Brand Trudeau on full dis­play

National Post (National Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - JOHN IVISON Com­ment from Ottawa

There’s a clip of Justin Trudeau try­ing to re­as­sure a wor­ried look­ing So­phie Gré­goire Trudeau min­utes be­fore en­ter­ing the ring for his 2012 box­ing match against scrappy Con­ser­va­tive se­na­tor, Pa­trick Brazeau.

“I was put on this planet to do this. I fight and win. That’s what I’m good at,” a youth­ful look­ing Trudeau can be heard say­ing to his wife.

So­phie looks some­what re - as­sured and prof­fers some ad­vice: “Be hum­ble.”

Besides the in­ter­est­ing aside that Trudeau needs to be re­minded to be hum­ble, it of­fers a re­veal­ing glimpse into the Lib­eral leader’s psy­che be­fore a fight he was not ex­pected to win (but did): He en­joys a rumble.

No one will be more re­lieved than Trudeau that the te­dious busi­ness of gov­ern­ing has come to an end with his call to the Gover­nor Gen­eral to dis­solve Canada’s 42nd Par­lia­ment and launch a gen­eral election cam­paign.

This is what he lives for — peo­ple who have watched Trudeau at close quar­ters say he’s more ex­cited about new ideas than im­ple­men­ta­tion; more fo­cused on bold vi­sions than ex­e­cu­tion. His spin ma­chine is adept at mould­ing opin­ion through use of pos­i­tive, op­ti­mistic images of their can­di­date that show him as dy­namic and out­go­ing one minute; se­ri­ous and em­pa­thetic the next.

It must have been tire­some for the can­di­date to have to an­swer questions dat­ing back to his time in of­fice. It was al­most as if re­porters at Rideau Hall failed to regis­ter that they were now deal­ing with Trudeau the Brand, not Trudeau the Prod­uct.

Re­al­ity in­truded on the Lib­eral re-election com­mer­cial as soon as Trudeau had fin­ished pros­e­ly­tiz­ing on how he wants ev­ery­one to move for­ward, rather than “go back to the politics of the Harper years”.

He was asked about his govern­ment’s re­fusal to waive Cab­i­net con­fi­den­tial­ity for all wit­nesses in the SNC af­fair, as the RCMP probes po­ten­tial ob­struc­tion of jus­tice.

Trudeau said his govern­ment had made “the largest and most ex­pan­sive waiver of Cab­i­net con­fi­dence in Canada’s his­tory”, adding that he re­spects the ad­vice of the Clerk of the Privy Coun­cil, Ian Shugart. At his own cam­paign launch, Con­ser­va­tive leader An­drew Scheer said Trudeau is do­ing “ev­ery­thing in his power” to block the RCMP. But the Canada Evidence Act is clear — this is the Clerk’s de­ci­sion and, to my cer­tain knowl­edge, he is not keen to take a hammer to a cor­ner­stone of the West­min­ster sys­tem of govern­ment by re­leas­ing Cab­i­net con­fi­dences to any­one.

The other tricky sit­u­a­tion raised by im­per­ti­nent hacks was Trudeau’s po­si­tion on Que­bec’s Bill 21, which bans re­li­gious sym­bols in its pub­lic ser­vice. The Lib­eral leader said he is “deeply op­posed” to the leg­is­la­tion but not so deeply op­posed he is go­ing to do any­thing about it. “At this time, I feel it would be coun­ter­pro­duc­tive for the fed­eral govern­ment to en­gage in this process,” he said.

Trudeau ex­tended his harsher in­ter­roga­tors his trade­mark gri­mace — face set in a smile, while eyes ra­di­ate broken glass — but it was just a gloomy in­ter­lude in the en­chanted re-election nar­ra­tive. The clouds parted and the sun burst through as he once again urged Cana­di­ans to Choose For­ward.

It sounds ba­nal but much thought went into those two words. It is, in fact, a tacit ac­knowl­edg­ment that the Lib­er­als haven’t been quite as bril­liant in govern­ment as their pro­pa­ganda would have you be­lieve. The sub­text is that this election should not be a ref­er­en­dum on Justin Trudeau — that he should not be judged in iso­la­tion. Rather, he should be measured against his flawed op­po­nents and given the opportunit­y to fin­ish the job he was charged with in 2015.

As Cana­di­ans start to tune in to the election cam­paign, there are wor­ry­ing signs for the op­po­si­tion par­ties that vot­ers may do just that. Trudeau is still ranked as the pre­ferred prime min­is­ter and, even though many na­tional polls are tied, that masks the in­ef­fi­ciency of the Con­ser­va­tive vote (too many votes in Al­berta and Saskatchew­an and too few in On­tario and Que­bec). Most con­cern­ing for the Con­ser­va­tives is data that sug­gests their pool of ac­ces­si­ble vot­ers is no larger than that of the NDP. Scheer has done a good job at ap­peal­ing to his own base but not at win­ning over those tempted to vote for ri­val par­ties.

All of that is be­fore Trudeau’s hair and teeth hit the cam­paign trail in earnest. As one veteran staff mem­ber told me when I was re­search­ing my book on Trudeau: “I’ve never seen any­thing like it. He’s hold­ing hands with this lit­tle old lady for 45 sec­onds and she’s beam­ing and say­ing, ‘I met you when you were four’ — the type of stuff that makes most politi­cians think, ‘Shoot me now’. But he was lov­ing it. I was con­stantly floored by how good he was.”

That was when he was the un­der­dog can­di­date for the seat in Pap­ineau. He was also a long-shot in the box­ing match against Brazeau and a third-placed dark horse go­ing into the 2015 election. That’s gen­er­ally how he likes it — for it to be as­sumed he is a silver-spoon fed dilet­tante.

But now the weight of ex­pec­ta­tion is on him. It may prove to be to the ad­van­tage of Scheer, and even the NDP’s Jag­meet Singh, that Trudeau en­ters the 2019 cam­paign in the un­fa­mil­iar role of pro­hib­i­tive favourite.



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