Taking It To The Street


Is Justin Trudeau Winning On Nostalgia?


45 Years After Pierre Trudeau Became Liberal Party Leader, Is Justin's Popularity All About Nostalgia For His Father?


  By Susanna Kelley

He was almost at the end of his era.

I was just beginning mine.

I had landed my dream job as a young, rookie reporter, green as they come, and had just arrived on Parliament Hill.

And there he was, walking towards me as he made his way into the weekly cabinet meeting.

Pierre Elliott Trudeau had long ago stopped answering the Ottawa press gallery's questions as they formed a gauntlet for those trying to get to cabinet, preferring instead to go over their heads and communicate directly with Canadians.

He was, frankly, disgusted with what he perceived as the puerile nature of the media's focus.

Patient to a fault with the schoolchildren who waited outside the doors of Centre Block to mob him and get his autograph every day (which I had done as a child myself on a school trip to Ottawa - and yes I still have it,) Trudeau the Elder had no time for a gallery stuck in permanent critical mode when it came to his government.

Despite repatriating the constitution, writing the Charter of Rights and updating our judicial system, assessments of his legacy, including his handling of the economy, were harsh indeed.

Even his resignation prompted columns of cruelty to a degree rarely seen since.

One scribe's particularly cringe-worthy tome, I recall, compared Mr. Trudeau to the worn out French chanteuse Edith Piaf near the end of her life, her body ravaged by a life plagued with the scourge of drugs and alcohol, painfully making her way onto the stage to attempt one more song.  

But this was still months before Pierre Trudeau's famous walk in the snow.

Somehow that day covering cabinet, I gathered the courage to ask him a question, fully expecting he would just brush by on his way into meeting with his ministers.

He stopped, looked at me, looked at my microphone, and to the shock of all the reporters there, answered my question.

I was so taken aback I couldn't think of another query to ask him.

Unbeknownst to him, Pierre Elliott Trudeau had just taught me rule #1 of journalism - always have a follow up question in your back pocket if you don't want to look like an idiot.

Especially in front of the Prime Minister of Canada.

Mr. Trudeau's former finance minister Marc Lalonde, to whom I told the story several years ago, suggested the then Prime Minister had stopped because I was "une jeune femme" at the time, to which Mr. Trudeau was particularly partial.

I prefer to think it was because of the brilliance of the question ... so brilliant the substance of which I cannot now recall.

I'd known since I was eight years old I wanted to be somehow involved in politics, and for me, Parliament Hill was the Holy Grail.

But writing for The Varsity while at the University of Toronto, I was surprised to find I preferred to follow my passion from what the late veteran Parliament Hill print journalist Bruce Hutchison called "The Far Side Of The Street."

(My own father, from whom I had inherited that passion for politics, had given me Hutchison's autobiography of the same name once he realized I was lost to political journalism, and not to politics itself.)

It is true that, several months ago, as I stood in a scrum with Justin Trudeau, I thought to myself (not without a grimace) "I asked your father questions, and now I'm asking them of his son!"  

It is true that all of these memories, and similar ones, flood back to me and many other Canadians when they contemplate Justin Trudeau's candidacy for leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.

And it is true that for many Canadians, Pierre Trudeau's era - from Expo '67 to the signing of the Charter - was one of boundless optimism never again seen in politics by subsequent generations anywhere in North America until Barack Obama rode into the White House on "the audacity of hope."

Canadians who grew up after Pierre Trudeau's reign have only heard how we cannot do things (like expand social programs, build those ever-illusive high speed trains, bring in universal child care) because there isn't enough money.  

From Brian Mulroney through Kim Campbell through Jean Chretien to Paul Martin to Stephen Harper, restraint and cuts has been the focus of governments and stagnant incomes the norm.

That was a 30 year period, folks.

A long time to hear about the need for constant austerity.

Ontarians in particular were bombarded with bad news on two fronts.

Many voters grew up through the painful 1990-1995 recession during the Bob Rae NDP years, which was then followed by the deep cuts of the Mike Harris PC government that continued throughout Ernie Eves' PC premiership until the Tory defeat in 2003.  

So while the federal government was cutting, Ontarians endured 13 years of provincial cuts as well.

One could hardly blame Canadians for longing for the "good old days."

Being Pierre Trudeau's son is both Justin Trudeau's best advantage and his worst ball and chain.

In the Liberal leadership race, his opponents say he would never be running for leader, and certainly not as such a star candidate, if he didn't carry the Trudeau name.

That may indeed be true.

They have also tried to put down his popularity to nothing more than nostalgia for that more hopeful era his father oversaw.

That may very well be so for aging baby boomer voters - and there are a lot of them out there.

Ironically, when Liberals gathered Saturday for the party's "National Showcase" of candidates' speeches, it was 45 years to the day since Pierre Trudeau was elected party leader.

But the youth who were on evidence in his camp on Saturday in Toronto and at his many events across the country aren't old enough to remember those days.

And in his speech to those voting next weekend for a new Liberal leader, Trudeau the Younger specifically distanced himself from the National Energy Policy implemented by Pierre Trudeau and Mr. Lalonde that alienated Western Canada for decades:

"A Liberal Party led by me would never use western resources to buy eastern votes" he said.

Then he took dead aim at the nostalgia argument from his critics:



Finally, cloaked in criticism of the Conservatives, but also cleverly parlaying the point to some media and other critics, he politely but defiantly answered the elitist complaint that his career choice as a teacher just isn't up to snuff:


In fact, he shamed his critics, nearly daring them to bring that one up again. The statement may also be a warning shot to the Conservatives who already have Justin Trudeau attack ads in the can waiting to roll out should he be elected leader next weekend.

Justin Trudeau's academic credentials put the lie to any claim he is not intelligent.

The Jesuit education he received at College Jean de Brebeuf in Montreal is one of the toughest in the land, and being awarded a degree from McGill, one of Canada's top universities, would fell a lesser intellect.

Should he win the Liberal leadership, he has warned that even defeating Stephen Harper in 2015 will not put Canada where he wants to see it. There is much work still to be done, he said.

Still, should he be victorious next weekend, his win will signify that many in his party want to be optimistic about the future once again.

Or, to put it in the parlance of one of the Justin Trudeau team's favourite Twitter hashtags: ahead lie #SunnyWays.

About Susanna Kelley

Susanna Kelley is Editor-in-Chief and Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for Ontario News Watch. A veteran political and investigative reporter, documentary-maker, host and media commentator, Susanna oversees and has final editorial control over all news production at Ontario News Watch. Susanna has reported for the CBC, the Canadian Press and served as Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for TVOntario for 13 years. She has also hosted a number of documentaries for CBC’s The Current, CBC Radio News and TVOntario’s Studio 2. Passionately dedicated to excellence in political journalism, and having covered both Parliament Hill and Queen’s Park, Susanna believes quality political reporting is essential to a healthy democracy. You can find Susanna here: @susannakelley
Posted date : April 08, 2013

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