Justin Trudeau and the Cult of Personality

By Jason Menard,

Some may say he’s a political lightweight. Some may say he’s nothing more than great hair and a winning grin. Some may say he’s all style over substance.

And some may say that Justin Trudeau is exactly what the Liberal Party of Canada needs.
Today, London, Ontario was all a-twitter about the arrival of Canada’s most-famous son. For years, people have remarked upon Trudeau’s winning looks, affable personality, and comfort before crowds and wondered when he would throw his hat into the political ring.

Early on, he refused — seemingly content in his teaching life and spending time with his family. A few years back and he ran — and won — in a safe Montreal Liberal riding. Now he’s stepped up again to make a run at the same position that his father once held.

And, for Liberal supporters, the hope is that Justin will follow in his father Pierre’s footsteps and return to Sussex Drive.

Critics will point to his relative lack of political experience. They will also suggest that his platform is riddled with platitudes, generalities, and feel-good sentiment.

They may be right. But many liberals — of both the large and small “l” variety don’t really care.

No matter where he goes, Trudeau creates buzz. He gets people talking and incites a reaction. And this is from a contender for the leadership of the third-place party in the House of Commons.

If he can generate this type of interest during the primaries and if he can inspire almost Zealot-like fervour amongst his supporters, what could he accomplish when the games actually count? Liberal supporters have to be salivating at the thought.

There are those Liberals who point to candidates like Martha Hall Findlay and Marc Garneau as better-prepared potential leaders. And when you compare resumes it’s hard to argue against that point.

But who cares? Liberals may be willing to sacrifice some policy wonk support for a little political rock star cachet amongst the masses.

And what better candidate can a Liberal party run in opposition not only to the controlling Stephen Harper, but also in opposition to their own past leaders: Michael Ignatieff, Stephane Dion, and Paul Martin — all studious, well-versed politicians. And all pilloried for their inability to connect with the common man.

There’s a reason why it’s called political theatre — and in today’s sound-bite dominated, social-media influenced world, style matters. Should it matter more than substance? Probably not, but you can compensate for a lack of gravitas. Many are less interested in how the machine works, but they want to be inspired and find someone they believe can lead.

You can’t compensate for a lack of charisma — and that’s why the Liberals will ride Trudeaumania V2 as far as it will go.

Look no further than the impact that the late Jack Layton had on the NDP. It can be argued that party’s success in the most recent federal election could directly attributed to the influence that Layton had on swing, undecided, and casual voters. Is it unfair to think that Trudeau could have a similar influence?

On a municipal level, it’s fair to say that our own mayor Joe Fontana was elected as much for who he wasn’t as for who he is. He rode a wave of name recognition, every-man mystique, and vague platitudes and catchy sloganeering to victory, despite having a platform that some criticized as being unworkable.

Trudeau strikes me as a smart man. And his relative lack of experience can be buoyed by surrounding himself with sound political lifers, policy wonks, and others who know how to play the game.

For better or for worse, a lot of Canadian politics comes down to name recognition and star power. Trudeau has shown an ability to connect with those demographics that tend to be underrepresented at the ballot box — specifically younger voters. And his star power alone is guaranteed to make some people pay attention to a political race of which they’d normally talke no interest.

There are negatives. Few politicians were as polarizing as Pierre Trudeau — there’s little middle ground as people either loved him or hated him. And the passage of time has done nothing to temper those emotions. The perceived sins of the father will be revisited on the son for some voters.

But if that galvanized opposition can be balanced by a wave of newly minted political groupies swept away by Trudeau’s charisma, then Justin may not just look the part — he may earn the part of Canada’s next Prime Minister.

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4 thoughts on “Justin Trudeau and the Cult of Personality

  1. David

    I was among the curious who went to see him at a farm off Mitchell Line yesterday. It’s hard to be a pretentious rock star among farmers, and he wasn’t. I was pleasantly surprised by the version of Justin I saw. He wasn’t as polished as I would have that and actually came across more sincere and earnest as a result, more down to earth than I have seen him in media clips. I’m willing to give him some time and encourage his continued growth.

    Reply
  2. David

    Jesse Ventura and Ronald Reagan are examples of what voters love. Celebrity. Though they had some substance, Paris Hilton and Lady Gaga could capitalize by their flash alone. Justin; he has a smile, nice hair, flamboyant talk ability but most importantly – his surname. Sad day for us when voters don’t accept Joyce Murray brains over Trudeau’s family name and looks for the liberal leadership. Sad day for Canada, they will vote for him leading liberals over Elizabeth May’s Greens.

    Reply
    1. Jay Menard Post author

      Of the 50+ years this riding has existed, it’s been in Liberal hands all but two. And even it those two years, Pettigrew only lost but under 1,000 votes during arguably the time of the province’s greatest hatred for the Liberals. The region is Park Ex, which is heavily allophone in nature and with a substantial English component, being adjacent to Outremont. It’s safe.

      Reply

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