Dif­fer­ence from oth­ers Trudeau’s key as­set

Winnipeg Free Press - SundayXtra - - LIBERAL CONVENTION - DAN LETT

SPEND enough time lis­ten­ing to politi­cians, and at some point it be­comes hard to be­lieve they be­lieve what they are say­ing.

Po­lit­i­cal re­porters know this mo­ment. We have been con­di­tioned to ac­cept flow­ery, ide­al­is­tic rhetoric as one of the base com­modi­ties of re­tail pol­i­tics. And in most in­stances, we re­porters ac­cept politi­cians mostly be­lieve what they are say­ing at that mo­ment they say it. Even if po­lit­i­cal re­al­ity later makes that rhetoric mostly empty.

There are many of those “does he re­ally be­lieve that” mo­ments when you lis­ten to Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau. If flow­ery rhetoric was an Olympic sport, Trudeau would be the cur­rent de­fend­ing gold medal­list. Those skills were on full dis­play Satur­day af­ter­noon in Win­nipeg when he de­liv­ered the leader’s key­note ad­dress to the Lib­eral bi­en­nial pol­icy con­ven­tion.

As has fre­quently been noted, Trudeau has the raw charisma of the lead singer of a rock band. When he de­liv­ers a pre­pared speech, he has all the pol­ish and flair of an ex­pe­ri­enced method ac­tor. The tilt of his head, the tim­ing of his jokes and the way he punc­tu­ates his sen­tences with the right an­i­mated ex­pres­sions — these are the hall­marks of a po­lit­i­cal per­former the likes of which we have never seen.

But more im­por­tant than the charisma and style that is Trudeau is dif­fer­ent.

He was pro­foundly dif­fer­ent than the other po­lit­i­cal lead­ers he faced in last fall’s fed­eral elec­tion. He re­mains dif­fer­ent than any of the con­tenders who seek to lead the Con­ser­va­tives and NDP into the next elec­tion. The con­trast be­tween Trudeau and just about ev­ery­one else who might chal­lenge him for the right to gov­ern is dra­matic and — more im­por­tantly — rel­e­vant for vot­ers.

All those things that make Trudeau dif­fer­ent were on full dis­play at the Win­nipeg con­ven­tion. He ar­rived late for his mid­day speech in rolled-up shirt­sleeves and tie loos­ened. He told jokes, ap­plauded his cau­cus and the vol­un­teers who helped get them elected and even took time to thank for­mer prime min­is­ter Stephen Harper for his ser­vice to Canada. It was an oddly poignant mo­ment when Trudeau got to praise, and bury, a man who was the per­fect elec­toral foil. Trudeau needed to do lit­tle more than just stand be­side Harper to show Cana­di­ans what “dif­fer­ent” re­ally meant.

De­spite ob­vi­ous signs “dif­fer­ent” is a win­ning for­mula, the Con­ser­va­tives and NDP con­tinue to mock Trudeau for his os­ten­ta­tious ap­proach to lead­er­ship. All those public ap­pear­ances, all the wad­ing through crowds and self­ies, all the things Trudeau does that pre­vi­ous prime min­is­ters would never have done — it gen­er­ates a deep, vis­ceral dis­gust in NDP and Tory ranks. And with ev­ery dis­dain­ful com­ment, Trudeau’s op­po­nents demon­strate how lit­tle they learned from the last elec­tion.

In the end, last Oc­to­ber’s elec­tion proved just how im­por­tant it was for the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to change the way it does busi­ness. Trudeau ul­ti­mately be­came the poster boy for that de­sire for change and was re­warded hand­somely for it. In fact, he con­tin­ues to be re­warded.

If opin­ion sur­veys are to be be­lieved, the more Trudeau’s po­lit­i­cal en­e­mies mock him, the more Cana­di­ans em­brace him. This was true even af­ter he briefly lost his mind in the House of Com­mons, grab­bing a Tory MP and jostling an NDP MP im­me­di­ately be­fore a key vote on as­sisted-dy­ing leg­is­la­tion. A poll taken in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of that bizarre event showed Trudeau’s ap­peal con­tin­ued on an up­ward tra­jec­tory.

Trudeau has been ac­cused of up­end­ing tra­di­tional no­tions of what it means to be a po­lit­i­cal leader. In fact, Trudeau is sim­ply prov­ing cre­at­ing con­trast be­tween him­self and other par­ties and lead­ers makes him more ap­peal­ing to a larger con­stituency of Cana­di­ans that in­cludes both those who al­ways vote and those who do not reg­u­larly vote, or who haven’t at all.

For many years, par­ties de­signed elec­tion strate­gies to cap­ture the largest pos­si­ble slice of the elec­torate that ac­tu­ally showed up to vote. Older peo­ple vote in huge num­bers, and as a re­sult, cam­paign pledges and poli­cies re­flected pri­or­i­ties that ap­pealed to those older vot­ers.

Ev­ery once in a while, a party or leader would make noises about of­fer­ing a new brand of pol­i­tics and more con­tem­po­rary poli­cies in a bid to at­tract younger vot­ers, or abo­rig­i­nal Cana­di­ans, or those who’ve turned their back on main­stream pol­i­tics. But in the heat of an elec­toral battle, most of those par­ties and lead­ers de­faulted to more tra­di­tional lines of at­tack. The same was true when it was time to choose a new leader. Party mem­bers would flirt with some­one es­pous­ing a dif­fer­ent style and ap­proach to pol­i­tics be­fore de­fault­ing to the white, mid­dleaged, male tem­plate.

Trudeau not only stuck to his plan to ap­peal to non-tra­di­tional con­stituen­cies within the elec­torate, he won many of them over. A flood of younger and abo­rig­i­nal vot­ers, in par­tic­u­lar, con­trib­uted to the Lib­eral vic­tory in fall 2015. Trudeau helped prove what had only been a the­ory up un­til that point: pledges and poli­cies de­signed to at­tract non-vot­ers could be a dev­as­tat­ing elec­toral strat­egy.

Trudeau is a dif­fer­ent kind of leader. There may come a point at which his os­ten­ta­tious style will be seen as pre­cious, or per­haps even te­dious. Ev­ery politi­cian ac­cused of lead­ing a wave of change ul­ti­mately reaches a point where he or she wears out their wel­come and be­comes as much of a li­a­bil­ity as they were once an as­set.

But that time is not now. For now, dif­fer­ent is very good in­deed.

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