Sun columnist figured Justin would win the leadership — in 2001!

- February 6th, 2013

The Sun columnist in question was none other than legendary Parliamentary Press Gallery journalist (and former NDP MP) Douglas Fisher. His son, Tobias, is now my colleague and co-pilot in Sun Media’s Parliamentary Bureau and it was Tobias who put this column, written by his dad in 2001, under my nose a few weeks ago. Doug Fisher wrote this column as Jean Chretien was retiring. And though this piece was published nearly a dozen years ago, much of it rings remarkably true. Remarkable, don’t you think?

POISED FOR PM; CHILDREN OF CANADIAN ICONS EYED AS POTENTIAL POLITICAL LEADERS

Byline: BY DOUGLAS FISHER, SUN MEDIA
Dateline: OTTAWA

Aug. 4, 2001

This column recently sketched 10 possible candidates to succeed Jean Chretien. Shortly a letter came from a Mr. Baldwin of Ottawa:

“None of your longshots will be the next Liberal leader. It will be Justin Trudeau,” he wrote.

Why so?

Because Liberals have liked men relatively new to politics as leaders. See Pierre Trudeau over Bob Winters; Mike Pearson over Paul Martin Sr.; Louis St. Laurent over Jimmy Gardiner; W.L. Mackenzie King over William Fielding. Does Justin want the job? Baldwin thinks so.

“Has he not taken a year’s leave of absence to go on a cross-country speaking tour? He’ll be great at photo-ops and the florists will love him.”

My first reaction was peevish. Justin Trudeau is so lacking in experience. As a nation we are witness to the repetitious embarrassments of a current party leader, ruined through inexperience and ignorance of history and regional particularities. A neat appearance and nice talk could not hide shortcomings for long.

Would the Liberals, in particular the Liberals of the parliamentary wing of the party, rush to Justin?

Consider this: they’re on a third majority mandate, won under a leader who began with more parliamentary time and ministries under his belt than any other prime minister.

Perhaps they might.

Certainly Justin, as son of the Liberal icon of these times, caught the attention and imagination of the populace with his funeral oration.

His subsequent exposure through televised speeches and interviews has underlined a winning presence, however callow or fuzzy his spoken themes may have been for critics.

So, it’s likely Justin, as a candidate, would quickly draw a following, not perhaps from seasoned Liberals but from younger Canadians in general and many from older ones to whom his father is the greatest of our prime ministers.

Over the months since Justin burst in to national awareness there have been two parallels of sorts, each also linked to television: Avram or “Avi” Lewis and Benedict Mulroney.

Avi is the son of Stephen Lewis, a former NDP leader in Ontario, and Michelle Landsberg, a fierce feminist and veteran columnist of the Toronto Star.

Avi’s wife is the well-known journalist Naomi Klein. He is also the grandson of the late David Lewis, an oratorical genius who once led the federal NDP.

As host of a regular discussion show weeknights on CBC-TV, Avi comes through as superbly articulate, well- informed and confident — even brazen.

Like his father, he revels in polysyllabics and dramatic homilies but he has the added gift of lacing his earnest social democracy with public fun.

Several of my acquaintances whose politics began in the CCF, the NDP’s antecedent party, have called me to rejoice in Avi Lewis.

One of them rates his gifts as high as those of his paternal grandfather. That’s praise! Another said it was simple; “Avi’s got it.” And he thinks the NDP must push him to be leader, preferably nationally, but if not there, in Ontario.

Ben Mulroney, a son of Brian Mulroney, former leader of the federal Progressive Conservatives, has had much less notice than Avi or Justin but his contact for considerable TV work may change that.

With more showing, Ben Mulroney may firm up as a prospect to the Tories hunger for a fresh and charming personality as their leader.

At present, the obvious replacement for Joe Clark is another “son of” — MP Peter MacKay, 36, the son of former Tory minister Elmer MacKay, once a big booster of Brian Mulroney. In four years in the House, Peter has become on of the most poised, able MPs on the opposition side.

What seems a popular readiness to welcome the offspring of former leaders does indicate there is a public memory of past politics and it isn’t always a negative.

As a phenomenon, it may herald a turning of public mood from longevity in politics to freshness and youth.

Douglas Fisher would come back to the subject of Justin Trudeau in early 2006. Five years after the column above, Paul Martin had succeeded Chretien, won a minority, then lost the government to Stephen Harper and subsequently resigned. Writing in the midst of the Liberal leadership campaign that would see Stephane Dion elected, Fisher warned that Liberals should be wary of the “Father/Son” Myth:

Paul Martin I was a superb orator, shrewd judge of political equations and the mandarinate, the best-read politician of his times. He was a heavyweight. His son proved not to be.

So Liberals should be wary of believing the myth many of them are creating that Justin Trudeau is a reincarnation of his father. He is young, handsome, and personable, but he may also be a political lightweight. Does he have the political qualities of his father and of his maternal grandfather, Jimmy Sinclair? Or is he more like his mother, Margaret?

What Justin has by way of his dad is wealth. That is of some importance in pursuing the leadership. Paul Martin II had money, too. It did nothing to help him overcome indecisiveness, poor judgment, and thuggish counsellors.

Categories: Politics/Liberals

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