize for his Ukraine comments? Did he have a genuine change of heart, or is this a calculated political play to mitigate damage and move on?

    If it’s the former, I can respect that. If it’s the latter, does this mean he’s becoming another “typical” politician who has to carefully craft his image/thoughts and run everything by pollsters before deciding how to act?

    It’s surprising that Garneau made the trip to the embassy with him. He was Trudeau’s most vocal and staunchest defender on Monday.

    • You have to look at the language of apologies — he said he regretted the remark, which is no doubt true, given the grief it’s given him. I don’t know how genuinely sorry one expects him to be about making a flippant joke that lands with a thud, but I certainly believe he regrets making it. And the ambassador said Trudeau’s the only leader who has bothered to go and speak to him about the issue at all to date. Maybe one day Harper and Mulcair will regret being so slow to respond to the embassy — don’t expect to hear an apology from them though.

    • He apologized because it was a stupid thing to say, no matter what the context.

      The fact that during the interview he went from the comment to immediately talking about how serious the situation in Ukraine is should give you your answer. But you have to be honest enough to see it.

      • it was a stupid thing to say, no matter what the context.

        Yes, but why attempt a defense of the comment on Monday? This is why I’m surprised Garneau accompanied him to the embassy: Garneau was the biggest apologist of Trudeau’s comment.

        So was it a genuine change of heart/recognition that it was a dumb thing to say (which is respectable), or simply another calculated political maneuver (in which case, I’m less impressed)?

        • It’s both! I think we all recognize it was an unfunny quip, and since he’s a POLITICIAN, he has done the politic thing and said he regrets it.

          Do you ascribe the same intent to the original comment as you do to the apology? Because it’s pretty obvious that comment was never intended to be hurtful to anyone: it was a play to the audience about HOCKEY, and it was poorly delivered.

          Meanwhile, as we keep discussing the intent of the comment or the apology: Canada still has made zero commitments to the Ukrainian people during their crisis. I seriously think it’s waaay past time to move on from a stupid joke and take some action.

  7. ” …he decided, badly, to make a hockey joke. “I think President Yanukovych is now illegitimate,” he said in that television studio, “and it is even more worrying now that Russia lost in hockey and will be in a bad mood. We fear some involvement of the Russian government in Ukraine.” ”

    Seems that Russia and Putin in an attempt to reclaim past glory (such as they hoped for by winning Olympic hockey gold) did exactly what Trudeau said they might do. Yeah, that’s a problem… Better to revive cold war rhetoric to impress the media as Harper did.

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