Amazing how fast the media works, isn’t it, Justin? A few hours given to eulogize Bob Rae for deciding not to go for the Liberal leadership, and now they’re putting the pressure on you to run.
I’m guessing you’ve got a cacophony urging you to go, and if you look at the punditocracy today, you’ll see all sorts of reasons why you should (or should not) go for the leadership. “Go because the nation (or the party) needs you!” Or, “Don’t go because it’ll be just another coronation!” I suppose the voices are now getting louder, now that your interim leader’s decided he wants to stay on the sidelines.
But that’s not the real issue here, is it?
The thing is, one of the more admirable things about you is your sense of responsibility vis-à-vis your party. You fundraise for it, quite well. You defend it in your public appearances, and that’s all well and good.
But this isn’t about what the Liberal Party of Canada wants or needs. It’s about you.
That’s right, Justin. You.
Not the public perception of your father. Not even your more accurate memories of your father. No matter how much the elites deny it to your face, or how much you deny it in public, the media narrative is going to define you as the second coming of Pierre Elliot Trudeau.
Why? Because your father had a definite vision of how Canadian society should function, and the role the national government should play. It’s not one that everyone liked, or bought into, but at least people understood it.
Since then, however, the only leader of your party who could understand or articulate that vision was Jean Chrétien, who absorbed it via osmosis during his years as a cabinet minister. No one else.
Paul Martin? You never got the impression that he knew what he wanted to do as PM, other than that he wanted the job.
We’ll skip over Bill Graham, since he made it clear from the outset that he would be an interim leader only.
Stéphane Dion? A vague vision of a green nation, that he couldn’t articulate very well. And that could be torqued by the Tories into something delusional.
Michael Ignatieff? Oddly enough, an abdication of ideas in favour of something dreamed up in the party’s backrooms. Which is one of the reasons you lot lost so badly.
The thing is, Justin, your father’s successors have never been able to define a vision of how Canada should work, that your father was able to do. And your father’s vision of Canada, to be blunt about it, is outdated. Outdated due to demographics, the way the outside world has changed, the way the economic pathway has progressed both inside and outside.
Stephen Harper does have a vision of Canada, one that calls for reducing the role of the federal government in society. And, to give Mr. Ignatieff credit, he understood the Harper idea and was able to say so in public. It’s promoting the alternative where he tripped himself up, because it’s awfully hard to promote something that hasn’t been defined into existence.
If you do decide to go for the leadership, Justin, it shouldn’t be because everyone says it’s your responsibility to do so. It should be because you have a clear, definable vision of how Canada should work in the 21st century, in an era of no barriers to information, an era where individual empowerment can lead to more frightening scenarios than atomic regimes. You need to be able to define it, you have to be able and willing to defend it before your allies as well as your adversaries, and you need to have the force of will to see it through in the face of inevitable setback.
And what’s more: you need to believe that the Liberal Party could be the ideal vehicle for that vision. It’s not there now. It doesn’t have enough money, and (despite their pointing to all the YouTube videos) it doesn’t quite have all the media skills. You could guide it there, but the work involved is the stuff of years, maybe even decades, with no guarantees whatsoever of success.
Accepting that idea, Justin, is probably what frightens you. Because it requires an ego bigger and healthier than what most Canadians think is proper for a politician, and you’ve been raised not to show such a thing in public.
I’m not going to tell you that you should or shouldn’t run. My main point is that if you should decide to go for it, it should be for your own reasons. Not because of appeals to your sense of responsibility.