Justin Trudeau’s geek factor

Jesse Brown evaluates the putative Liberal Leader hopeful’s record on digital policy


This morning, Justin Trudeau came out as a geek.

“I no doubt have something more important to be doing,” he tweeted, “but I just found the whale in xkcd’s Click and Drag, and it made me smile.”  Trudeau included the hashtag #geek in an apparent act of self-description. “Wheeeee!,” he added in a subsequent tweet.

Xkcd is of course a wildly popular stick-figure web comic about the Internet and technology, and “Click and Drag” is an epic, interactive entry in the series filled with hard-to-spot secrets like the aforementioned whale.

Trudeau backed up the tweet with proof: a screen-grab of the whale.

This development begs the question: is the newest contender for Liberal party leadership actually a geek, or is he just pandering to the geek vote. A quick look at his record is in order:

Online Privacy

When then-Public Safety Minister Vic Toews tried to push through Bill C-11 Bill C-30, the online spying law that would grant police access to some of Canadians’ private information online without a warrant, Trudeau was a vocal opponent. He participated in the satirical #TellVicEverything Twitter hashtag by revealing that “Last night I promised my wife I’d wake up early for yoga, but repeatedly snooze-buttoned instead” (note also the sop here to the #Yoga vote).

Later, Toews inferred that Trudeau may have orchestrated the @Vikileaks30 Twitter feed, which posted public information about Toews’ divorce. Trudeau denied any role in the account, but apologized for having linked to it.

For this, he gets a Geek Grade of B (more tweets than action)


Justin Trudeau was a vocal critic of the Conservatives’ copyright reform bill, likening it to America’s failed Digital Millenium Copyright Act, which critics claimed the Harper administration had been under pressure to emulate.

When Heritage Minister James Moore called such critics “radical extremists,” Trudeau tweeted “Wow. Apparently I might be a ‘radical extremist’ because I have questions about a gvt bill. I thought that was called ‘doing my job’.”

Geek Grade: B (more tweets than action)

iPod Tax

In 2010 Bloc MP Carole Lavallée put forth a motion that the private copying levy be extended to devices like iPods. That would have meant that every time a Canadian bought one of these gadgets, they’d pay a special tax (as much as $75 per iPod, according to the Conservatives) that would then be distributed to musicians (or their labels, at least) to make up for all of the supposed revenue they were losing due to all of the illicit downloading iPod owners were supposedly doing. Even if you filled your iPod with nothing but legitimate music and apps, you’d have to pay the levy.

The motion was defeated, but Trudeau voted for it.

Geek Grade: F (wrong kind of action)


Trudeau has some ways to go before truly locking down his geek credentials.  Xkcd appreciation and pugnacious tweets are great, but they would go down even better if  he backed that up with substantive action on digital policy issues.

Follow Jesse on Twitter @JesseBrown


Justin Trudeau’s geek factor

  1. Sorry, but I can’t get past the Rorschach test.

    A crooked smile with fangs? – Chretien on Hallowe’en?

  2. I am relatively computer savvy, pay for the vast bulk of the media I consume, and support extending the “blank media levy” to ipods. It’s a small tax on a luxury item which goes to fight a problem we know is occurring even if it isn’t easily quantifiable. It isn’t 100% direct but it’s not unrelated either. The fact that Mr. Nowak took the dollar figure at the word of a hyper-partisan party rather than look into the matter seems to suggest he went along with internet groupthink rather than examine the matter.

    • Actually, in the sense that “geeks” may be against the idea generally I can see why it would be fair to give Justin an F on the matter. But this is the same community that seems to be personally affronted when it can’t download something without having to pay for it, so I can’t blame Justin for behaving like an adult policymaker.

    • Except it wasn’t just a tax on ipods, but rather on every blank hard drive.

      It’d be like putting a tax on baggy jeans to compensate stores for shoplifting. You don’t solve a problem by acquiescing to it and then charging everybody for the actions of the few.

      The media levy is bad enough already in that it awards money in proportion to their sales.. assuming that increased sales translate to increased piracy. And also in that, so far as I know the company that receives the levy has yet to pay out to the artists it’s supposedly collecting for.

      • They certainly could have adjusted by making the tax on computer drives less.

  3. Wait, you don’t follow xkcd? I find that surprising. The Internet is clearly not one of xkcd’s central themes.

    • Jesse Brown isn’t even qualified to write about geeks if he can’t get a simple fact correct. When someone has to rely on the Harper Conservatives for numbers, I’d say they should write about political hacks, not geeks.

  4. BTW, you missed the most important internet issue which is open-access broadband. Both the Liberals and NDP made this part of their platforms.

    According to a definitive Harvard study (“Next Generation Connectivity,”) Canada has the slowest most expensive broadband because of “regulatory hesitation.”

    The countries with the cheapest, fastest are in Europe and Asia and use the open-access model which regulates basic network infrastructure. North Americans pay the most because we have giant media corporations that own the infrastructure. This creates monopolistic conditions that lead to price gouging and foot-dragging on innovation.

    Open-access cuts costs and duplication while promoting competition and innovation.

    The CRTC tried bringing in open-access to DSL. But Harper killed it.

    • CBC: Canadian internet slow, expensive: Harvard
      “These high rates and ‘regulatory hesitance’ likely contributed to fewer new competitors making investments, the study said. Other countries that have had strong rules have fared better. France, as one example, has very little cable-versus-phone-company competition, yet it ranks well in Harvard’s survey — seventh overall — because of strong enforcement of open-access rules.”

      NY Times: Open Access: Ending the Internet’s Trench Warfare
      “IMAGINE that for $33 a month you could buy Internet service twice as fast as what you get from Verizon or Comcast, bundled with digital high-definition television, unlimited long distance and international calling to 70 countries and wireless Internet connectivity for your laptop or smartphone throughout much of the country.

      That’s what you can buy in France, and similar speeds and prices are available in other countries with competitive markets. But not in the United States [or Canada.]”

      CBC: Open Access rules take hits from Harper government:

  5. Congratulations on swallowing the “Ipod Tax” line. The Conservative war room wins again. Go read the actual proposed legislation, okay?

  6. Justin Trudeau is sooooo awesome, he like reads Xkcd, and other kewl stuff just like me!
    He probably also has a sweet DeviantArt account with lots of awesome bishie anime sketches and stuff, and posts advice animal memes on /b/, lol.
    He’s too awesome and young and smexy and hot, sure he’s a political neophyte who’s only major accomplishment is his last name, but he rocks way to hard not to be PM!

    I’d vote for him sooooo hard.

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