Canadian prime ministers have not often been all that nice….


Justin Trudeau. Photograph by Mohammad Jangda.

From The Walrus:

Opponents attempted to paint him as a vain celebrity, evidently failing to realize he displayed very little discernable investment in his own image or fame. They heaped scorn on his sense of entitlement—right-wing critics in particular liked to call him “the dauphin”—which inevitably clashed with the sincerity and sociability he veritably oozed in public. They mocked his lack of experience, critics of different stripes choosing whether “drama” or “teacher” deserved to be enunciated with greater scorn, as if economist or lawyer were self-evidently more admirable professions. (I also suspect Trudeau actually read my and many other books, which is not as common among lawmakers as we might hope.)

In aggregate, Trudeau’s opponents held up—and then beat senseless—a cardboard image of a shallow, insincere, impertinent dilettante. Many voters instead saw the man himself: the nice guy, sincere and engaged and a little clumsy and comfortable with the fact that he wasn’t always (or even often) the smartest person in the room. They liked that guy. I liked him. Thomas Mulcair, so good at the prosecutorial politics of the House of Commons, tried and mostly failed to be that kind of guy on the campaign trail. Stephen Harper attempted, late in the campaign, to basically beg Canadians not to punish him for not being that kind of guy. Now, in part because Trudeau truly is that guy, he will be our next prime minister.

It’s worth noting that for all our self-professed Canadian amiability, our prime ministers have not often been all that nice. Justin Trudeau’s father was an arrogant intellectual, Brian Mulroney a calculating charmer, Jean Chrétien a manipulative backroom brawler, and Stephen Harper a legendarily frosty introvert. Joe Clark was surely a nice guy, though we never got to know him all that well. In the whole of our postwar history, the only long-serving prime minister worthy of the nice-guy mantel would be Nobel Peace Prize–winner Lester B. Pearson. So it is perhaps Pearson, much more than Pierre, who provides the best role model for Justin Trudeau, particularly after the venomous politics of the last decade.

“The Nicest Guy in the Room”, Chris Turner, The Walrus