To date, Justin Trudeau has run a safe leadership campaign. He’s smiled, talked about how he loves Canada, and made helping the Middle Class his core theme. That’s a perfectly acceptable way for Justin to introduce himself to voters, but it’s still the most innocuous campaign theme imaginable – even a “pro-sunshine and pro-puppies” message would have forced Justin to answer tough questions about skin cancer and pit bulls. You won’t find anyone who disagrees with helping the middle class.
And while Justin should be commended for voicing his support for pot decriminalization, that’s a policy that was long overdue when Jean Chretien introduced it a decade ago.
Yesterday, however, Justin Trudeau took his first controversial position of the leadership race, coming out in support of the Nexen takeover. It’s a deal the majority of Canadians oppose, and there’s a very real risk many Liberals will accuse him of “selling out” to the Chinese.
That’s what makes it a brilliant political move.
In most leadership campaigns, the frontrunner puts their head down and tries not to offend. However, as I wrote in September, Justin has the media spotlight on him now, and he’d be wasting it if he’s only playing to beat Martha Hall Findlay and Marc Garneau – rather than Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair. It’s almost a given Trudeau will win, so this campaign needs to be about inoculating him against the “lightweight” and “airhead” attacks we all know are coming.
With that in mind, Nexen is the perfect issue to plant his flag on. It shows Justin has guts, substance, and a desire to do what’s right, even if it means risking a public backlash. The thing is…there’s not going to be any substantive backlash to this position. Polls may show people oppose the deal at the conceptual level, but it’s not an issue the public understands or cares strongly about. It will be long forgotten by the time the next election rolls around – if the word “Nexen” is in your 2015 leaders debate drinking game, your Amish friends will be able to play along.
While the issue will fade, what people will remember is that Justin Trudeau showed some guts. It may not have been his “just watch me” moment, but it was an important first step in proving to Canadians he’s not just a pretty face.