Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has a surname that has both helped and hurt him and with different people. He is a consummate retail politician who lacks his father’s intellectual fortitude. He was shaped at an early age by his parents’ turbulent marriage and the untimely death of his brother. His caucus has at varying times been impressed with his work ethic and disappointed with decisions he implemented in their names. He craves public attention, but has a habit of getting it for the wrong reasons. He believes passionately in an activist government and has a hard time relating to people who do not. Over nearly four years in the PMO, he has fallen short of what Canadians viewed in 2015 as enormous potential.
You know all this if you’re a careful observer of national politics. You can guess it if you’re a more casual observer. But don’t jump to hold it against National Post columnist John Ivison that his new book, Trudeau: The Education of a Prime Minister, contains no explosions. It is not necessarily the author’s fault that his subject is exactly who we think he is.
Trudeau is less an in-depth exploration of a man’s life and more a compendium of news stories about a man’s work. If you’re looking for a handy guide to the history of the Trudeau premiership, you won’t do better. But if Ivison was granted more access to Trudeau and his circle in the past year than most political columnists have had, it does not show in the text. The reader will be left questioning if he bothered to seek out anything new at all, or if there just wasn’t much to find.
The book hits the typical beats of the Trudeau story: first shaped as a youngster by his parents’ turbulent marriage and the untimely death of his brother; then persuaded, after some time as a teacher and youth organizer, to enter politics; then brought to power over the Liberals and then the country on a tide of “sunny ways”; then continually hamstrung by events, the impossibility of governing all of Canada at once, and his own lack of impulse control; then, at last, brought down to Earth by the gravity of his more noteworthy blunders. “While capable of contrition for aberrations committed long before he was born,” Ivison concludes, “he has never shown true remorse for anything he has done in office. . . . Few Canadian governments have been as vainglorious as this one.” If all Ivison can say about him is what he says in this book, it’s no wonder that his ultimate assessment of Trudeau is as negative as it is.
Leading up to the book’s release, previews focused not on what it reveals about Trudeau but about his once and future Principal Secretary Gerald Butts, which should come as no surprise to people who already think he is effectively Trudeau’s brain. Butts blames Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the PM’s disastrous visit to India last year, already a widely scorned assertion boding ill for any attempts to reset his relationship with Canada. But this, too, is nothing new. If you’ve ever seen Butts on Twitter, you are well aware that he is Titan, the Novelty Nuclear Missile: You never know when he’ll go off.
Other than that, the only truly memorable scene takes place in Chapter 3, in which an unnamed aide is approached by two young ladies seeking a ménage with Trudeau and wisely refuses to help them make it happen. As Ivison notes, “Both Trudeau and his wife have been asked about rumours of extramarital affairs since their wedding.” If you’ve worked on the Hill or know someone who has, you’ve probably heard those rumours. Trudeau does not lack for enemies who would gleefully drop that bomb, if they had it. But Ivison’s reference to the gossip stops there; nobody has given him the launch codes. Like any “very Canadian scandal,” Trudeau’s most scandalous acts in the book are policy- or personnel-related, and already explored in depth.
Unlike the 2015 iteration of its namesake, Trudeau is no paragon of novelty or excitement. But it can be a worthwhile read if you need a quick fact-check or validation for your low opinion of a prime minister who, it seems, isn’t heeding his education at all.
Photo Credit: CBC News
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