Justin Trudeau has never been the shy, retiring type. From his first national exposure when he gave the eulogy at his father’s funeral to his tenure as Canada’s prime minister, it’s clear he is a natural in the spotlight.
Yet, it appears that Mr. Trudeau has changed since the October election.
Gone are the photos of the exuberant PM, with sleeves rolled up, hand outstretched while simultaneously snapping selfies. Instead, recent pictures of a more pensive PM have emerged. Clad in business suits, he looks slightly imprisoned in his office, sitting quietly beside other leaders, in an apparent listening mode.
This new style bears some watching. Is it simply a strategy to tone things down and listen to others? Or is it instinctive, the result of self-reflection after a personally bruising campaign?
We’ll soon know, as decision making will replace this initial listening phase, but whatever the motivation, Justin Trudeau has so far avoided mistakes. He has been cordial with the media and with other leaders. He has not been afraid to ask for help, and, in spite of provocation, he has exerted restraint by refusing to engage in theatrics — also a change in style.
First, any drama has not come from Trudeau, but from two premiers, Alberta’s Jason Kenney and Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe, aided and abetted by former Reform leader Preston Manning, a perennially divisive figure. Manning stated after the election that “a referendum on secession needs to be part of the strategy, but not the whole strategy.”
Needless to say, the word secession is a red flag to any Canadian prime minister, whose job it is to protect the country. But as infuriating as some of the remarks were, any attempt to shut those voices down would have only made things worse. The prime minister was wise not to take the bait.
Fortunately, Kenney has been more circumspect than Manning, stating that he will “always be a Canadian patriot.” Nevertheless, the PM reached out quickly to other Albertans, asking former Liberal cabinet minister Anne McLellan for advice and calling on Calgary’s Mayor Naheed Nenshi to do some skilful skirmishing.
Whether it was by request or not, Alberta’s former premier and now leader of the Opposition, Rachel Notley, also weighed in as a voice of reason, as did Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister.
Secondly, meetings with other leaders were civil. Jagmeet Singh was co-operative in tone while presenting his list of demands. But trouble of their own making dogged Andrew Scheer and Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet. While Trudeau stayed in his very cordial mode, Scheer in particular, reverted to campaign mode.
Instead of publicly appearing gracious, a scowling leader of the Opposition accused Trudeau of “pitting one region of this country against the other.” While some common ground may have been found on tax cuts for the middle class, generally, Scheer seemed unhelpful, an attitude that will not win him any extra votes with Canadians should he remain as leader following a Conservative leadership review in April.
He may also have been smarting from his request to bring the House back on Nov. 25, sensing that the Liberal government preferred the new year. Outmanoeuvring Scheer, the prime minister announced the date of Dec. 5 before their meeting.
Similarly, Blanchet managed to hoist himself on his own petard. He wandered deliberately or disingenuously onto the national stage and immediately provoked Jason Kenney by referring to Alberta’s desire to create an “oil state.”
Get more opinion in your inbox
Get the latest from your favourite Star columnists with our Opinion newsletter.
Mahatma Gandhi noted that “quiet leadership” is not an oxymoron. The prime minister prudently listened silently while others have made their intentions clear. But cabinet and mandate letters will be revealed this week, closely followed by a speech from the throne and the all-important budget in the coming months.
It is only then that we will discover how skilfully the PM has heard and reflected. It is only then that we will discover if his new leadership style is suited to the pressures of minority government. It is only then we will know if he and other leaders can evolve beyond the rhetoric of the campaign trail. The success of this minority Parliament will depend on it.
JOIN THE CONVERSATION
What do you think of Trudeau’s new style after the election? Share your thoughts