Lord only knows why Justin Trudeau does what he does. Remember when, in 2008, he delivered a series of YouTube speeches where he alternated between French and English with dizzying, James Stewart-calibre earnestness? Or when he tumbled down some stairs during an interview, just for fun? Or when he swathed himself and his family in beaver pelts, or whatever, for the yearly Christmas card? Or when he said the environment minister was a piece of shit? Or when he actually went out in public looking like one of the Three Musketeers? He always seems to be swaying between self-aggrandisement and self-mockery, keeping the poor voting public guessing as to why, exactly, he says and does such outright silly things.
Given the track record, it’s tempting to chalk Trudeau’s most recent sortie, in which he mused favourably about a separate Quebec should the sulphurous reign of Harper continue unabated, as just another screwball Trudeau moment. As CCC (Colleague Colby Cosh) notes nicely today, Trudeau ain’t exactly his pappy when it comes to matters of the noggin. Cosh also nails it when he says that Trudeau’s wail against the Conservative status quo is the mother of all straw man arguments:
Harper’s party has not only accepted the legal fact of same-sex marriage, but has promised to shore it up against the disrepair in which the prior Liberal regime left it.
But maybe, just maybe, Trudeau’s wee pro-sovereignty speech might be something more than him trying his damnedest to fall on his face—figuratively, this time. Or Justin fell ass-backwards into a moment of political cunning. Either way, him chatting up the virtues of a sovereign Quebec in Harper’s Canada wasn’t necessarily the dumbest thing since bad facial hair.
Trudeau represents the riding of Papineau, a small, densely populated, multicultural and comparatively poor riding that is the exact opposite to neighbouring Mont Royal, his father’s former seat. And unlike Mont Royal, where a side of ham could get elected as long as someone spray-painted it Liberal red, Papineau has been prone to political flights of fancy as of late. The Bloquiste Vivian Barbot dethroned then-cabinet minister Pierre Pettigrew here in 2006. And while Trudeau beat Barbot in 2008, he did so by less than 1200 votes. In 2011, Trudeau won again but saw his share of the vote drop by about three per cent, largely at the expense of a fencepost NDP candidate.
If nothing else, recent election results suggest that, the Trudeau name notwithstanding, Papineau is hardly a reliable beachhead for the type of unbending big ‘L’Liberalism espoused by Justin’s father. And, as the success of first the Bloc and then the NDP show, Papineau’s residents (those who vote, anyway) aren’t without a certain nationalist streak that begins in somewhere in Villeray and comes to an abrupt end in Mont Royal.
By suggesting that he’s open to the idea of Quebec sovereignty, Trudeau shows he’s not the unyielding federalist disdained by many of the voters in his own riding. This is particularly important given the scramble for the hearts and minds of those former soft nationalist voters who have been more or less orphaned by the implosion of the Bloc Québécois. In this, the NDP has a distinct advantage over the Liberals; Québec solidaire, the lefty (and nominally sovereignist) provincial party is popular in Papineau, and is firmly (if quietly) behind the NDP at the moment.
Trudeau’s bon mots about sovereignty might well have been another of his WTF moments. Unlike dressing his family up like the Genghis Khan clan, however, there might have been a bit of smart amid all his usual self-infatuated bluster.