He haunts us still.
Remember that? That line – “he haunts us still” – is the very first line on the very first page of a terrific book about Pierre Trudeau. The book won all kinds of awards and accolades, but it is that first sentence which has come to sum up Pierre Trudeau rather well.
Whether you loved him or you hated him – and there were plenty of Canadians on either side of the divide – on one thing we all could agree: Pierre Trudeau looms like a giant, still, above the Canadian political landscape. Nobody is neutral on the subject of the former Liberal prime minister. Everyone has a view.
So, too, is the case with his eldest son, who is now a Liberal Party leader like his dad. And, if the polls mean anything anymore – a big if – the man most likely to be our next prime minister.
That famous line about “haunting us” doesn’t quite apply to the son, however. He doesn’t haunt us, not yet. Instead, Justin Trudeau mainly taunts us.
Trudeau Junior defies the consensus of the pundits and the politicos. He does the unexpected. He remains more popular, durably popular, than any politician in recent memory.
I’m a Liberal type, and a student of politics, but the more I see of Justin Trudeau, the less I think I know. He is even less conventional than his unconventional father.
In the year since he became Liberal leader at a lackluster, poorly attended affair in an Ottawa convention hall, Trudeau has made enough mistakes to kill off any other politician’s career.
He made a joke about what is happening in the Ukraine. He has said he admires a “dictatorship” for being one. He has said he wants to understand the feelings of terrorists.
Along with the mistakes, there have been plenty of contradictions, too.
He has embraced pipelines and pot, almost simultaneously. He has promised open nominations, and then giddily manipulated them.
He has sounded like a Quebec nationalist in unguarded moments, and then gone on to bravely defend federalism. He has sounded blasé about a Liberal senator who was under police investigation, and then he summarily expelled 32 Liberal senators who were not.
And with all those mistakes – with all those contradictory moves – this has been the impact on his popularity:
Zero. Zippo. Zilch.
Justin Trudeau – for all his faults, for all his inexperience and his youthfulness – is overwhelmingly the guy Canadians want as prime minister. Still.
They know he isn’t perfect. They know he probably makes far more rookie mistakes than his opponents. But they don’t care. Voters want Justin. Not Stephen, and not Tom.
He’s arrogant, sure, but all the great leaders usually are. He’s cocky, certainly, but that didn’t hurt him when he faced off in a boxing ring with a Conservative senator with a black belt, did it? He’s a bit too melodramatic – but having a flair for the dramatic never hurt anyone’s political career (just ask Ronald Reagan, the actor).
Personally, I can say that Justin Trudeau occasionally ticks me off. He takes unnecessary risks. He doesn’t listen to advice too often. He frequently seems more arrogant than any previous Liberal leader, and that’s no easy thing to do.
But the fact remains Justin Trudeau is the most popular leader Canada has seen in a long, long time. And, barring a disaster between now and 2015, the experts say he is going to be our next prime minister.
He doesn’t “haunt us,” not yet. But if there has ever been a politician who defies the predictions of the political scientists and the pundits – if there has ever been a leader who “taunts us” – Justin Trudeau is it.