Canadians woke up a week ago to the news that Justin Trudeau will be their next Prime Minister. The country’s first reaction was to acknowledge his handsomeness. We coined PMILF (sorry) and spammed Facebook with his lovely picture. The New York Times reported our change in government by talking about his fitness habits. We may have been, as a nation, sexy for the first time.
When Trudeau was first chosen to lead the Liberals, the ruling Conservative party thought a smear campaign might quickly neutralize whatever threat he posed. The tactic had worked against two previous Liberal leaders – bookish, kind professors who were both forced to retreat into political exile –and the smart money was on it working again.
What perhaps few people had anticipated was the power of celebrity. Trudeau is the son of a previous Prime Minister, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, himself a heartthrob (although of a different kind) and one of the most controversial and long-lived leaders of the country. When the younger Trudeau came under attack, his first defenders were the ones who remembered a lovely eulogy at his father’s funeral (“Je t’aime, Papa”). They were charmed by his youth, and, yes, good looks. There was pluck and hope, but there was also little substance to debate – he was simultaneously ubiquitous and still yet unknown.
His victory, however, was not a foregone conclusion. In a bitterly fought 78-day election campaign (quite long for north of the border), just about everyone but Trudeau was favored to win until the final weeks of the campaign. There were attack ads, race-baiting, and a general closing in from the Conservatives. The National Democrats (to the left of the Liberals) pulled an early swing with their bold leader, Thomas Mulcair, but gave it away as voters fished for substance and found none.
The Liberals under Trudeau were impossibly sunny. Harper’s Conservatives threw ad after ad mocking his hair (which was trimmed throughout the campaign) and declared him not ready. The response? Television commercials where Trudeau told us that he was “not ready” to maintain the status quo. He cared about the middle class. It seemed soft.
Canadians went for it. The heady mix of wanting to doff the old guy (it had been ten years) and the possibility that the country really could change were enough to swing the electorate. Most observers predicted that Harper would lose his majority, some expected a Liberal minority, but few would have put cold cash on a Liberal majority.
Now Trudeau has four secure years and the mandate that accompanies such victory. There are many things to do. The lazier pundits have already begun writing (as though we did not know) that hope can waver in the face of difficulty. The latest news cycle has fixated on the fact that Trudeau will in fact need to occupy a temporary residence (which is larger than most dream homes) until the current prime ministerial residence is renovated.
None of which points to the challenge of leadership facing Canada’s new Prime Minister. The country he inherited may well be slipping into a recession. Staggering numbers of Native women have been killed or gone missing. Our infrastructure is in shambles. The oil patch is aching from collapsed commodity prices. There are many things that a Prime Minister cannot change, but there are many that he or she can. While Canada may be breathing a sigh of relief – we have changed guard and are still standing – there is a great deal of work still ahead.
That burden now lands on Trudeau’s shoulders. He must choose sound advisors and ministers. His policies will need to be wise and reasoned. But, perhaps more than anything, he will need an electorate that holds him to the standard that he asked us to choose. The days to come will tell whether we deliver.