12.19.2015 11:34 AM

Trudeau, Harper, image, substance

Here’s a Brit-born writer living in Toronto:

Harper embodied the qualities you’d look for in a bookkeeper or accountant: he didn’t seem to have much personality to get in the way of the dull tedium of governing the country. That’s the source of the Trudeau costernation. Conservatives fond of Harper aren’t so much offended by Trudeau’s earnest popularity as they are mystified by it: they can’t imagine why anyone would want to take a photograph with the person they chose to run their country. The warmth and geniality Trudeau project so effortlessly are not, at least to the incurious or unimaginative, easily reconciled with the demands of the Prime Minister’s office.

Some great writing, therein, and I’m pissed off he anticipated my next Hill Times column, which reads in part:

“So too Justin Trudeau, who the camera loves and – to his critics – loves the camera right back. Trudeau knows, perhaps, that leaders are measured by the impressions they create, not the policies they promulgate.  

 There’s a risk in all of this, naturally. If, six months from now, Trudeau is indeed branded as Prime Minister Selfie – if his administration is simply regarded as a four-year-long photo op, punctuated only by state dinners and the occasional foreign trip – he’ll be in trouble. He needs to be more than the callow and shallow caricature his opponents suggest he is.”

Conservatives forget they had their own image-conscious deity, however: Ronald Reagan. 

And he was popular for a long, long time, as I recall. And lots of conservatives would’ve lined up for selfies with him, too.


  1. Brendan says:

    I can’t avoid the feeling that this so called ‘charm offensive’ is simply a stocking up of political capital that Team Trudeau intends to spend in the new year. TPP, C-51, Syria all demand decisions that may be really, really unpopular with people who voted for Trudeau.

  2. Matt says:

    Lots of people lined up for selfies with Rob Ford too.

    Just saying.

  3. cs says:

    Having him named PM selfie is the oppositions doing ( perhaps envious of how much love he inspires) but with that said its true he has to prove himself as more then just a pretty face. I think if the detractors look, he started doing that week one, now will they admit it, well that is the bigger question. While he was doing his job, the media overplayed nannygate. While he is attending world events that have done wonders for putting Canada in the good books again, the media sensationally portrayed him as another photo op.
    so who is shallow, the opposition, the media or the PM.
    methinks the former.

  4. Maps Onburt says:

    Justin Trudeau is no Ronald Reagan… Reagan was known for his policies and his convictions. PM Selfie Trudeau is only known for wanting to be loved by all. Reagan actually did drop the tax rates he promised to and made America proud to be American’s once more. There really was a Morning in America again after just four years of his presidency. I think history will remember him as the greatest American president since Lincoln – no matter how much it makes lefties heads explode. He brought down the Soviet Union without firing a shot, rebuilt America into the longest economic boom since the postwar boom. Trudeau has managed to break four major campaign promises his first day in Parliament, surrendered our sovereignty to the green movement, offended our allies in their time of need but he sure does look pretty.

    • nobonus4nonis says:

      a few of us were discussing the defeat of Mr Fascipants the other day and how quickly we can forget the last ten years. to honour all the strong men and women who stood up to Dear Leader we knocked out this version of the twelve days of Christmas. there’s an interesting hat’s off to the black and white movie starring Alistair Sim at the end which I thought was a nice touch.
      i don’t think the conbots will be amused but hey they’ve got Reagan, right.


    • Andrew says:

      “I think history will remember him as the greatest American president since Lincoln”

      Snort! I think the Roosevelts, Truman, Lyndon Johnson and even Richard Nixon would be ranked higher than Mr Reagan.

      • Ted H says:

        Reagan was an actor, one writer saw him with his guard down and what he saw was just an old reptile. He was charming in person but so was Dubya. He didn’t accomplish nearly as much as Roosevelt or Johnson, didn’t do anything for the average American except make some feel good. You know, that old conservative values thing.

      • Mapsonburt says:

        Well you’d be wrong. Reagan has recently been ranked by:
        ABC Poll (2000) – 5th best of all time
        Washington College poll (2005) – 2nd best of all time
        Gallup poll (2011) – best of all time
        Gallup poll (2013) – second only to Kennedy as most impactful of all time

        I think the biggest reason progs hated Reagan was that he drew from both republicans and democrats. He killed inflation in his spare time as well. He want always on the right side – I think Canada did better with Apartheid under Mulroney but generally he was a breath of fresh air and retired with a 68% approval rating.

    • e.a.f. says:

      Reagan greatest president since Linlcon, take a pill. Surely you forgot LBJ, who actually did something. There was Eisenhower who did more. Roosevelt did more. Reagan could smile for the camera, ran deficits, ensured the rich got richer, believed in “trickle down” economics, etc. lousy president, but he could remember his lines which was important.

      Trudeau, he won’t have to do much to stay in office as long as people remember harper. If Cons don’t understand that, they ought to try to remember Harper and his Cons passed 8 pieces of leg. which was over turned in the Supreme Court of Canada. He was just plain nasty. I want my accountant to be able to follow the rules, not change them to suit the financial situation of my company. Loved the quote at the beginning of the blog though.

      • Maps Onburt says:

        LBJ started rampant inflation… Reagan fixed it. LBJ was a disaster and didn’t even go for a second term because even the hippie democrats wouldn’t vote for him. Give your head a shake.

        • e.a.f. says:

          LBJ passed more leg. than all previous presidents combined. he is the one who had laws passed which provided some equality for people of colour or were you o.k. with segregation in the U.S.A. He also started “head start” for children living in poverty.

          LBJ didn’t start inflation, it was coming along just fine without him.

    • Dan Calda says:

      Reagan brought down the Soviet Union?
      Sure he did.

      Whalen and Chretien had much more to do with that then…Iran Contra St. Ronnie.

      • Maps Onburt says:

        Trudeau hasn’t legalized pot yet Dan. Whalen and Chretien brought down the Soviet Union???? Reagan spent them into the ground and Gorby realized he’d never be able to keep up and instituted Perestroika. The wall came down during Bush 1, but it was Reagan’s policies that did it.

    • Terence Quinn says:

      You mean the same Reagan who started out as a democrat.

    • Horsefeathers says:

      Ronald Reagan raised taxes in 1982, 1984, 1985, 1986 and 1987

  5. Craig McKie says:

    Kudos to Mr. Marsh. You left out the best part:

    “”Stephen Harper, Canada’s former prime minister, was a vacuous,
    anodyne nothing, as magnetic on the public stage as the podium he
    spoke from. His occasional efforts to ingratiate himself to younger
    voters – or rather the efforts of his staff to make their boss seem
    plausibly nonrobotic – ranged from dismal to pathetic, such as a
    kitty-petting photoshoot so unconvincing that you fear for the safety
    of the cat.”

    That out to cause a bit of dyspepsia out there in faux urban Alberta and possibly for Himself as well, faced with another nothingburger of a day.

    • The Doctor says:

      There we go again with this idiotic assertion that the only people who supported Harper were in Alberta. The guy picked up tons of votes and seats in Ontario over the years, and without that significant support in Ontario, Harper would have never become PM in the first place, nor would he have remained PM for as long as he did.

  6. PJ says:

    Ronald Reagan would be considered too liberal for today’s GOP.

  7. Jonathan Giggs says:

    Harper was criticized for many things, but surely not for being “a vacuous, anodyne nothing”.

  8. Mike says:

    Here is the difference between Trudeau and Reagan:

    With Trudeau you take a selfie on your cell phone and instantly upload it to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, andyour entire social circle knows you have met the PM.

    With Reagan you had to take out your camera, get someone to take a picture of you and Reagan standing together. Then you had to wait until the entire roll of film was shot, take the roll of film into a shop, wait 7 days for your pictures to be developed. Sort through and pick out the goods ones. Then you had to drive around to all of your friends’ houses, knock on their door and if they were home show them the picture of you and Reagan together.

  9. HarryR says:

    Impressions are only as deep as the weight behind them!

  10. The Doctor says:

    I think the topic of Warren’s post also goes to a fundamental difference among the Canadian electorate, and among people in general, as to what they look for and want in a political leader. Do you want some visionary/hero, or do you want a workmanlike manager? I think that moderate “business” conservatives generally favour the latter — they want someone who will balance the budget, make the trains run on time and fix potholes. They don’t look for their PM for “vision” or inspiration, and they couldn’t care less if the PM is physically attractive, charismatic or exciting. Thus they would find the whole hugs-and-selfies thing from Justin rather cringe-inducing and off-putting. Or, at best, irrelevant.

    It seems like a lot of people on the Liberal-left end of the spectrum in Canada these days need and want to be inspired and even euphoric about their PM. These people also want big, bold, “visionary” things from government. It’s no wonder there’s such a gap between these people’s view of JT and others who find his whole schtick to be kind of vapid and cheesy.

    You notice a similar dynamic in municipal politics — Vancouver these days is a good example. Look at Gregor Robertson — even the name of his party, Vision Vancouver, gives it away. He jets off to international climate change conferences, uses taxpayer money to send his associates to international confabs on gay rights, while critics back home see his proper job as fixing potholes and figuring out where bike racks ought to be.

    Red meat social conservatives will always be hostile to JT — but if he plays the vision/celebrity card too much, and loses the business conservative/red tory/blue liberal demographic, long-term that could spell electoral trouble for him. That was one of his father’s weaknesses too — it was clear that fiscal and economic management was not what made him jump out of bed in the morning.

    • Nicole says:

      This is not solely a left thing. Currently Trump is in the lead because he has a vision and not because of any work-like attributes. Trump’s vision may be scary, but it is attracting attention. If conservatives in Canada had their own charismatic leader they would be flocking to that person. There is simply no such person…. Although Rob Ford got close until the crack scandal.

      Charisma and populism go far regardless of where the candidate falls on the political spectrum.

  11. Darlene Albert says:

    Less we forget that a crapload voted against Fuddle Duddle Jr. Voting for someone because of a popular last name and nice hair does not make up for an average IQ. Just waiting for the first shoe to drop and when it does it will be quite a thud.

    • Kev says:

      Some other recent Canadian political figures who have benefitted from their surnames:

      Peter MacKay
      Maxime Bernier
      Mark Strahl
      Erin O’Toole
      Lawrence Cannon
      Linda Frum

    • Derek Pearce says:

      Please, by all means continue underestimating him. It’s worked out brilliantly in his favour when Conservatives have consistently done this.

  12. patrick says:

    Justin Trudeau has set himself up to fail, running for election in a tough riding, got in a boxing ring on television, run for the leadership of a political party, fought an election against far more experienced opponents and has won every time. That’s one damn amazingly pretty face. Couldn’t be anything else.

  13. e.a.f. says:

    yes, Patrick, what you say is true. People under estimate Trudeau the younger. He may be a pretty face, but I changed my opinion of him when he got into that ring and went the distance. Not many could do that. He is tougher than he looks and he might understand, being nice doesn’t cost anything, being nice is fun and it gets votes.

    Harper did some nasty things, even if he had actually done something for the economy and my income tax was zero I wouldn’t have voted for him.

  14. Iris Mclean says:

    Has Stephen Harper found a new drummer yet?

  15. Kev says:

    Shorter version of all the Tory MPs, staff, and trolls who froth about PM “Selfie” (almost all those photos are “otheries”, BTW):

    Trudeau is popular, people like him, are interested in him… and we hate that.

    Have fun in opposition guys. Merry Christmas.

  16. Kelly says:

    Harper ultimately lost because he was a terrible PM. Easily the worst in modern times. He exhibited contempt for the law, our constitution, Parliament (including most of his caucus) and he introduced terrible policy, lots of it based on discredited ideas of the ways that economies and people function. He was PM by accident of vote splitting and was eventually defeated because a lot of people who never bothered to vote before came out and voted strategically and purposefully. Most NDP and Green supporters are perfectly fine with Trudeau. He shares the same Canadian values they share. Canada is fundamentally a diverse liberal multicultural country with a mixed economy and a desire to do good. That is the POINT of Canada — made real by Citizens helping each other succeed through the structures of a democratically elected representative government. No stunted conservative will ever change that. Conservative support is on a downward trajectory. Its base is dying off, the newspapers that shill for it are folding up only to be replaced by thousands of websites each tailored to the individual biases and prejudices of their visitors, none of them able to influence the broader public on their own. And soon our phony steam-age electoral system will be gone and everyone’s vote will count for the first time ever and it will become clear just how marginal conservatism really is in this country. The lie will be exposed, the nightmare truly over.

    • The Doctor says:

      Yes, if you’re not a Liberal, you’re not really a Canadian.

    • aggo says:

      Sorry guys, but conservatism has a place in Canada and it always will, whether you like it or not. I’m not a Conservative and never liked Harper or his style of leadership, but he served for nearly 10 years, and not just because of “dirty tricks”. I just wish people would drop this illusion that conservatism is forever dead in this country and we’re back to the good ol’ Canada we used to know forever more. The CPC got 99 seats in the 2015 election. This is not a repeat of 1993 with a demolished Conservative party. We might have the Liberals for a long time, but the Conservatives will be back at some point, don’t you worry. Let’s just hope it’s not another Harper.

    • aggo says:

      Sorry guys, but conservatism has a place in Canada and always will, whether you like it or not. I’m not a Conservative and never liked Harper or his style of leadership, but he served for nearly 10 years, and not just because of “dirty tricks”. I just wish people would drop this illusion that conservatism is forever dead in this country and we’re back to the good ol’ Canada we know and love forever more. The CPC got 99 seats in the 2015 election. This is not a repeat of 1993 with a demolished Conservative party. We might have the Liberals for a long time, but the Conservatives will be back at some point, don’t you worry. Let’s just hope it’s not another Harper or US-style conservatism.

      • nobonus4nonis says:

        nope. ain’t gonna happen.

        half the world is under 25
        climate change is real
        the world WILL come for our water since we have 25% of it and it WILL be 1000 times more valuable than oil.
        in the next seven to fifteen years the young of today will wake up and say “why the fuck are we still handing over our gdp to political parties.” and their self appointed leaders who act with impunity but don’t remotely represent us when all we need are 5000 accountants to post line by line items that we can decide yea or nay online.
        we will be voting online.
        there will soon be a premptive world court of criminal justice who will be able to shut off the money tap to those found guilty of robbing the public purse.. i nominate tony gazebo as the first one to be found guilty.
        instead of training fighters in the middle east to fight in Syria let’s use the money to train up an aboriginal police force of 20.ooo men to police themselves and then tell the rcmp to take their racist attitudes and go fuck themselves. the rich will be terrified of this but tough nuggies.
        the parasites who feed off the scraps left by political parties will be history.
        as to conservatives whatever that is anymore “I fart in your general direction and your mother was some kind of elderberry.
        i’ve got lots more but it’s christmas so have a merry:-)

        • aggo says:

          …and a Merry Christmas to you and the Junior Socialist League, nobonus4nonis.

        • Peter says:

          That is so quaint, nobonus. You’re making me nostalgic for the sixties of my youth. We, too, were going to turn the old ways around and build a world based on peace, justice and love. Especially love, because, after all, all you need is love. Now look at us, grumpily complaining about you while we whine about our pensions, take too many meds and vote for Harper. No doubt you are different and will do something splendid to save everyone and everything once we die off. Patience, young fellow, we’re working on it.

          • nobonus4nonis says:

            there is no way the human race will act in time to stop the effects of climate change and when i look at children playing i think

            who will cry for the little ones staring at the sky
            kicking at the ashes and asking why
            mommy daddy there’s poison in the clouds
            why are you crying, are you not proud?

    • The Doctor says:

      I guess Michael Den Tandt was thinking about Liberal pom pom wavers like Kelly when he wrote this in today’s National Post: “the greatest mid-term threat to the Trudeau Liberals is Liberalism itself — that is to say, the party’s inborn arrogance, by which its partisans assume their chosen political path is naturally synonymous with the ‘true’ Canada, and morally superior to other paths.”

  17. cynical says:

    Style and substance are not opposites.

  18. aggo says:

    This might not be relevant to the discussion as it was long before this hyper-media age, but this topic made me think of Mackenzie King. He had absolutely no personal or public charisma, yet he served as prime minister for 22 years. Sure, he had some serious eccentricities, but nobody knew about them until much later.

  19. Riaz Khan says:

    There is no doubt that Mr. Trudeau has won some unwinnable and quite unforgiving battles in his life and he is entitled to his victories. But, governing in a troubled world, politically and economically, requires more than singing, taking pictures and be active on social media-although these things are necessary evil in this media-driven-image-conscious world. What Mr. Harper did or did not do is not the point as he is no longer the PM- Mr. Trudeau is. I hope and wish that people around Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Trudeau himself are quite aware of the world as it is and not the world they think it should be. That is the first lesson of the statesmanship. I travel the globe regularly and let me tell you, its is quite different from Canada.
    Happy Holidays Mr. Kinsella to you and your family…

  20. Ronald O'Dowd says:


    This is the Christmas season? Right. So nice to see people not being classy on both the right and the left. God help our poor country.

    • aggo says:

      LOL I don’t think this discussion has gotten particularly vicious. You want us all to sing Kumbaya with Justin under the mistletoe?

      Your sanctimoniousness makes baby Jesus cry.

  21. Dan Calda says:

    Harper and substance is funny…he had none. All there was…all there is…is ideology.
    If Trudeau is Reagan…then Harper was Nixon…paranoid, vindictive and little regard for the law.
    Silly comparisons…but if they must be made..
    To me its like comparing Bobby Hull to Alex Ovechkin.
    Different times…different eras..

    • Scotian says:

      You do a disservice to Nixon in this, as Nixon while with those negative issues also did have a lot of serious substance both foreign (China) and domestic (civil rights, environment). Harper fails that kind of comparison, indeed he was the anti-governing leader, and Nixon for all his other faults, did believe in governing and government in its place. That is more than enough to show that this comparison is a disservice to Nixon. Mind you, Nixon is as close to a fair comparison to a modern American President for Harper where the issues with governing style, paranoia, enemies list behaviour, and disregard for the rule of law are concerned, so it is easy to see why so many go there, but I really have to defend Nixon in such comparisons, which honestly, leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but I have to call them as I see them. Nixon was despite his many issues also a politician of substance and vision who truly governed, while Harper, Harper was at base/heart nothing but the Destroyer and Salter of the Scorched Earth.

  22. Peter says:

    It’s going to take a lot of people time to recover from the Harper Derangement Syndrome that plagued them for a decade. Until then, Trudeau will benefit from kudos for anything he does on the basis that Harper didn’t or wouldn’t have done it. I mean, it’s bad enough the man ground down the poor and destroyed parliamentary democracy and the rule of law. Judging from the flurry of blog posts and social media “discussions” defending that Vogue spread, we now know he never smiles at his kids and shakes hands with his wife before bed every night. Thank goodness true love has returned to the land.

    I wonder what all the beautiful people swooning over the tactile Trudeaus would think of guys grabbing the butts of their giggling wives in the parking lot of Tims.

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