Was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s biggest success in 2016 the seduction of right-wing hockey icon Don Cherry?

Jan 14th, 2017 | By Randall White | Category: In Brief

Father and son in Peterborough, Ontario, May 1989.

Up here in the northern woods the imminent departure of Barack Obama and accession of Donald Trump in Washington has focused attention on our own Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — summarized by Mark Bonokoski of the Postmedia Network several days ago as the “eldest son of Canada’s Philosopher King.”

This time last year Justin Trudeau’s new Liberal government was just settling into office, after it took a clear majority of seats in the Canadian House of Commons (184 out of 338 or 54.44%), with a mere 39.47% of the cross-Canada popular vote, in the October 19, 2015 general election.

Less than a month later, on November 7, 2015, I posted my own initial reaction to the Trudeau II government, in “On the new era in Canada. Alexandre Trudeau, Mélanie Joly, Harjit Sajjan, and Chief Jody Wilson-Raybould.”

I’m told it is still attracting some new visitors in January 2017 — perhaps, cynics have suggested, because it includes the F-word in its final sentence. It also includes comparatively rare allusions to the prime minister’s younger brother, who now lives in his father’s legendary art deco house on Avenue des Pins in Montreal (aka Maison Ernest-Cormier).

For most of 2016 both Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government in Ottawa managed to do very well in opinion polls — and considerably better than the party’s not quite 40% popular vote in the October 19, 2015 election. Yet as the year concluded all this began to moderate.

Pierre Trudeau’s legendary art deco house on Avenue des Pins in Montreal, now the home of Alexandre Trudeau and family.

On December 15, eg, pollster Angus Reid reported : “Is the Honeymoon ending? Trudeau’s declining job approval in Ontario drives ten-point national slide.”

As the pollster explained, even with this 10-point slide in December 2016 : “More than half of all Canadians (55%) still approve of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s job performance.” (Though it no doubt is interesting enough as well that the number was 65% in September 2016.)

Similarly, a Forum Research poll conducted early in December 2016 showed that “the Liberals dropped from 51 per cent a month ago to 42 per cent nationally.” (Though, again, 42% is still somewhat better than the share of the cross-country popular vote they won in the 2015 election.)

1. A “better job of governing” is always finally in the eyes of the beholder who votes at election time

The recent undoubted real decline in Trudeau Liberal poll numbers has prompted some predictable reactions.

As just one case in point, note Kelly McParland in the National Post on January 6, 2017 :  “Over time, it’s possible that even the prime minister’s glossy sheen will fade, as his father’s did so precipitously over the years. The Liberals are expending political capital on sending him out on the road so soon to recapture the magic. If they don’t do a better job of governing in their second year, it’s likely to get tougher with each attempt.”

The reference to “sending him out on the road so soon to recapture the magic” raises the “whirlwind outreach tour” of our country of regions on which Prime Minister Trudeau is currently engaged. See, eg : “Trudeau challenged over carbon pricing on 2nd day of town hall tour … Prime minister hears frustration from rural resident over high hydro costs in Ontario.”

(And note that the particular rural resident in question — “Kathy Katula of Buckhorn, Ont.” — also “later told reporters she wasn’t angry with Trudeau, and … praised him for taking part in the town hall … ‘He’s proven today he’s not just hanging out with rich millionaires. I’m not a rich millionaire, he came out and spoke to me today … I’m proud of him.’”)

This past Tuesday it became clear that Justin Trudeau is also responding to his and his government’s declining poll numbers (and such other reported priorities as adapting to the new federal regime in Washington) by taking action on what Kelly McParland calls “a better job of governing” with an energetic cabinet shuffle.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau embraces critic-admirer Kathy Katula of Buckhorn, Ontario after Peterborough town hall meeting, January 2017.

This may point to different conceptions of what finally constitutes better governing, between Justin Trudeau and his Conservative predecessor Stephen Harper.

(And Mr. Harper has also successfully performed the current Canadian political parlour trick of winning a parliamentary majority with less than 40% of the cross-country popular vote. Though in the Conservative case the sometimes somewhat similar Liberals-in-a-hurry among the New Democrats are not quite so obviously there to bolster the case for a real democratic mandate.)

The ultimate point, of course, is that in a democracy “a better job of governing” is always finally in the eyes of the beholder who votes at election time.

2. “Dogs know best what to do with polls”

Justin Trudeau receives warm greeting from supporters in Vancouver during 2015 election campaign.

Mr. Trudeau may not burn the midnight oil poring over strategic documents in his office the way Mr. Harper sometimes seemed to do, governing the country by chief executive fiat.

Yet prime ministers who go on whirlwind outreach tours of a country like Canada, with all its regional and other diversity, can promote better government in a number of useful ways.

(As well as the reputation of a politician who is as good at such performances as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appears to be growing into — perhaps partly because he does take what he himself learns from such encounters seriously?)

And then this past Tuesday’s cabinet shuffle suggested several jolts of the kind of high executive action that sometimes actually can inspire better public administration, at various levels of the sprawling federal bureaucracy, inside and outside Ottawa.

Time will tell, as with all such things. But Justin Trudeau’s emerging style seems to be to pick the right people and then let them do their jobs — while holding his cabinet management team to high performance standards.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and BC Premier Christy Clark on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, February 2016. Photo : Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press.

It could prove a style especially well suited to Canada in 2017, quietly celebrating the 150th anniversary of the 1867 confederation.

“Justin” may have used some mildly careless language about the future of the Alberta oil sands on Friday, January 13  — even if the real point he was making had already been made by Stephen Harper long ago. (I.e. the oil sands will not last forever — just like the old manufacturing sector that once employed a quarter of the labour force in Ontario. Nothing lasts forever. The first resource economy of the fur trade has now all but vanished.)

Yet in the very end Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may not really have all that much to worry about. As explained by the late Conservative lion in winter from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, John George Diefenbaker, “dogs know best what to do with polls.”

3. “The prime minister gets ripped for having charm, good looks, personality and being a sharp dresser — I know how he feels.”

Whatever else, over the past year the Liberal prime minister has, believe it or not, actually managed to impress the legendary Conservative hockey commentator Don Cherry, who raged so passionately against the pinko left at the inauguration of the late Rob Ford, as stop-the-gravy-train Mayor of Toronto in 2010.

Back at the end of this past November, just after a wave of criticism against Justin Trudeau for his generous condolences to the people of Cuba on the death of Fidel Castro, Mr. Cherry “took to Twitter to praise the prime minister for marching ‘to his own drum’.”

The iconic right-wing hockey guru went on : “I might be sorry for saying this, but you must admit … He backs the pipeline, which will create thousands of jobs for middle class Canadians knowing he would get it from the left-wing weirdo’s and his own party… people think he would be trampled by Donald Trump in negotiations, I don’t believe that now … Looks like he has lots of steel.”

And then Don Cherry more customarily concluded : “The prime minister gets ripped for having charm, good looks, personality and being a sharp dresser. I know how he feels.”

Certain gaps in my aging technological capacities do make me wonder if Mr. Cherry has subsequently had a few second thoughts, and somehow disavowed his original surprisingly warm comments on the eldest son of Canada’s Philosopher King.

Yet even if this is true (or just half-true), given the increasing madness of democratic politics everywhere, Don Cherry’s original sin on the road to Damascus may still be the best barometer we have on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s current standing with the Canadian people, in all their official languages, regional diversity, multiculturalism, and indigenous rights.

4. A select bibliography (from someone in Ontario)

* Cormier House … From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

* Karina Gould … From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Canada’s philosopher king, guiding northern ship of state.

* Where is Canada going .. does Pierre Trudeau’s new grandson have anything to do with it? Jan 5, 2007. By Dominic Berry. counterweights.ca.

* On the new era in Canada .. Alexandre Trudeau, Mélanie Joly, Harjit Sajjan, and Chief Jody Wilson-Raybould. Nov 7, 2015. By Randall White. counterweights.ca.

* Don Cherry has a new man-crush, but you’ll never believe who it is.  Postmedia Network.Nov 30, 2016.

* Support for federal Liberals plummets, new poll shows … But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sees just a small drop in his approval rating.  By TONDA MACCHARLES, Toronto Star, Dec 10, 2016.

* Is the Honeymoon ending? Trudeau’s declining job approval in Ontario drives ten-point national slide. Dec 15, 2016, Angus Reid.

* 2017 Lookahead: Canadians expect a mixed year at home, a bad one abroad. Jan 3, 2017. Angus Reid … Residents of Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario, and Alberta are overwhelmingly pessimistic about the coming year in their provinces.

* Jan 3, 2017. Justin Trudeau reaches out to US Congress in video address. By David Ljunggren and Grant McCool. “Christine Constantin, a spokeswoman for the Canadian embassy in Washington, said ambassadors had sent video greetings to the two previous opening sessions of Congress.”

* Stakes high for Trudeau as world’s last major progressive leader standing: Aaron Wherry. After Brexit and Trump triumphs, prime minister knows delivering on the economy is crucial. Jan 4, 2017.

* The big winner of the Conservative leadership race so far — Justin Trudeau: Robyn Urback. Jan 5, 2017.

* Canadians patriotic but not yet engaged with 150th celebrations: poll. CHRIS HANNAY, Globe and Mail. Jan 5, 2017.

* Will Justin Trudeau be the last neo-liberal standing? … Trudeau’s fortune at this point is not to have any serious populist opposition. By RICK SALUTIN, Toronto Star, Jan. 6, 2017.

* Justin Trudeau spent vacation on Aga Khan’s island … Aga Khan Foundation receives federal money to support social development, education and charity projects. Jan 6, 2017.

* Kelly McParland: When Justin Trudeau corners you at Tim Hortons, you know the Liberals are in trouble. National Post, Jan 6, 2017.

* Justin Trudeau tries to shake air of entitlement: Paul Wells. The prime minister announced an extended tour of “coffee shops, church basements, etc” — just as details of his family’s New Year’s vacation to the Aga Khan’s private island emerged. Jan. 7, 2017 … “Note that the Aga Khan makes friends easily, and that Stephen Harper liked him too.”

* Justin Trudeau plans campaign-style tour of Canada … attempts to re-establish grassroots connection with Liberal supporters. Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press, Jan 7, 2017. “Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is ringing in the new year with a determined effort to re-establish his connection with grassroots Canadians after closing out 2016 amid accusations of kowtowing to wealthy donors at elite Liberal fundraisers.”

* PETER DONOLO (former Liberal PM Jean Chrétien’s director of communications) : Justin Trudeau’s year of living dangerously. Special to The Globe and Mail, Jan 7, 2017.  “Sometimes, a wily, determined mouse can run circles around an elephant.”

* Justin Trudeau’s disconnect from the middle class. BY MARK BONOKOSKI, POSTMEDIA NETWORK. Jan 8, 2017.

* Justin Trudeau to shuffle his cabinet Tuesday. Changes to foreign affairs, immigration, labour and democratic institutions portolios, sources say. Jan 9, 2017.

* Trudeau government taking steps to manage transition to Trump, ex-envoy says … Top advisers, former PM Brian Mulroney meeting with incoming Trump administration ahead of inauguration. By Matthew Kupfer, Power & Politics, CBC News. Jan 9, 2017.

* Cabinet makeover could involve third of ministers. Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press, Jan 10, 2017. “News of the shuffle leaked out Monday, just as the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed that Trudeau’s two top aides, Katie Telford and Gerald Butts, have been meeting with some of Trump’s senior advisers, building bridges to the incoming administration.”

* Chrystia Freeland becomes foreign minister as Trudeau shuffles cabinet. Jan 10, 2017.

* Three Toronto-area MPs promoted in Trudeau cabinet shakeup … Prime minister makes big changes by placing trusted players in key places. By TONDA MACCHARLES and BRUCE CAMPION-SMITH, Toronto Star. Jan. 10, 2017.  “Jason Kenney, who served as immigration minister under the Conservatives, tweeted his praise of Hussen …  ‘Congratulations to my friend @AhmedHussenLib on being named minister of immigration. Ahmed is a thoughtful, intelligent & dignified leader,’ Kenney said, before the official announcement.”

* Don’t be fooled by ‘good-looking Liberals,’ says Jane Fonda of Justin Trudeau … The Hollywood icon joined indigenous leaders in raising concerns about the Alberta oilsands and said the prime minister has ‘betrayed’ the promises he made on climate change. By BOB WEBER, The Canadian Press, Jan. 11, 2017.

*  Justin Trudeau’s listening tour reveals more than expected. A surprising amount of ground was covered in the first stop of Justin Trudeau’s transparency traipse across Canada. Anne Kingston, Jan 12, 2017, Maclean’s.

* Liberals explore creation of new housing benefit for low-income renters …   new benefit would be linked to individuals, not housing units. By Jordan Press, The Canadian Press, Jan 12, 2017.

* Trudeau challenged over carbon pricing on 2nd day of town hall tour … Prime minister hears frustration from rural resident over high hydro costs in Ontario. By Aaron Wherry, Jan 13, 2017.

* Justin Trudeau: We can’t shut down oilsands, we ‘need to phase them out’ … Brian Jean: ‘He’ll have to go through me and four million Albertans first’. BY JAMES WOOD, POSTMEDIA. Jan 13, 2017.

* Justin Trudeau to attend town hall in Dartmouth. Meeting open to all as part of cross-country tour. Jan 14, 2017.

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