Should those young “advisors” in the Prime Minister’s Office ever want to figure out why Justin Trudeau is still riding high in the opinion polls in spite of their negative ads, they should make this Globe and Mail story required reading this week.
First, it’s important that we concede that Justin’s political instincts were spot-on in Trinity-Spadina. He calculated that a “star” candidate plus a highly-motivated riding team had a better chance of taking that riding than a “veteran” candidate plus that same riding team, and by golly, history proved him right.
Far more important, however, is the nature of this lawsuit that Tony Ianno has launched. Let me quote:
The decision followed complaints by several young Liberal volunteers who alleged that Ianno had pressured them, disparaged Trudeau and Chrystia Freeland, Liberal MP for the neighbouring riding of Toronto Centre, and warned them they’d have little future in the party if they backed the wrong side in a potential Innes-Freeland nomination battle.
The comments were “intended to convey the message ‘Ianno was a bully and intimidator then and he is a bully and intimidator now,“’ the former MP says.
“Bullying and intimidation, when used together, implies criminal or quasi-criminal, unethical and anti-democratic conduct. To label a former politician, who served his constituency for 13 years, as a bully and intimidator or someone who condones such conduct is to irreparably damage his reputation in the eyes of the public.”
Ianno “did not and has never” bullied or intimidated other Liberals, it adds.
Y’know, it’s a funny thing about bullies. Have you ever encountered someone who was acting like a bully, challenged them on it, and heard them admit it right off the bat? I haven’t; I’d be willing to bet that a bully, accused of being a bully, will first deny being a bully. Which is what Mr. Ianno is doing now.
Do I believe that Mr. Ianno could be a bully? Certainly. The life experience of more than a decade in politics, on the government side, with an unbroken record in riding wins, can make a person arrogant enough to make the slide from “overly aggressive” to “bullying” in social situations with strangers. It’s a charge that can be levelled against the Harper government easily enough. No reason not to make the accusation in this case as well.
But the takeaway from Tony Ianno is this: he’s your typical example of the Chrétien-Martin-Era Liberal; his biography puts him solidly in this camp. His mindset and behaviour are the very thing that turned Canadian voters off on the Liberal Party in the last half of the 2000s, and made them turn to Stephen Harper’s Tories instead.
The Liberal leaders of the Harper era would have tolerated people like Mr. Ianno moving in the party’s inner circles. In the interests of “continuity” and “tradition,” they would say, pointing out that he was a veteran of the time when the Liberals revelled in their role as Canada’s “natural governing party.”
Justin Trudeau, however, is a different breed of cat.
Like his predecessors, he’s acknowledged that the party needs to reform itself. Unlike his predecessors, though, he’s willing to admit that the Party’s biggest problem are their own veterans. That’s why he expelled Liberal-membered senators from his parliamentary caucus, and that’s why he barred Christine Innes from seeking a nomination. It’s also why he’s taken a hardline stance on pro-choice for his caucus as well as other controversial positions.
Justin’s current goal is to present, in 2015, a Liberal Party that’s completely different from the Liberal Party that ran against Stephen Harper in 2006, 2008 and 2011. He’s gambling that all those people who didn’t bother to show up to vote in those elections (and there’s a fairly big proportion of them) will show up in 2015 to support a party that’s more socially progressive, and more economically pragmatic, than the versions that were marketed by Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff. Add in those who believe that nine years is enough time for Stephen Harper to be prime minister and that it’s time for someone else, and the odds of “Prime Minister Trudeau” in 2015 start to look a lot better than they did two years ago.
And why should this interpretation trouble the Harper PMO? Because their current negative-ad campaign against Justin makes one vulnerable assumption: that the party that he leads hasn’t changed at all from the one that Paul Martin took into 2005. If Justin and the LPC take their reform battles out into the open, as in this case, it focuses press and public attention on the Liberal attempts to reform themselves, and away from the Harper attack campaign. The Liberals will come across as earnest and dynamic, while the attack ads will be dismissed as mean-spirited and stale.
If the Harper PMO were to ask my advice (which of course they won’t because I am merely a voter they take for granted, which is never a smart thing to do), I’d tell them to lay off the ads for a while. If they want to keep busy, they should devise a strategy to promote the Tories’ accomplishments in power; give people a reason to come out to the polls and vote Conservative, rather than give people more reasons to stay home.