People and Places

POLITICS CHATTER: Don’t do it, Justin! Why Justin Trudeau would be wise to wait one more leadership cycle

He's got charisma and he works hard. But, says Mark Bourrie, Justin Trudeau needs to work on his "intellectual heft" before taking on Stephen Harper. Photography by Jean-Marc Carisse

By Mark Bourrie

There are hundreds of Liberal fixers and lobbyists who think the clock can be turned back to that winter day in 1980 when Pierre Trudeau crushed Joe Clark and returned Ottawa to Liberal normalcy. It was a moment captured in one of Toronto Star cartoonist Duncan MacPherson’s greatest pieces, showing Trudeau walking into 24 Sussex, glancing at Clark and telling one of his staffers to “pay the babysitter.”

The Liberals need a leader. They still haven’t got past the idea that they can find a star who will give the party an instant brand. The idea of electing a bright unknown with great organizational skills — like, say, a Stephen Harper — is repellant to them. “Rebuilding,” it seems, means recruiting someone with name recognition and good looks.

Astronauts, smart women lawyers and other upstarts need not apply.

At least one pundit, John Ivison of the National Post, is saying with certainty that Justin’s going for it.

Here are Justin’s plusses:

He’s supposed to be a really nice guy. He puts a lot of energy into raising his young kids in as normal a home as possible, given the circumstances. He appears to lack the cruelty of his father.

He works hard. Justin Trudeau busts his ass to raise money for his party and to pull in crowds at rallies for lesser lights. His father was always quite lazy in this regard. Once Pierre got control of the Liberal party in 1968, he left the nitty-gritty of fundraising and organizing to pros like Keith Davey. It was the professionalization of the Liberals that smothered its grass roots, leaving it with the problems it has today.

Justin Trudeau has charisma and teen-idol good looks. Women and, especially, gay men go gaga for him. I’ve literally seen some of them go weak in the knees when he’s close by.

All in all, he’s not a bad person.

But let’s move the clock up. Let’s try to imagine him in a one-on-one conversation with an American president. Pick one. Trudeau and Bill Clinton. Trudeau and George W. Bush. Trudeau and Barack Obama.  Now take it a step farther, take out Obama and toss in Vlad Putin. I can’t see this going well for Canada.

Even in a leaders’ debate with Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair, Trudeau would be hammered. Elizabeth May would probably fillet his left side.

Justin Trudeau has shown very few signs of having the intellectual heft to lead this country. I’m not calling him stupid. I just don’t know if he’s particularly smart, at anywhere near the level of old Liberal warhorses like John Manley, Herb Gray, or Allan MacEachan, let alone having the brain of a Marc Garneau or Martha Hall Findlay.

This is a guy who has no formal education past a bachelor’s degree that gave him the credentials to teach high school drama (something that comes pretty naturally to teenagers anyway). He’s adopted no serious causes, made no important speeches in Parliament, or shown any sign of real leadership talent in any aspect of his life. If he wasn’t Justin Trudeau, he’d be an unimportant Liberal backbencher, one of those people his father so accurately described as a “nobody” a block away from Parliament Hill.

There are other downsides. The Toronto-based “national” media can’t see past the fact that the Trudeau name is a positive asset only in parts of Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto. It is poison everywhere where the Liberals need to pick up seats to have any chance of making a comeback.

My advice to Justin Trudeau: wait it out through one more Liberal leader. If that leader wins, you can, like your father, show your mettle in the cabinet. If the new leader loses, you can help cushion the loss before taking over as a more mature and seasoned politician.

The Liberal Party isn’t going to die any time soon, despite the windy nonsense of the pundits. These are the same people who wrote in the 1990s that it was mathematically impossible for the Liberals to ever lose power.

In a decade, you’ll be in your early 50s, with plenty of time to run. Your kids will be old enough to ignore you. It will be almost four decades since your father took his walk in the snow. Most voters literally won’t remember him. Whatever regional animosity to the Trudeau name still exists will be second-hand and much easier to deflate.

And stake out some positions. Look at successful opposition MPs like the NDP’s Charlie Angus, who’s respected by politicians and media across the spectrum for his fight for decent schools and housing in Attawapiskat. Maybe it’s time for you to be the Quebecker with guts enough to fight in Quebec for a strong Canada. (If you do, I’ll never mention the fact that you’re 75% Anglais.)

Don’t run, Justin. Your life’s been weird enough already. Raise your kids, read some books, make some smart, plugged-in friends who can teach you how to govern. Take the time to do it right.