The Justin Trudeau brand is in trouble.
The 2015 fresh prince of politics with the celebrity hair and rock star aura is heading into a 2022 summer of inflation-driven Canadian discontent as a faded force of personality in need of an exit strategy.
You know there’s a reputation hit happening when Trudeau becomes the unnamed star of a children’s book “How the Prime Minister Stole Freedom,” a satire about his handling of the Freedom Convoy and vaccination mandates, which now sits atop the Amazon Canada bestseller list.
On a more serious vein, there’s an alarm sounding over his leadership style when former top bureaucrat Paul Tellier unleashes in Policy Options magazine, warning Trudeau’s control freakdom of an office is “in the process of destroying the public service … and the word ‘destroying’ is not too strong.”
‘TOO WOKE, TOO PRECIOUS’
And while this is hardly scientific, after a weeks-long survey of just about everyone I’ve met and many of them Liberals by voting inclination, the overall judgment on Trudeau is one of being a political write-off with their body language alternating between exasperation and eye rolls.
He’s too woke, too precious, preachy in tone, exceedingly smug, lacking in leadership, fading in celebrity, slow to act, short-sighted in vision and generally getting more irritating with every breathlessly whispered public pronouncement. And that’s just the one-sentence summary.
As one prominent and wealthy 40-year Liberal supporter told me: “I won’t send them another dime until he’s gone. He’s a wimp.”
Trudeau is, of course, undoubtedly oblivious to all this. He didn’t even break a sniffle during question period Tuesday, although he seemed to have great trouble answering questions without reading a script as he copes with a second COVID-19 infection.
It was a daunting run of questions that demanded all his artful dodging talent for reading non-answers to questions. He needed to protect his foreign affairs minister for allowing a bureaucrat to attend a Russian caviar party in Ottawa, his public safety minister for promoting a nose-stretcher that police requesting the Emergencies Act to cope with the Freedom Convoy (they didn’t) and shrugging off a Globe-obtained government analysis showing his 2030 emission targets will be extremely difficult to meet.
That’s theatrical business as usual for Trudeau, but he’s delivering performance hiccups far beyond the Commons.
Take the recently completed Summit of the Americas, where Trudeau’s meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden produced jargon and rhetoric a’plenty, but not a whisper of accomplishment to mend our so-far unproductive relationship.
While Trudeau is the so-called dean of the G7 in terms of political longevity, he didn’t even try to convince Biden to reconsider the axed Keystone pipeline or thwart the Michigan governor’s threat to kill the Line 5 pipeline, this in a time when the U.S. is playing footsie with dictator-run Venezuela to alleviate the energy price crisis.
Even when Trudeau does spring into action, his motivation appears suspect.
The Wall Street Journal recently derided Trudeau for acting in response to U.S. developments by toughening Canadian gun laws in the aftermath of the Texas school massacre and re-emphasizing a woman’s right to an abortion in Canada ahead of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling this month. “Apparently Canadian politics is too boring, or parochial, or something,” the editorial observed. “If he wants to influence U.S. politics, we recommend he emigrate and run for Congress.”
But mostly, Trudeau just doesn’t act. As Globe columnist Campbell Clark noted in taking aim at the prime minister’s hesitancy to end vaccine mandates, a “political inertia” orbits the sloth-speed Liberal government where “without a political impetus to do something, the default is to do nothing”. Well said.
WILL TRUDEAU RUN FOR RE-ELECTION?
Many of Trudeau’s talked-up commitments – be it targets for Afghan translator immigration, Ukrainian resettlement numbers, greenhouse gas emission targets, Indigenous reconciliation moves or even tree planting by the billions – are overpromises sent off for prolonged study to ultimately end up being underdelivered.
A cagey political operative recently insisted to me that, having been involved in the Trudeau negotiations for a power-influencing deal with the NDP, she’s convinced Trudeau is running for re-election to give the cement time to set on his legacy.
If so, his shaky display of true leadership should reward the Conservatives with a government mandate in the next election.
But Trudeau has enjoyed plenty of luck in politics, so unless coronation-bound Conservative leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre pivots somewhat into mainstream thinking, the hard-right Conservatives could fall short of what’s required to unseat Trudeau from a fourth mandate.
Speaking of pivoting to a current sign of the prime minister’s ailing status, his media party at 24 Sussex Dr. returns Wednesday with Trudeau away in COVID isolation. I asked a colleague if the missing celebrity host would hinder press gallery attendance. “Actually, I think it’ll be much better without him.”
There’s little doubt a lot of Liberals are thinking the same way about their party under Justin Trudeau.
That’s the bottom line.