A good image is important for every politician — but for some, it’s all they have. Take Justin Trudeau, the young, ambitious son of former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who is currently running for Liberal Party leadership. His campaign is receiving a great deal of media attention, comparing Justin to his father. The most amazing part of this media blitz is that people are actually taking him seriously.
Justin Trudeau is the epitome of image politics. He is a man who lacks accomplishments, ideas, coherent ideology or grace in speech, yet he will likely be selected to head the Liberal Party of Canada on April 14, 2013.
His rock star image is already being built for him by the Canadian media. In October, Maclean’s featured Justin Trudeau on the cover and in several articles. First, they showed off his family with a photo shoot of him playing outdoors with his wife and two kids. This was followed by a spread of Justin’s ‘life in pictures,’ mostly featuring old black and whites of him jet-setting around the world with his celebrity parents. After several pages of family pictures and few words, there was finally something of substance on young Trudeau — an article about his time in British Columbia and his love of skiing. What was absent from the articles was any information on his political or professional accomplishments, like getting elected to parliament.
It would be difficult to fill that space with a chronicle of his public service because getting elected seems to be about all he has done. Prior to being elected, Trudeau was briefly a high school teacher, pursued several different university degrees, did some charity work and acted in The Great War, a CBC mini-series. He was elected to parliament in 2008 in a riding that, except for a brief two-year period, has been dominated by the Liberals since the 1940s.
Even during his short political career, Trudeau seems to only get the public’s attention when he does something immature or stupid. For example, early this year, Trudeau told reporters that under the current direction of the Conservative government, he would favour Quebec separation. This statement, coming from the self-proclaimed federalist and the son of a man who fought his entire political career for an integrated Canada, sparked controversy.
He quickly backed out of this statement in a display of over-the-top, theatrical outrage. Trudeau often employs the manipulative tactic of faking passion for television cameras. It’s amazing how someone who consistently misspeaks manages to be dubbed “charismatic” by pundits.
His charisma seems more of a myth than a reality. Lacking the charm and quick wit of his father, young Trudeau mostly relies on the dreary, robotic rhetoric characteristic of Liberal backbenchers. When he does decide to speak off the cuff, it’s less than impressive. His speech is often filled with vague, inarticulate populist statements about “uniting Canadians” or “the strength in our people.”
This is why he doesn’t get media coverage for his tough political stances, stirring speeches or fresh ideas — Justin simply doesn’t have the capacity. He only makes the papers for asinine stunts like boxing members of the opposition or calling former Minster of Environment Peter Kent a “piece of shit.” His popularity rests in attention-seeking behaviour, a handsome face and a famous last name — nothing else. Give him a beer gut and a different last name and it’s doubtful he would even get elected in his own riding.
At this point, Trudeau has very little opposition for party leadership. Interim leader Bob Rae has declined a future bid, and Trudeau is the only official candidate who is receiving significant support from both the public and his party.
Don’t believe the hype. Trudeau’s leadership bid is based on little more than a shallow image floating in the personality-free sea that is Canadian politics. His resume is short, charisma-limited and behaviour-sporadic — hardly the makings of a good prime minister. We should not accept a political candidate as legitimate just because he is showered with media attention. If Justin Trudeau wants to become prime minister, he must first pay some dues.