Rethinking Justin Trudeau

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Justin Trudeau is an affable politician whose idealism—which is barely containable at times—is increasingly tempered by a self-conscious pragmatism. Is he a leader though? Whether Trudeau lacks substance—a favourite topic of the Canadian media—is moot and relative. Moreover, his obvious inexperience is probably not the killing stroke his political adversaries and critics make it out to be. What makes me leery, however, is the absence of any fresh ideas. Certainly Trudeau’s stance on cannabis is different, and is helping reshape Canada’s outdated narrative and attitude toward the drug. Otherwise, it seems like business as usual. What sets him and the Liberal Party of Canada apart politically? What makes him unique? Or, is he simply a fresh face restating an old agenda?

Trudeau’s task—if he is to truly contend with Prime Minister Stephen Harper—is to escape his own immense cult of personality (at least by Canadian standards). “Trudeaumania 2.0” belies the possibility that Trudeau may possess a degree of intellectual focus and gravitas associated with being prime minister. Unfortunately, his ingratiating puppy-dog eagerness, and rambling and histrionic public speaking style, are problematic. They suggest someone fixated more on being likeable rather than serving as a serious leader.

Trudeau’s easy charm and use of social media have garnered predictable comparisons with President Barack Obama. They may share some political principles and personality traits, but, ultimately, these comparisons are limited. Obama is an intellectual force, and an iron-willed and calculating politician. He has a storied history of personal struggle, academic success, and community-building. By comparison, Trudeau can come across as careless and self-righteous.

That Trudeau seeks to validate himself and his ideas through public acceptance is laudable; the perfect foil to Harper’s peculiar style of representative democracy. However, does Trudeau have the grit to pull rank and make unpopular decisions? Consensus-building is admirable and necessary; so is sticking to one’s guns. A casual scroll through the online comments section of any major newspaper supports the notion that we are a politically divided country. At some point in any political leader’s career, controversial actions will be made in pursuit of a greater vision. Does Trudeau have the capacity to act against the people?

No one is asking Trudeau to be his father or Barack Obama, nor are they asking him to unveil a detailed policy platform two years before the next election. What is imperative is that Trudeau clearly and forcefully define who he is as a leader, long before the election comes around. Being affable, open-minded, and deeply committed to consensus-building is not the same as demonstrating capacity for leadership. These are admirable but generic qualities; they certainly don’t describe a political vision for his party or for the country. Show the nation that you take this opportunity seriously, instead of glibly telling us how important leading the country is. Until then, Trudeau remains a sincere political personality but not a serious politician.

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