, 03.02.2018 09:30 AM

Adler-Kinsella: trade, Trump and Trudeau’s troubling trip

As in my Hill Times column next week, I was pretty tough on Justin Trudeau about the Indian imbroglio.  Charles Adler said he’s never heard me be this tough.

To me, a Prime Minister’s job is essentially threefold:

  • communicate to, and on behalf of, Canada
  • promote policies that are developed by his or her cabinet, caucus, officials, staff, political party (and, very rarely, by him or her)
  • articulate a vision that brings Canadians together

That’s it.  And the thread that runs through all of that, as you can see, is communications.  That isn’t what the job is mostly about – that is the job.

Justin Trudeau is one of the best retail politicians this country has ever seen (Messrs. Chretien, Mulroney and Trudeau Sr. were also amazing at the retail stuff, in that order).  He has an ability to connect with people that is extraordinary.

But there is a danger inherent in being a great communicator: sometimes, when you are that good at the retail stuff, arrogance slips in, like an unwanted guest at a crowded party.  You start to delude yourself into thinking that charm and conviviality will get you out of any mess. You start to think that you can win the people over with a big smile, and nothing else.

Justin Trudeau, in just about everyone’s view (if they’re being fair), is a terrific communicator.  He has clearly convinced himself that the whole job is about communications, too.

But here’s the thing: when you get too cocky, too arrogant, too full of yourself, you start to forget that you need to be communicating/articulating/promotion ideas and vision, too.

In the most simplistic terms, I am now convinced this guy thinks it’s all sizzle, and no steak. It’s all about pictures, and forget about the words.

In that, he is gravely mistaken.  And – as in all things in politics – his main strength is also his main weakness.

The thing that got him elected is the same thing that will defeat him.  I’m convinced of that, now.

Here’s me and Charles.


  1. Luke says:

    I haven’t entirely lost faith yet, but that’s at least partly because I don’t want to.

    I would like Jane Philpot (sp?) to be he next Liberal leader once he’s out, or at least eventually at a time when people aren’t bored of liberals.

  2. Jerry Todd says:

    I strongly disagree with the notion that Justin Trudeau is a great communicator. He has a strong public presence, yes. He is photogenic and commands attention, yes. But he is a technically poor public speaker (endless, distracting ums and ahs every four or five syllables). He speaks in practiced, and often meaningless, bromides. He has a propensity for making everything about himself. (I saw him give a pre-campaign speech to party faithful and he didn’t utter a syllable of thanks or appreciation to the audience). His utter lack of substance – and utter lack of concern with his lack of substance – is driving voter disengagement and cynicism. Bottom line: he’s utterly inauthentic, except for those moments where he shows temper (“No, you can’t ask the Finance Minister, you have this opportunity to speak to the Prime Minister”). That’s a flash of the real guy.
    I think the only quality that defines a great communicator in this era is authenticity. That’s the coin of the realm. It’s never been harder to have the courage to show it, and to never the geniuses beat it out of you.

  3. The Doctor says:

    Related to Warren’s point, I get the impression that JT has had so much positive press over the last 2-3 years, and his hard-core supporters are so besotted with him, that Trudeau, his advisors and core supporters are shell-shocked when he gets negative press like this. They aren’t prepared for it, and at least in this case, don’t know what to do. So all we have seen is bafflegab, deflection, projection and denial.

  4. Matt from Ottawa says:

    I think a huge problem for him is mixing business with pleasure which has always been a no go. Hiring his 2 best friends as Principal Secretary and Chief of Staff (Gerald Butts and Katie Telford) have been hugely problematic. Under any other PMO there wouldve been a much needed shake up after all the issues, but not with the current PM. Why? Because its pretty hard to fire your 2 best friends, and it optically does not look good as a feminist PM to fire the first female chief of staff.

    • Ronald O'Dowd says:


      Welcome, to my world of thinking. It’s all about longstanding friendships and that could very well undo this government at the polls. I said quite a while back that re-election wasn’t a no-brainer and it sure ain’t. Recalibrate now, Prime Minister, recalibrate.

      If Scheer is up to it, this may be an unexpected gift for him and his party.

  5. Peter says:

    I remember speed-reading his book in a bookstore and sensing his father might be looming too large and too heavily in his life. He certainly seems to be trying to follow his path. Both came to power almost out of nowhere when the country tired of the humourless greyness and bickering in Ottawa and was craving a fresh spirit. Trudeau Sr. wore flowers, attracted young girls, slid down banisters, did iconoclastic things like pirouette behind the Queen and got the country all excited with generalities about the “just society”, etc. He also liked to dress-up on foreign trips. Similarly, JT roared in as the anti-Harper, replacing ultra sobriety and harsh rhetoric with topless appearances at Pride parades, declarations he’s a feminist and bromides like “Hate is not the answer”. The country didn’t ask whether there was substance to go with the flair and the Liberal Party didn’t seem to care–Dion and Ignatieff were both pretty bright guys and where did that get them. We weren’t craving substance, we were craving image and rhetoric, and that’s what we got. Just ask the NDP.

    But Trudeau Sr. learned pretty quickly that, while Canadians may be given to occasional bouts of free-spiritedness, we’re actually a pretty cautious, conservative and serious people in temperament. We don’t do frivolity or think our politics are popular entertainment. So, armed with a formidable intellect and with a little help from history, Trudeau Sr. became a very serious guy navigating some very serious matters. Not even those who didn’t like him could deny he had an impressive mind. In a few short years he went from being a flower child wannabe to an intellectual political titan (and also a bewildered victim of the real thing).

    JT needs a major test to show his mettle–one beyond feel-good rhetoric and the platitudes of identity politics. Maybe that crazy fellow down south could be persuaded to help.

  6. Lance says:

    Shifting gears to the Provincial for a second, I realize that Doug Ford likely will not win leadership, however, he has performed suprisingly well so far. LOL I wonder who gave him the proverbial ADHD medication before the debate.

  7. Ronald O'Dowd says:


    To ask the question, is to answer it: how many COS and DComms did Harper have?

    And most of them weren’t even remotely his friends. Those jobs require the biggest of shoes, which aren’t often filled on the first, or even subsequent tries.

  8. Robert White says:

    The Trudeau Liberals are a very smart bunch to take a hard left on gender policy & First Nations policy for investment. Trudeau has distinguished himself from the anti-social right-wing policies of mean spirited corporatist investing Reform-in-pantyhose-party that only feathers their own nests and destroys the middle class. The Trudeau government has done well to define socially appropriate leadership in governance going forward. Their social policy differentiates contemporary Liberal policy from the regressiveness of corporate tax breaks that never trickle down, and the mindlessness of so-called ‘free market capitalism’ that the right-of-political spectrum so-called ‘Conservatives’ promulgate ad nauseum for a loss of credibility each electoral round.

    Trudeau and the Liberals are my favorite Marxists of late, and they have my support. Morneau has launched a socially responsible budget whereas the Conservative Party would have opted for the rhetoric of tax breaks to appease their crony corporatists and garner the corporatist political donations that have destroyed politics everywhere.

    Trudeau in India is much ado about nothing and it’s an infinitesimally small faux pas that all the journalists are screaming bloody murder about. Trudeau has not lost confidence whatsoever, and only the anti-Marxists are up in arms about his leadership ability and carefully crafted persona.


    • Warren says:

      Read the new Ipsos.

    • The Doctor says:

      Well, there really aren’t that many Marxists in Canada, so I suppose in a way it’s true to say that most of the people who have a problem with JT”s performance in India are anti-Marxists. The thing is, that’s actually a lot of people.

      I think Morneau would be interested to hear that he’s now a Marxist. Who knew?

      Anyway, your pro-Trudeau take is more interesting than Scott’s. He just claims that anyone who has a problem with anything JT does is an angry white male redneck farmer from Alberta or something like that.

      • Robert White says:

        Actually, most Conservatives are indeed angry white males over the age of 45. Go to a Progressive Conservative Party community meeting sometime and you will see a sampling of the cohorts of angry white males that attend. Rural voters tend to vote conservative too so the stereotype is actually borne out in the membership and partisanship.


        • Peter says:

          Here’s the damnable thing about angry old white guys, Robert. You sit around patiently waiting for them to die off, but when they finally do, you discover they’ve been replaced by a new crop.

          • Robert White says:

            I agree that the supply issue of angry white guys seems to never go away, and I’m getting old enough to be classified as one of them, but I switched over to the Liberal Party so I would simmer down instead of boiling over with the latest cohort. What bothers me the most is that I did not learn anything whilst I was a Progressive Conservative, and then I saw the light when Premier Wynne KOed MPP Jack MacLaren in the legislature. Ms. Wynne should become a Political Science professor when she retires from the legislature given how adept she is at Social Science & Political Science. I admire her, and Liberal rhetoric, much more than the angry white guy PC rhetoric that is less than informative, and most assuredly is regressive.


    • Ron Benn says:

      RW, once I distilled your comment of all of its rhetoric, I was left with, well, nothing of substance.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.