CHARLOTETOWN, – Justin Trudeau says he’s received “almost universal” praise for his frank admission that he smoked marijuana after becoming a member of Parliament.
And that certainly seemed to be the case Tuesday as the Liberal leader did a spot of mainstreeting in downtown Charlottetown.
Young and old alike seemed almost giddy at the prospect of meeting him. They sought his autograph or to have their picture taken with him; several spontaneously thanked him, as one middle-aged woman put it, “for telling the truth, Justin, no matter what.”
“The conversations I’ve had with Canadians have almost universally been about people pleased with the level of openness and transparency that a Canadian politician is demonstrating,” Trudeau said later.
Political opponents, in particular the governing Conservatives, have pounced on Trudeau’s confession last week that he toked up at a dinner party three years ago — while he was an MP. They’ve accused him of flouting the law and demonstrating that he’s unfit to govern.
On the eve of Trudeau’s arrival in Prince Edward Island for a three-day Liberal caucus retreat, Fisheries Minister Gail Shea issued a statement contending that Islanders have told her the Liberal leader is setting a bad example for their children.
“Raising families in today’s society is already a tough job,” she said Monday.
However, those Islanders were nowhere in sight Tuesday as Trudeau strolled through downtown Charlottetown.
“Hey Justin, wanna get baked?” called a tattooed, beer-toting, “happily unemployed” Jeff Moynagh, who crossed the street to meet the Liberal leader.
Trudeau declined the offer but chatted briefly with Moynagh, who informed onlookers: “There’s nothing wrong with weed.”
After the encounter Moynagh dismissed Trudeau’s dope-smoking confession as “no big deal.”
“He’s cool” said the 30-year-old. “I’d probably vote for him over anybody else.”
The response wasn’t much different from older, more buttoned-down folks along the way.
“I think he’s going to make it because he’s got his father’s je ne sais quoi,” said Lise Piekarski, a middle-aged Saint John, N.B., resident, after having her picture taken with the Liberal leader. “He’s very … charismatic.”
Trudeau is the eldest son of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau and several people told him they had met or admired his late father.
Piekarski said legalizing marijuana — which Justin Trudeau is championing — is the most important issue as far as she’s concerned because “I think we’re spending way too much money on the criminal side of that.”
A note of reservation came from a mother with three young children, who declined to give her name.
“He’s got some growing to do,” she said, as she nevertheless gave Liberal operatives her email address and other contact information.
In keeping with his openness theme, Trudeau frankly acknowledged his marijuana confession is part of a larger strategy to set him apart from his more traditional rivals, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair.
“I am certainly trying to make myself look different from the kind of politics that people have been suffering through for the past year. We have politics that is polarizing that is all based on spin and electoral advantage.”
He pointed, for example, to his blunt denunciation of Quebec’s reported plan to ban religious head gear and other symbols worn by public servants, in contrast to the much more muted reaction of Harper and Mulcair.
“The careful politics that my NDP and Conservative counterparts are playing is irresponsible … and, yes, I hope that indicates a difference between the kinds of politics and openness that I’m presenting.”
The transparency theme will be carried over into Wednesday’s national caucus meeting, where MPs and senators are to get a look at how they will go about posting their expenses online, starting this fall in keeping with a promise Trudeau made last spring in the midst of the Senate expenses scandal.
In addition to transparency and ethics, Trudeau said the caucus retreat will be “very severely focused” on the economic challenges facing Canada’s struggling middle class.
That said, he indicated that Canadians may have to wait some time before he begins spelling out his prescription for the economy with detailed policies.
As he did during the leadership contest, Trudeau maintained he needs to consult with Canadians in developing a platform, rather than handing down proposals from on high.
“There’s all sorts of room for Canadians in that discussion,” he said.
“We are two years from an election. There’s a lot of work to bring in the great ideas that Canadians have because Canadians haven’t been listened to by this government.”