Why Sell Justin?

Much, it seems, has been written by dissatisfied Tories about Justin Trudeau’s family portrayal in Chatelaine. Frankly, all I have to say is people who think they’re going to find hard hitting political commentary in a lifestyle magazine (which is what Chatelaine happens to be) need to consider whether or not they’re suffering from a “derangement syndrome.”

What’s more important is to understand why the article — along with this ghostwritten autobiography that’s just come out — needed to appear in the first place. So here are a few points to ponder:

  • Canada needs a good alternative to the Harper government. This is not a partisan statement, it’s simple common sense. Voters need a leader and party to whom they can point and tell the incumbents, “if we don’t like you, we’ll put this one in your place, and we believe he’ll run things just as well if not better than you.”
  • Canada still doesn’t believe the NDP is the logical alternative. The thing is, as able an Opposition leader as Thomas Mulcair is, he still hasn’t really been able to fill Jack Layton’s boots as far as popular appeal goes. And there’s still the impression that the NDP is too wedded to an ideology that wants to expand the role of government in society to an unwieldy extent. Which means:
  • The popular default for an alternative government is still the Liberals. And it’s going to stay that way, at least for the foreseeable future. The party’s ability to fundraise has improved tremendously, and they’ve launched some initiatives to at least show that they’re no longer the party of Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin.

Now think, very carefully, about the above points. And consider this:

  • Mass media cannot be expected to write pieces that cheer for every initiative of the incumbent government. For them to do so leads to accusations that they’re propaganda shills. And so of course we expect reporters to write stories that point out problems with government and how it does things, at all levels.
  • Good journalism has to have a bias, and has to be activist in nature. To have a bias is to have a point of view, otherwise the reporter doesn’t have a strong Voice that gets the news consumer’s attention. And a good story, a news story with consequences, has to be able to achieve some form of change in the community where it’s read, seen or heard. For example, the reporting on Rob Ford’s administration has led to some serious questioning about the role of the mayor in Toronto’s politics, not to mention the roles of the councillors who opposed him. That unfortunately means:
  • Political journalists will form an alliance of convenience with an administration’s opposition. Both are, after all, in the business of finding out things that are wrong with the way an administration does things, and if one side of the equation can help out the other, then so much the better. Most political journalists working during the Paul Martin era will recall that Stephen Harper was easier to get along with (i.e. more accessible) when he was Opposition leader.

Now, here’s the thing: train of thought number one does not mean that voters would necessarily want Justin Trudeau, right now, as Prime Minister; it does mean that they’re prepared to accept him as PM no matter what the Tories try to argue about his deficiencies.

And that’s really the point of the Chatelaine article and the autobiography: to address some of those deficiencies. Specifically, accusations that he’s a “child of privilege.” That conjures up images of someone “out of touch” with the electorate.

Those Tories who want to harp on Justin being a dilettante like his father might do well to remember the example of George Walker Bush, a.k.a. Dubya. There were lots of reasons why he was able to defeat Al Gore for the Presidency, but one major component was a profile that Time magazine did of him, which focused on a day spent footling around his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

When readers of Time saw the paragraphs about his clearing brush around the property, did they see a millionaire child of privilege? No. They saw a homeowner. That point of commonality was one of the things that resonated with the American electorate.

So, when readers of Chatelaine look at that profile of Justin, what they’ll see is not a politician, but a man who genuinely loves his family. They won’t see an able political party leader because that’s not what they’re looking for. They’re looking to see someone with points of identification (such as fatherhood) that make them more comfortable about seeing him in high office. The same points, in fact, that they were looking for when the magazine did a profile of the Harper family back in 2006.

So what does that mean for the Tories trying to get Stephen Harper re-elected? Simple: unless Mr. Trudeau actually gives them ammunition in the form of public gaffes, any attempt to define Justin as “in over his head” will most likely fall on deaf ears. They’d be better off coming up with reasons *for* voting for the Tories instead of *not* voting for their opponents.

About phantomobserver

I'm a professional librarian currently working in Ottawa, Ontario.
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3 Responses to Why Sell Justin?

  1. Nathan B. says:

    Victor, I think you’re right on with this post in every way. Well done!

    If I might add a few thoughts of my own, I’ve always sort of felt that back when the NDP had just become the Official Opposition, it seemed like there was some kind of unofficial deal between most of the mainstream media outlets and the federal Liberal Party that it would be a good thing if Justin Trudeau were to run for the leadership. He got way more press than he deserved at that point–even as the son of Pierre Elliot–and I felt bad for Thomas Mulcair, who in the months after that election was over became my choice for the next Prime Minister of Canada. Unfortunately for the NDP, I think you’re entirely correct about Canadians not really warming to them.

    And you know, I think one of the things that makes our country great is that our political commentary is not so much a dichotomous “us or them” set of oppositions as is the case with the binary and absolutely brutal Democrat-Republican divide down south. Canada has been well-served by federal Liberal party, and I think having three parties is really quite a good thing for our country. I say this as someone who despised Chretien as a Prime Minister, by the way. (I no longer hate Chretien, but I fault him for what happened when our standard of living began to seriously crumble under his leadership.)

    As for Trudeau himself, I’ve often thought of him as a pretty boy, and as a political lightweight, but I’ve never thought of him as an elitist. He taught schoolkids as a teacher, for Pete’s sake. (I know it was a private school, but being a teacher in a private school is really not so much different from being a teacher in a public one.)

    Trudeau has some time to grow, but he needs to do a lot of growing very fast. And I said it before, but I’ll say it again: I wish the Liberals had chosen Bob Rae as leader. I would have campaigned for him and loved him for his goodness, his fairness, and his wisdom. That’s what I want in a PM.

  2. bertie says:

    So why does the media bias 100% toward TURDEAU? If they consider themselves Canadian, they should be impartial. If PM Harper and the Conservatives are the best government for Canada, elect them every friggin 4 years until they screw up or the opposition smartens up and comes up with a better alternative. Don’t vote them in because Turdeau has great hair. In other words don’t destroy the country because you like pretty hair.

  3. Paul says:

    Lost me on your 1st point.

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