Politically, at least, it appears federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau can smoke pot and chew gum at the same time.
His admission last week that he partook in a celebratory exchange of herb at a party with friends three years ago generated not much more than polite applause among most Canadians, who care more about their mounting household debt than the recreational indiscretions of their elected officials.
The CBC’s “Community Blog” members seemed only too willing to forgive.
“So he’s human! It makes him even more likeable,” one posted.
Declared another: “And he’s honest. It raises him in my esteem, and I’m not even a Liberal.”
Added another: “I will vote for Trudeau on this alone. . .don’t decriminalize it, legalize, regulate and tax it. And I don’t even smoke weed. It makes sense.”
Indeed, one observed, “Name me one politician who hasn’t? Seriously, does this have to be an issue? I think issues such as honesty are a lot more important.”
In contrast (naturally) the federal Conservatives reacted less sanguinely to Mr. Trudeau’s confession. Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the wayward fellow’s actions “speak for themselves”. Justice Minister Peter MacKay insisted the Grit honcho exhibited a “a profound lack of judgment. . .By flouting the laws of Canada while holding elected office, he shows he is a poor example for all Canadians, particularly young ones. Justin Trudeau is simply not the kind of leader our country needs.”
But if they were trying to have a field day at Mr. Trudeau’s expense, they soon recognized that few in the media or, indeed, the public at large were willing to play that particular game. In fact, this is becoming a pattern – as heartening to Liberal brand masters as it is worrying to their opposite numbers in the Tory encampment.
Justin Trudeau is gaining momentum as fast as Stephen Harper is losing it. Oddly, parliamentary prorogation helps the former far more than it does the latter. Although the prime minister may enjoy a short break from Question Period, his Grit rival is free to pontificate at length on social and economic justice issues about which, increasingly, Canadians care. What’s more, in sending his messages, Mr. Trudeau is using major and social media to marvelous effect.
Last week, he came out first and forcefully on the subject of Quebec’s decision to curtail expressions of religious affiliation among public servants in that province. “I have enormous concerns about the limits that would be imposed on people, on their religion and on their freedom of expression,” he told reporters following a consultation with Premier Pauline Marois. “I don’t think it’s who we are and I don’t think it honours us to have a government that does not represent our generosity and openness of spirit.”
Online reaction to his remarks was swift and broadly supportive, if not uniformly for their contents then unanimously for their candor.
“Slowly but very deliberately Mr. Trudeau is showing Canadians that he is a different kind of of political animal,” one reader posted to the Globe and Mail’s website. “He is offering a potentially refreshing choice and is starting to prove that he is not afraid to run the risk of taking positions that may not appeal to everyone.”
Another pointedly observed, “I think it’s absolutely hilarious that after taxpayers have spent a lot of money paying for Mr. Harper’s strategically planned Arctic dog-and-pony show, he’s been bumped off the stage by Mr. Trudeau. Substance (no pun intended) prevails over photo-ops.”
This week, Mr. Trudeau launched another salvo into the hull of the Conservative dreadnaught by stating that the much-vaunted economic recovery, for which the Harper government adores taking credit, is unequal and, therefore, unfair to many middle-class Canadians. Speaking for himself (but clearly with his leader’s sanction, Liberal finance critic Scott Brison told The Globe’s Jane Taber, “The economic recovery has left behind a lot of middle-class Canadian families. Young Canadians and their middle-class families are facing real challenges, near-record levels of personal debt, some of the worst job numbers in decades.”
About which one commentator, representatively, posted, “Looks like we have a young leader who is getting better and better as he goes along. I’ll take that over Harper and his Band of Bucketheads any day.”
All of which suggests that Mr. Trudeau is riding high and in more ways than one.