Justin Trudeau is on the ropes; a new book offers a raw look at the man trying to hang onto his title
Book cover McClelland & Stewart/Photos Mansoor Tanweer/Flickr/Wiki Commons

Justin Trudeau is on the ropes; a new book offers a raw look at the man trying to hang onto his title

Justin Trudeau is charismatic and heavenly handsome – the velveteen smile, great hair, and perfect teeth are only enhanced by a killer last name.

Our 23rd prime minister, can’t help but conjure up images of our 15th, his father, the enigmatic Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

Trudeau the elder was one of the most polarizing political figures in our history.

This past week, his son – the dauphin prince – staked his claim to the title.

He was called out by this country’s Ethics Commissioner, Mario Dion, for applying inappropriate political pressure to then attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould in the SNC-Lavalin case. The PM remains unapologetic, saying it was his job to stand up for Canadian jobs.

The ludicrous claim is a window into the young Trudeau’s deception, to use any appealing social or economic prop as a tool to acquire and maintain power. The very law he voted for and signed, creating the trial-avoidance mechanism SNC has aggressively lobbied for, specifically states that, under the relevant charges brought against SNC, any decision by the prosecutor to avoid trial in favour of the deferred prosecution “must not consider the national economic interest.” So, Trudeau’s claim of being concerned about 9,000 jobs across Canada, literally contradicts the very law he helped create.

Arguments that the deferred prosecution is intended to avoid punishing the majority of employees and the corporation as a whole, because of the wrongdoing of a few, likely wouldn’t hold up in a legal challenge. Other countries could do the same, which would defeat the entire purpose of the mechanism, as domestic bad actors would be allowed by their legal system to continue competing against international competitors who play by the rules.

And besides, if Trudeau really is the progressive he claims to be, he would recognize the best way to support jobs is to inspire innovation and fair competition. Protecting a repeat offender with long ties to your party in Quebec, puts the well being of thousands of other jobs with competing, law-abiding firms at risk.


In 1968, Trudeaumania laid waste to the old political order in this country. He was a refreshing change from the dinosaurs who once roamed the halls of Parliament Hill – the St. Laurents, Diefenbakers and Pearsons of the world. He, too, stood up for Canadians.

Trudeau was the father of bilingualism/biculturalism, multiculturalism, and an open-door policy on immigration. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms he championed was a model of fairness for the rest of the world. He slid down bannisters, pirouetted to the cameras, enchanted the Queen, stuck his thumb in the eye of U.S. President Richard Nixon, dated starlets, recited poetry, and wore a flower in his lapel. And he didn’t hesitate to install the War Measures Act (1970) after the FLQ killed Quebec Labour Minister Pierre Laporte and kidnapped British foreign diplomat James Cross, or fight and win two referendums that threatened our very existence.

For 16 years, he dominated every political discussion.

His son’s unexpected majority win in 2015 ensured the Trudeau impact on our body politic would be multi-generational.

But, as Shakespeare wrote in Henry IV, Part 2, “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”

Dion ruled Trudeau had violated conflict of interest rules. In his judgment, he stated: “the authority of the prime minister and his office was used to circumvent, undermine and ultimately attempt to discredit the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions ... as well as the authority of Ms. Wilson-Raybould as the Crown’s chief law officer.”

The evidence appears damning, and the conclusion is quite clear: Trudeau sought to influence Wilson-Raybould, and there was close co-ordination between the prime minister’s office and SNC-Lavalin, the badly run Quebec-based engineering firm.

What Trudeau did isn’t criminal, but the court of public opinion will pass judgment anyway on election day, October 21.

Polls taken before the Ethics Commissioner’s report showed Trudeau running even-steven with Conservative leader Andrew Scheer. The scramble is now on within the PMO to undo the damage already done.

Remember when the party was gleefully embraced by the electorate just four short years ago, mainly because of its leader? Few who attended an August 2015 Liberal rally at the Embassy Grand ballroom on the outskirts of northeast Brampton, will forget the buzz, as a red wave of support swept across this city. Hundreds of ‘fans’ waited inside and outside just to get close to “him”, the chosen one. 

The tabloids and online buzz were all about the new Liberal leader. The ballroom was jammed with supporters and the media from as far away as Edmonton. Rock music was pumped in. After too many years of the droll Stephen Harper, and failed Liberal leaders like Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff, the party was eager for change – to welcome the second coming of Trudeau. The Brampton event drew boomers who still remembered the father, and a new generation who were smitten by the son.

Today, the ethics commissioner’s report reverberates across the land. The PM’s actions confirm what many of his critics (mostly men) have been saying all along: he is a glad-handing phony –  a vacuous, selfie-loving creation of the Instagram age. They aren’t surprised he’d do a Faustian bargain with SNC if it meant he could win more votes in his home province of Quebec (or appease an old corporate friend).

But somewhere between his rock star arrival in Brampton and last week’s damning report, the real Trudeau story needed to be written.

And that’s just what journalist John Ivison has done. It’s called Trudeau: The Education of a Prime Minister.

Its publication was obviously timed to roll out before the election, but last week’s news cycle gives it added credence.

Ivison’s conclusion is that Trudeau is more complex than given credit for. He’s a better retail politician than his father, and his gifts for communicating are as real as his personal warmth.

If Ignatieff was the Harvard egghead who wanted to appeal to the minds of voters, Trudeau played to their hearts.

There was also a cunning and calculating side, too, just like his father. Yet unlike him, he has a penchant for making bad choices. His treatment of Wilson-Raybould is just the latest example.

Still, Ivison is careful not to underestimate the PM, or discount his determination to succeed. He avoids the clichéd descriptors of him as a cartoon creation, and as any good journalist would do, he captures in colourful detail the man in full.

Ivison’s introduction lays out the foundation of the book, and he titles it, ‘The Anointed One’.

The mere fact he was born on Christmas Day, 1971, suggests to some that he was destined to become the Jesus Christ Superstar of the Liberal Party. He has spent most of his life in the limelight. When then president Richard Nixon attended a gala at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa when baby Justin was just four months old, he looked at him, raised a toast and said, “to the future prime minister of Canada – to Justin Trudeau.”

Nixon is not often thought of as a seer, but in this case, he was Nostradamus.

Ivison writes: “Canadians feel that they know him. But his public persona as the first prime minister of the Instagram age is a one-dimensional, condensed version of the real man. The exhausting torrent of images showcasing him as a dynamic and outgoing leader fail to capture his complexity, far less offer a guide to his performance.”

The boyish PM-to-be who enraptured that Brampton hall four years ago, was clearly different from the mannequin-like stiffness of Conservative leader Stephen Harper, or the un-charming NDP leader, Thomas Mulcair.

His appearance here was like a revival of Trudeaumania on Broadway.   

There’s an old saying that a book’s ending is hidden in its very first pages, and if that’s true, it also applies to lives, and political careers.

Ivison’s book captures Trudeau at the mid-point of his life and career, but the author cleverly leans on Trudeau’s own autobiography, Common Ground (released during the ’15 campaign) to find deep insights into the psyche of a man who would emerge from his father’s enormous shadow and become the architect of his own success – and failure.

Ivison finds the link between the globe-trotting intellectual with a dilettante bent who could never settle on a career and became a reluctant politician who eventually moved to Parliament Hill then began a meteoric rise to prime minister.

This is the story of Pierre Trudeau, but also his first son.

Trudeau the elder married a young woman and in short order they had three children. While the father was running a country seething with talk of separation, Margaret Trudeau was stepping out with rock stars and partying at the infamous Studio 54.

Justin was age 5 when the couple divorced, and how that impacted him makes for compelling reading. Ivison dives deep into the personal and political waters.

While the Trudeaus eventually retreated from the media storm in Ottawa to a more normal life in Montreal, they were never far from the prying eyes of the nation. The sons, Justin, Alexandre (Sacha) and Michel, shared their father and mother with the public, and became a lasting curiosity.

The current PM was always pulled in two directions: he was open and emotional like his mother, but constantly seeking the approval of his taciturn father, the brooding workaholic.

Ivison makes clear that the father set the bar high for himself and his sons, which complicated their relationship. But mother Margaret also came from a very political family, and her father, James Sinclair was a former fisheries minister in the Louis St. Laurent government. It was the granddad who more represented his political style and thinking of the future PM than the former one.

Ivison’s last chapter in his book is on the SNC-Lavalin affair, and one that many will immediately leaf to considering the current goings-on in Ottawa. He entitles it ‘Dumpster Fire’, and what is still not clear, is if this raging torrent right now, will continue on to election day, or be snuffed out as the electorate sorts out whether Trudeau’s actions were a disqualifier.

But those who flip to chapter 16, will miss a rollicking read that begins with the Introduction (The Vision of the Anointed), which sets the stage for Chapter 1 (Passion over Reason) and compares the son’s style to the father’s substance. Other chapters talk about the Harper campaign’s ad campaign to stifle Trudeau’s rise in 2015 by insisting that he was ‘Just Not Ready’ for prime time. Trudeau’s famous answer to the media when asked why half his cabinet was made up of women (“Because it’s 2015”), also garnered a chapter. Ivison informs us that Trudeau’s response wasn’t a throwaway line, but carefully crafted, showing his political cunning. Other chapter themes, like being PM in the age of Trump, and his ill-fated trip to India in February 2018, are ripe with intrigue, especially the India experience. When the Trudeau clan was caught wearing more and more exuberant Indian garb as if they were bit players in a Bollywood movie, not part of an official government visit, Trudeau was mocked.

Ivison writes: “No one made him wear a Sherwani when he was in India or dance the bhangra. It all smacked of the kind of cultural imperialistic tourism that Mark Twain lampooned 150 years ago in The Innocents Abroad.” The trip also exposed the fact an Indian-Canadian once convicted of the attempted murder of an Indian politician was invited by the PM’s camp to an official event.

Trudeau’s bad decision making is sprinkled throughout the book, like pursuing Eve Adams, the controversial former Conservative MP (Mississauga Brampton South) to join the Liberals after he took over the party leadership.

Ivison captures Trudeau’s early reluctance to enter politics, and his Invisible Man act as a Liberal backbencher in the Stephen Harper government. Jason Kenney, part of Harper’s government back then, and premier of Alberta now, remembers Trudeau as registering about 1 on the political Richter scale. Ivison offers up Kenney’s bombastic assessment of the future PM: “I don’t think he has the foggiest idea what’s going on. This guy is an empty trust fund millionaire who has the political depth of a finger-bowl.”

The inclusion represents one shortcoming of the profile, using throwaway commentary from those with an obvious agenda, as though such clearly biased views offer any worthwhile examination of the PM.

The message is clear, however: many, including a growing list outside the red-meat craving Conservatives, are now seriously questioning what Trudeau offers as a leader.

Last week’s news brings into sharp focus the dangers inherent in communities like Brampton going all-in for populist politicians like Trudeau. All five Brampton MPs in ’15 were Liberals, and not one was picked for cabinet, or any other serious portfolio. None has influenced policy on Parliament Hill that has had a dramatic impact on Brampton. As Patrick Brown so rightly pointed out in his inaugural address after being elected mayor last year, this city is very much taken for granted by the federal officeholders and, while they re-emerge for photo ops during elections, they remain virtually nameless to those who put them in Ottawa. Except for Raj Grewal who got national attention for being ousted from caucus for his excessive gambling habit and is now, maybe, running as an independent (he has refused to confirm). The rest are low profile, with next to no previous political experience, and rode the red Trudeau wave.

Throwing support into one political basket was very much driven by this cult of personality from the party’s leadership. Will Brampton voters be greedier in this election, saving their vote for the candidate(s) who serve the best interests of this city? While the Liberal party’s stranglehold on the GTA seems to be holding for now, despite the SNC contretemps (new polls should reveal the local impact of the EC’s ruling against Trudeau) the rest of the country seems to be surging against the Grits. The nomination of a virtual unknown, Maninder Sidhu, to replace Grewal as the Liberal candidate for Brampton East, seems to suggest the Trudeau-led party continues to take Brampton for granted.

Where are the star candidates? Where are the possible cabinet ministers? Sidhu’s qualifications to serve in the highest government in the land are an embarrassment to the city.

Lamented Brown: “It is time that Brampton received a fair deal from our federal and provincial partners. The biggest disservice to Brampton is that politicians view Brampton as an electoral goldmine, but have never compensated us for their frequent visits. We always see more leader visits to Brampton than any other area as we are the prized ‘swing seats’.  Yet we are massively underfunded. The days of accepting this inequity with a smile are over. We are not second-class citizens.” 

Ivison doesn’t delve into the history of sons following their fathers into politics – eventually those who reached the top rungs of power. Perhaps he should have. It’s a rich field. William Pitt, the former PM of UK, begot William Pitt the younger, who at age 24, became the youngest PM in its history, and led the united countries through the tumultuous Napoleonic Wars.

A more recent example would be George HW Bush, who begot Bush W., who led his country into another war, this time in Iraq, which didn’t end quite so successfully.

The truth is, sons are as different from fathers, as daughters are from their mothers, and genes are no indication of competence or guarantee for success.

The first Trudeau was a dark reservoir of talent, wildly popular and deeply hated; at times, gregarious, but just as often, closed and taciturn.

His son is more emotive, yet as he has settled into the PMO, he has taken on more of the Machiavellian attributes of his father.

Ivison is a journalist, not a psychologist, but he has done a good job of deciphering the reasons for the rise of Trudeau, and why his penchant to make mistakes could be a fatal flaw.

The gawky teen with a nose that was too big to fit his face (his words), became a young man who was lost and searching for a career, and finally found his calling in a profession that his father once turned into an art form.

Over time, the dauphin prince grew from Prince Hal into King Henry IV.

His beloved father and his beloved brother Michel would not live to see it. Justin made more headlines with his emotional eulogy at his father’s funeral, but only after both suffered through the loss of Michel who died in an avalanche in the mountains of B.C. The mother’s drawn-out battle with mental health issues is also discussed in the book, and how it impacted on her son.

The Trudeau family story is multi-layered – much like the son now heading up this nation. 

Some voters detest the very essence of being a Trudeau: the privileged background, the money, confidence, and flair. Many see the father and son as a type, and that type is contemptible.

Ivison is not one of them. That doesn’t mean he isn’t blunt or won’t take aim at the current officeholder.

“The principles of open and accountable government mean the prime minister sets the general direction of government policy and establishes standards of conduct. He is not a cog in something turning — he operates the machine. But Trudeau lacks the guile and experience of a Jean Chrétien, or even a Stephen Harper…”

Yes, Trudeaumania 2.0 might have been written in the stars, and maybe the son of the father was destined by a higher power to serve, but SNC and other missteps have exposed Trudeau as a leader with potentially disqualifying flaws. Remember, we live in a country where conduct matters.

Ivison concludes with this: “Politicians sometimes forget they are appointed, not anointed.”

A timely reminder as the next election looms.

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