Friday, December 11, 2015

GUY LAWSON - Trudeau’s Canada, Again

…The younger Trudeau has a bachelor’s degree from McGill University and a teaching degree from the University of British Columbia, but despite his pedigree and inherited wealth, when he reached adulthood his life was remarkably unremarkable. He traveled the world and smoked marijuana and snowboarded and worked as a bouncer at bars, eventually ending up teaching high school in Vancouver.

Justin Trudeau’s lack of qualifications to be prime minister were obvious, as was his lack of his father’s erudition — but he considers himself to have undergone his own peculiar kind of schooling. Trudeau points out that he has visited nearly 100 countries, many of them for international summit meetings with his father, which provided an intimate understanding of statecraft. Travel has also given him compassion for the less fortunate around the globe. In his memoir, ‘‘Common Ground,’’ Trudeau described a moment from a boyhood trip to Bangladesh, recollecting it in the kind of mawkish language his opponents ridicule but that is plainly heartfelt. On state business with his father in Dhaka, the younger Trudeau saw a poor old man with a bicycle wait patiently while their motorcade swept by. He was suddenly seized with empathy for the man, realizing that there were billions of people on earth, each a unique individual, each with a story. ‘‘I have never looked at my life and my circumstances in quite the same way since,’’ he wrote.

The drama of the Trudeau family has long played out in the Canadian imagination, much like that of the Kennedys in America. Justin Trudeau’s mother, Margaret, was 22 in 1971 when she married Pierre, then 51. He was the prime minister and a famous eligible bachelor; he was also a workaholic and a notorious skinflint. After giving birth to three boys in quick succession, the beauty dubbed ‘‘Maggie T.’’ by the press smoked marijuana while under the watch of Mounties, ate peyote before giving a speech in Venezuela and left her husband to party at Studio 54 in New York. The Trudeaus eventually divorced. According to Margaret’s own account, she had affairs with Teddy Kennedy, Ryan O’Neal and at least one Rolling Stone.

Despite the glamorous trappings, a central part of the Trudeau family story is rooted in tragedy, in the death of Justin’s younger brother Michel at the age of 23, in an avalanche on a backcountry ski trip in British Columbia in 1998. His death seemed to touch off a downward spiral in Pierre. A deeply religious man with a Jesuitical cast of mind, he began to doubt his faith. Michel’s death was also devastating for Margaret, and Justin tended to her. It was only later, after Margaret was committed to a mental institution, that she learned she had an undiagnosed case of bipolar disorder; she has turned the cause of mental health into her life’s work.

The death of Pierre Trudeau in 2000 marked the beginning of Justin Trudeau’s public life. As the eldest son, then 29, he was asked to give the final eulogy for one of the towering figures in Canada’s history. The state funeral in Montreal for the older Trudeau remains one of the most significant events in Canadian television history, and Justin was the unquestioned star, delivering an emotional remembrance with the touch of a natural orator. ‘‘Je t’aime, Papa,’’ he said, laying his head on the coffin in an instantly iconic gesture of national grief.

Justin Trudeau entered politics eight years later, running for Parliament in Papineau, a working-class, multiethnic district in Montreal. Trudeau distinguished himself with hard work and an appetite for retail politics; Trudeau’s father never loved pressing the flesh, but his son’s greatest talent might well be his common touch. When Trudeau won that year, in an upset, it was news — but of the celebrity and nostalgia variety.

The younger Trudeau’s road to victory as prime minister truly began on a Saturday night in 2012 in a boxing ring in Ottawa. At the time, the Liberal Party was leaderless and lost, after a devastating defeat in the election of 2011 reduced its seats in Parliament to only 34, roughly one-tenth of the total at the time. The sensible way forward seemed to be a merger with the larger New Democratic Party. Aiming to change the political dynamic, Trudeau literally picked a fight. In what looked like a publicity stunt, he challenged a 37-year-old Conservative senator named Patrick Brazeau, known as Brass Knuckles, to three rounds of boxing to raise money for cancer research.
Everyone expected Trudeau to receive a royal beating, including his wife. Brazeau had a black belt in karate and a military background, and he grew up on hardscrabble First Nations reservations; his bar brawler’s physique, tattoos and trash-talking bravado made him the three-to-one favorite by fight night… read more: