Justin Trudeau, Canada’s 23rd prime minister, is in the midst of a re-election bid and political scandal. Three instances of him appearing in blackface or brownface — the last known one occurring in 2001, when he was 29 years old — have come to light. This has tarnished his public image and reputation, and led some voters to question his integrity, authenticity and credibility in leading the nation.
Yet, it’s fair to say Canadians have long had mixed opinions about Mr. Trudeau. John Ivison’s book, “Trudeau: The Education of a Prime Minister,” adeptly analyzes a public figure viewed as a “political lightweight” who “came across as a frivolous person with no fixed principles.” While he’s led “a team of able people, many more able than himself,” the author concludes Mr. Trudeau “entered politics as a man of promise but has emerged as a man of promises that have failed to materialize.”
Mr. Ivison worked at The Scotsman newspaper in Edinburgh, Scotland, and has been a political columnist for Canada’s National Post since 2003. Living in Ottawa, the nation’s capital, he’s fortunate to have a bird’s eye-view of the PM and his caucus. This enables him to witness the successes and failures of the Liberal government, and catch the occasional gossipy tale in restaurants and local watering holes.
Mr. Trudeau was born in 1971. He’s the son of the late Pierre Trudeau, Canada’s 15th prime minister. It goes without saying “his father was the yardstick against which Trudeau judged himself — then and, most likely now.” Although he expressed no interest in politics while his father was alive, the speech he gave at his funeral in 2000 changed hearts and minds. As Mr. Ivison describes it, the eulogy was “an audacious performance — overwrought, to be sure, but replete with the three legged stool of Aristotelian rhetoric: ethos, pathos, and logos.”
He would be aided in his political journey by several people. Gerald Butts, the “razor-sharp son of a Cape Breton coal miner” who he met at university, became his closest and most trusted political adviser — and later, principal secretary in the prime minister’s office. There’s also Sophie Gregoire, a TV/radio host who he married in 2005. Politics has reportedly never been one of her passions, and Mr. Trudeau has previously admitted their marriage “isn’t perfect and we have had difficult ups and downs.” Nevertheless, her counsel and their relationship remains a critical facet of his life.
Mr. Trudeau would win a seat in Parliament in 2008. Few initially regarded him as an astute politician, but a high-profile charity boxing match in 2012 against then-Conservative Sen. Patrick Brazeau became a game changer. He was declared the winner, and Mr. Ivison writes it gave Liberals “a victory over the Conservatives — the first in a very long time.” As strange as it may seem, pugilism led him to becoming the new Liberal leader the following year.
Beating the Conservatives in 2015 was even more flabbergasting. Prime Minister Stephen Harper had been in power for almost a decade, and was an intelligent and highly respected political leader. Yet, the Liberals “outflanked the NDP on social policy and outbid the Conservatives on taxes” and Mr. Trudeau performed “better than expected” in the leaders’ debates. He created an “impressive and diverse” team of candidates, and presented himself as a party leader representing “optimism and change.”
But as Mr. Ivison’s book shows, Mr. Trudeau’s charmed political life and supposedly enlightened views could only protect his vapid exterior for so long. Cracks began to appear in the inexperienced Liberal facade, based on an “ill-prepared” entourage and the PM’s smarmy, self-righteous nature. The “chameleon prime minister,” as the author calls him, could only change colors so often — and, if you’ll pardon the pun, started to fade to black.
Here are some examples. Relations with U.S. President Donald Trump started off poorly when Mr. Trudeau told “one the planet’s most various deal-makers that Canada was willing to renegotiate NAFTA.” He uses public money “as if it were his own to burnish his reputation.” He and Finance Minister Bill Morneau “embraced the ‘class war’ rhetoric with enthusiasm,” in spite of Liberal MPs opposing this strategy. He’s had the ignominy of two major ethics violations, and high-profile disputes with female MPs, while in office — and never apologized.
After perusing Mr. Ivison’s book, readers will have a better understanding of Mr. Trudeau’s education as a prime minister. He should not only receive failing grades, but should seriously consider going back to school to learn what he should already know.
• Michael Taube is a frequent contributor to The Washington Times.
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TRUDEAU: THE EDUCATION OF A PRIME MINISTER
By John Ivison
Signal/McClelland & Stewart, $27.95, 368 pages
Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.