Harry Mount

Trudeau family values

Canada’s new PM is a media darling. You can expect that to change when the bill arrives

Trudeau family values
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 Quebec City

Canada is about to hit a new high. If the supercute 44-year-old prime minister, Justin Trudeau, has his way, marijuana will soon be legally available.

Trudeau himself is no pothead. He last had a joint in 2010 at a family dinner party, with his children safely tucked up in bed at their grandmother’s house. Still, it is a typical policy for the Liberal leader — headline-grabbing, progressive, fashionable. To call Trudeau a press darling is an understatement. The man is a global PR sensation. Only this week, he had himself snapped with two panda cubs — ‘Say hello to Jia Panpan & Jia Yueyue,’ he tweeted — and the world tweeted ‘Awwww’ back. But not everybody thinks the new PM is quite so adorable.

It’s no surprise that Trudeau has enjoyed a honeymoon period. His election five months ago was quite a triumph. Four years ago, the Liberal party was in third place with 36 seats. He took it to 184 — the largest gain in Canadian history, and enough for an overall majority. Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, who had been in power for nine years, were unceremoniously kicked out.

In office, Trudeau immediately established himself — like his neighbour, Barack Obama — as a master of hopey-changey stuff. In his first cabinet, he ensured that 15 of the 30 ministers were women. When asked why gender parity was important, he said laconically, with more than a batsqueak of smugness: ‘Because it’s 2015.’

There are worries, however, that for all his high-minded razzmatazz Trudeau is letting the economy go to, erm, pot. His government has promised to sign big cheques for the showy, caring policies he backed in the build-up to the last election. The National Bank of Canada puts the cost of Trudeau’s public projects over the next four years at £47 billion. He plans to raise that through pie-in-the-sky, Miliband-Corbynista measures: a tax hike on the top 1 per cent; the cancellation of child benefit for millionaires; an end to tax loopholes; and a touching faith in the multiplier effect of government spending.

It’s all strangely familiar to older Canadians. The last prime minister to combine such personal charm with such spendthrift ways was one Pierre Trudeau — Justin’s father, Liberal prime minister of Canada from 1968 to 1979, and 1980 to 1984. Justin may be even better-looking than his father but Pierre had more style and intellect. Where Justin Trudeau was a teacher before he entered politics — admirable as that is — his father was a dashing law professor, educated at Harvard and the LSE, where he picked up a taste for the Keynesian policies his son is so keen on.

During the dreary 1970s — with Nixon, Ford and Carter in the White House, and Heath, Wilson and Callaghan in No. 10 — Trudeau was the global political glamourpuss, with his sideburns, twinkling eyes and chiselled cheekbones. His wife, Margaret, sent Trudeaumania into overdrive. He married her during his first term, when he was 51 and she was 22. Another great looker, she turned the dull world of Canadian politics into an international soap opera — thanks to an affair with Ted Kennedy, rollicking times in Studio 54 in New York and spells partying with the Rolling Stones.

Her depression and drug-taking only hyped up the dream political story — as did their divorce in 1983. A real tragedy was added to the mix in 1998, when Justin Trudeau’s younger brother, Michel, was killed by an avalanche while skiing in British Columbia. His body, swept into the waters of Kokanee Lake, was never found.

And now the fairytale has sprung back to life, in the shape of doe-eyed, floppy-haired Justin, his gorgeous wife, Sophie Grégoire, an entertainment reporter, and their three young children.

Boasting a photogenic family is not enough to convert some older Quebecois voters to his cause. As one grizzled seventysomething put it when I asked about Justin Trudeau: ‘Il est comme son père.’ He didn’t mean it in a good way. These people remember Pierre as a betrayer of his native, French-speaking Quebec. Just before his first election victory in 1968, Trudeau Sr was attacked by Quebecois nationalists who threw bottles at him, shouting, ‘Trudeau au poteau!’ — ‘Trudeau to the stake!’ In the 1980 referendum on Quebec sovereignty, Trudeau fought hard for a united Canada, winning his cause by nearly 60 per cent to 40 per cent.

Like father, like son. Justin Trudeau has spoken against Quebec independence, not least during the disastrous leadership of the Liberal party by Michael Ignatieff, the intellectual who led them to that terrible 2011 loss — and supported an independent Quebec. Independence — which came so close in the 1995 referendum when the vote for an independent Quebec was only 49.4 per cent in favour, 50.6 per cent against — is now dead in the water. The Parti Québécois, the provincial party seeking independence, slumped from 45 per cent of the vote in the 1994 Quebec general election to 25 per cent at the most recent, two years ago.

And Justin Trudeau won the hearts of some French speakers in a celebrated eulogy over his father’s coffin in 2000. He gave the speech in English and French. But the most famous line — the last, tearful line — was in French: ‘Je t’aime, papa.’ That speech, at the age of 28, was his first big step on the national stage.

You can see that same reverence for his father in Justin Trudeau’s economic policies. Unemployment and inflation raged through much of Pierre Trudeau’s time in office. When he came to power in 1968, Canada’s debt was £10 billion, 24 per cent of GDP, most of that incurred during the second world war. By the time he stood down, in 1984, the national debt was £100 billion, 46 per cent of GDP.

That’s the way things are now looking for his son. Again and again, Justin Trudeau’s government favours public spending over private enterprise: backing public infrastructure projects ahead of a private plan to build pipelines delivering western Canadian petrol to the east and west coasts.

Even when Canadian oilfields are being hammered by the low oil price, green economics remains the priority. There are 100,000 unemployed oil workers in western Canada, and Trudeau plans to restrict tankers on the west coast and make new pipelines pass greenhouse gas tests. Earlier this month, he agreed with Canada’s regional premiers to cut greenhouse gas emissions. He wasn’t yet able to convince them of his election pledge to set a minimum carbon price.

Canada’s economy has been hit hard by the oil slump. The Canadian dollar has slumped against the American dollar, from parity three years ago to 75 cents today. Great for American tourists, not so good for Canadian importers and Canadians heading abroad.

Pierre Trudeau’s 15 years in office finally ended when his high-spending policies turned against him. His son’s liberal politics are going down well now. They won’t be so popular when his dopey version of Daddy’s economics empties Canada’s coffers.