In last week’s issue of The Varsity, Carter West said Justin Trudeau has great hair and a great smile. It’s the only point his column gets right. He even goes so far as to say that Jack Layton — a man known as Smilin’ Jack — had a mouthful of gums and no dents: “It appears that [Trudeau’s] great contribution to the Liberal Party, aside from his storied name, are hair and teeth — two attributes Jack Layton lacked.”
It’s no secret Justin Trudeau has a great smile and a great head of hair. It’s also no secret the man is already the most written-about politician in Canada, so I’m going to keep this rebuttal column focused quite narrowly (a more wide-ranging assessment of Justin Trudeau’s candidacy, is available here).
The media cannot stop writing about Justin Trudeau. As Susan Delacourt explained, it’s because readers cannot stop reading about Trudeau. The man has an infectious personality. In person, he’s a larger-than-life celebrity. On social media, he’s an accessible, quirky open book.
I had the chance to fly to Montréal to hear Trudeau launch his leadership. He spoke about how we need a politician we not only trust, but someone we actually like.
Comparisons between anyone and Barack Obama are usually sloppy journalism, but in this case I think the point is apt. American voters are often said to have done more than vote for Obama in 2008. They fell in love with him, and Mitt Romney cannot campaign on his familiar territory of firing someone. He has to be more of a home-wrecker, breaking Americans up from their president; for most of the campaign, until Obama himself dropped the ball in the first debate, it seemed an impossible task. Likewise, those who love Justin Trudeau love him a lot — and like Obama, those who hate him because of his father do so apoplectically.
Great hair, a great smile and an engaging personality are not vices in politics, but they sure are uncommon. Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair have — by any objective metric — terrible hair, non-existent smiles and prickly personalities. From a simple PR perspective, Justin Trudeau is a winning contrast.
Is his résumé thin? It’s no worse than a one-term MP who had a few years as head of a right-wing lobbyist group before becoming leader of the Canadian Alliance. That man is of course our current prime minister.
Justin Trudeau was a teacher — significantly out west, where he has family and friendships — and a public speaker and advocate, mostly to and for youth. He is a winning Liberal candidate: along with Bonnie Crombie, one of only two Liberal seat gains elected in 2008 and the only Liberal MP to increase his margin of victory in 2011. And I’m not talking a small uptick in the vote. Against the Orange Wave that turned Québec politics on its head, Trudeau went from a slim two per cent win to a 10 per cent win.
In short, he’s a great, winning politician. Many Liberals, myself included, think it’s about time we try a great, winning politician, something we haven’t had at the helm since Jean Chrétien.
Justin Trudeau has established that he can win elections and engage the Canadian public like no other political figure in this country. The test now for Justin Trudeau is to answer the question: he can win, but can he govern? He can engage, but can he lead?
The next election hinges on the answer. But make no mistake, with Justin Trudeau at the helm, the Liberal ship is finally no longer sinking.
Jonathan Scott is president of the UofT Liberals and a contributor to The Globe and Mail.