People and Places

POLITICS CHATTER: He can’t win. The real risk for Justin Trudeau is being constantly measured against his father’s legend

Photography by Jean-Marc Carisse

By Mark Bourrie

So Justin Trudeau didn’t take my advice. This makes me very sad. I gave him the best possible reasons not to run for the Liberal leadership, and now he’s about to toss it in the trash.

I say with renewed vigor and enthusiasm that Justin Trudeau is making a terrible mistake. He’s being goaded on by media people who lust at celebrity, who were brought up in a celebrity-obsessed world and who, quite often, are as one-dimensional and superficial as most celebrities.

And he’s being pushed by a party and its operatives who are looking for a ticket back to power. Many of them would run Satan himself if they thought he could get them 40 seats in Quebec, win back Toronto, Vancouver, southwestern Ontario, and some Prairie seats.

But this is such a bad idea.

Not for Canada. Our government is still run by skilled public servants, and our federation is so decentralized that it will survive pretty much anything. It’s not like we need to worry about our leader launching missiles against China. And the country has nothing to worry about at all if voters choose to leave the Liberals as an opposition party.

Where the risk is — and what no one hyping Trudeau even seems to consider — is the threat to the man himself. It had always been wrong for him to go into politics. There’s simply no way for him to come out ahead.

Pierre Trudeau was not my favorite prime minister. He had a sloppy intellect. He bounced from one silly project to another. He let the bureaucracy grow too large and didn’t really understand the country west of Ottawa. If, by a fluke, he had not won the 1980 election, he would have failed in his one main goal: to patriate the Constitution with a written Charter of Rights. But he was still ran successfully for Parliament. He was a pretty good Minister of Justice. He won his party’s leadership. And he won four elections.

It would be hard enough to grow up in the shadow of Pierre Trudeau. Going into politics and, for the rest of your life, having whatever successes and failures you have measured against one of Canada’s most controversial and successful prime ministers is setting yourself up to fail.

That’s because the Canada of 2012 is not the Canada of 1968. Justin Trudeau may win the Liberal leadership but Quebec is hardly thirsting for a repeat of the Trudeau years, the western Liberals are rare, and the competition from both the Conservatives and the New Democrats is much more intense.

So if he doesn’t win the leadership, Justin Trudeau will be considered a failure, measured against his father. If he gets the leadership and doesn’t win the 2015 election, he’s a loser, compared to Pierre. If he wins a minority, it’s not as good as the Trudeaumania 1968 victory. If he wins a term and loses the next election, he doesn’t measure up.

I’m no Freudian, but there’s something not right here. We are all trying to be comfortable in our own skin. Creating a career in which your success — and your worth — is measured in comparison to your father can only end in sadness. Creating one in which you’re competing with Pierre Trudeau can only end in tears.