Politics Done Well

trudeau coffee

Blogs and pundits love it when politicians fall flat on their face, but as a fan of politics I can also respect a flawlessly executed political manoeuvre. Think of Stephen Harper’s surprise piano duet with Yo-Yo Ma. In one swoop, Harper earned a month of good press and showed us the softer side of Steve. Or Jack Layton’s “do you want me to take off my clothes” quip at the start of the 2011 election that put an end to concerns over his health. I’ve never voted for either man, but in those instances they showed they belonged in the big leagues.

Yesterday, Justin Trudeau showed that he can play the game too.

His candid admission that he smoked marijuana while an MP isn’t exactly a bombshell, but it was executed to perfection. He proactively put it out there two years before the election, to avoid getting dogged with questions or ambushed by opponents. By coming clean before he was forced to come clean, Justin showed he has nothing to hide and was able to frame the story in the most flattering light:

The Liberal leader said he last smoked marijuana about three years ago. It was at his house in Montreal, outside on a patio by the pool. “We had a few good friends over for a dinner party, our kids were at their grandmother’s for the night, and one of our friends lit a joint and passed it around. I had a puff,” he told HuffPost.

Someone else bought it, one puff, no kids around – it’s hard to dream up a more inocuous scene. For good measure, Justin took the opportunity to sell a policy of his and explain his change of heart on the issue, tying it to family tragedy:

Trudeau told HuffPost that when Michel died at the age of 23 in an avalanche in B.C.’s Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park in November, 1998, his brother had marijuana possession charges pending against him.

Michel had been in a car accident three months before the avalanche, Trudeau said. “One of the cops cleaning up the scene found a little cigarette box with a bit of pot in it,” Trudeau recounted, his fingers a few millimetres apart to suggest how little marijuana there was.

“Mich had charges pending against him when he died for marijuana possession even though it was just a tiny amount,” he added. Trudeau said that was one of the factors that led him to first support decriminalizing weed.

It wasn’t until last November that he came to the conclusion that legalizing cannabis was the only way to keep it away from criminal elements and away from children, he said.

From there, Trudeau went on to explain he didn’t care much for pot, never did hard drugs, isn’t much of a drinker, has never smoked cigarettes, and doesn’t drink coffee. In what could have been a shocking revelation about drug use, the man came across about as bland as Stephen Harper. There’s a good Grease parody waiting to be made – “Look at me I’m Justin T, I don’t do drugs or drink coffee…”.

I know we’re not talking about an Anthony Weiner type scandal here, but within a few hours Justin was able to joke about it on Twitter. Just like that, the original story was brushed aside.
trudeau coffee tweet

I’m sure we haven’t heard the end of this, but by getting ahead of this issue, those attacks will carry less sting. This is very much a case of politics done well.

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Federal Politics

About CalgaryGrit

A former Calgary Liberal, now living in Toronto. My writings on politics can be found at www.calgarygrit.ca and online at the National Post.

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22 Responses to Politics Done Well

  1. Grant

    I am having trouble deciding if this is the most disingenuous thing he has said so far; there is just so much to sift through.

    • Luke

      I was definitely getting that vibe from Trudeau from the outset of his candidacy, especially when I would listen to him speak. My feeling is turning around somewhat. If some of his positions aren’t necessarily genuine, I think his sentiment and general message is. I think he actually generally cares about people are their well being, which shouldn’t be much to ask of a leader, really.

  2. Luke

    If nothing else, this has generated considerable ‘buzz.’

    Kill me right now for that terrible pun. But seriously, loads of mostly positive or neutral press.

    • CalgaryGrit

      Yeah, we’ll see how the pot thing (both the poliy and the admission) play out with the public, but the press has been quite positive around it.

      • Luke

        Also, with the Globe’s editorial lauding Trudeau calling out the PQ’s anti-freedom of religion nonsense, I’m getting the sense that the press is going to mainly back the Liberals in the next election. Of course that’s a while off, so whatever can happen.

  3. Mark

    It seems to me that he already had the pot-smoking vote (to the extent they can haul themselves off the couch and make the effort). Who he just lost is my 86 year-old mother (who always votes) and who thought he was such a ‘nice young man’. I’m not sure what the point of this exercise was and I question what other laws Mr. Trudeau can’t be bothered to obey. If you don’t like a law, advocate for change. I expect more from my members of parliament, especially one who aspires to be Prime Minister.

    • Sean C.

      A considerable amount of the pot-smoking vote votes NDP or Green, normally.

    • CalgaryGrit

      I don’t think the pot policy is going to be a big vote-change in and of itself. Where it could impact things is what it says about Trudeau.

      The Tories will obviously try to frame it as Justin not being serious, and being over his head on the big issues. Not Prime Ministerial.

      The Liberals will frame it as a leader not afraid to do what’s right, make evidence-based policy, and take a gutsy/risky position.

  4. ottlib

    As someone who does not drink coffee I applaud Mr. Trudeau’s admission that he does not enjoy that particular beverage as well.

    No longer will I shrink at the looks of my friends and the cashiers at Tim Hortons when I order milk with my doughnut.

    It feels so good that I can now hold my head up high as I walk past my neighbourhood Second Cup.

    Thank you Mr. Trudeau.

  5. Paul O

    “before he was forced to come clean”
    “the press has been quite positive around it”

    Wow.

    What an indictment of our national media that they care so little about their own reputations that they would put themselves “in the bag” as it were for the leader of the Third Party, even if he is The Anointed One.

    Is it really too much to ask that our MPs uphold the laws of Canada while they’re seeking the highest elected office in the land?

    If an MP gets caught drinking and driving, I’m sure it’s no big deal, right? They don’t have to uphold that law. Stealing from taxpayers? Another “optional” law. Charging a “speaking fee” instead of having the people make a campaign donation (or register as – horrors – lobbyists)? Should be encouraged! What a wonderful way to provide for a growing family!

    Too bad nobody asked any questions while Trudeau was running for Leader.

    Too bad nobody asks him about substantive policy issues of the day.

  6. nbpolitico

    What I’m hearing from a lot of people I talk to is that they don’t believe the story. They figure if you invite a few close friends over to your swank Montreal home, your friend doesn’t pull out a joint and pass it around unless they know you’re okay with it and have done it with them before. I agree that timing-wise it is good to bring it out as early as possible, but I’m not sure the public-at-large are buying the story.

    • Marc, from soccer

      In the world of headline politics this one is a slam-dunk.

      But in a sense I’m with you. What I don’t understand is the phoneyness of the story.

      This is a headline grabber. People see it and move on to read better articles. The main story doesn’t matter. The risk of negative blowback between a “surprise one-toke” story and “yeah, I smoked up at home a couple of years ago” story is so minimal.

      This was obviously a calculated move so why botch the story with an obviously fake the “just happened”, “one-toke” angle? It all makes me wonder if it happened at all…

      But anyway, politicos are the only ones who’ll care so it doesn’t matter at large. Just weird communications judgement on behalf of the party comms operatives.

  7. Bluegreenblogger

    When I first read about the reefer interview with Huffpost I thought: Hey that is a nifty low risk way to chase Harpers arctic trip off the front pages. Having spent years canvassing thousands of people on behalf of the Green Party, I am pretty darned sure that a Party with a credible chance to form government and legalize dope will at a stroke pull 2% of the electorate away from the Green party, and no telling how many votes will be siphoned away from the Dippers and CPC. As for losing votes, yes, there is no such thing as a policy that has zero negative consequences, but on balance this could put the majority icing on a minority campaign in 2015. Then the response by MacKay, accusing Trudeau of being a lawbreaker for smoking pot which was over the top. Then todays very interesting article about MacKays accusation of Trudeaus lawbreaking being false by virtue of the fact that smoking pot is NOT illegal…. I know Trudeau has promised to take the high road (pun definitely intended!), but can we perhaps hope that Trudeau will sue MacKay for defamation of character. It would be a slam dunk case, because a wrongful accusation of criminal acts by itself constitutes a proof of damages, which is one hurdle for defamation suits to cross. I would love to see MacKay, the Justice Minister publicly apologising for not understanding the law, and writing a big fat cheque to Trudeau.

    • Luke

      Well, MacKay apologizing would be amusing, but I think a suit by Trudeau would come across as petty, and quite the opposite of the image he has cultivated so far. (Or at least the one I perceive.) He seems to be going for the cynicism-free, positive approach. Law suits don’t fit.

    • Marc, from soccer

      No way, Mackay going over the top on this was the exact response the Liberals wanted!

      Why ruin it with the same tightassery right back at them?

  8. Vancouverois

    This strikes me as an ATTEMPT to do politics well. The Liberal Party doubtless hopes that it will come off exactly as you describe – JT will appear honest, and if any future revelations hint that he’s downplayed the extent of his pot use, he’ll be able to shrug it off. However, it remains to be seen whether that’s how it will play out when the issue is pursued.

    The point that he’s openly defying the law, especially while serving as an MP, is not a plus. And I for one doubt that he’s being fully candid, either – 5 or 6 times in his life? Marc Emery already claimed to have toked up with JT some 4 or 5 times; and JT spent a season or two at Whistler, for heaven’s sake. His story just stretches credibility. It could be very easy to make it look like a calculated ploy to those voters whose support he’s most hoping to win – which plays against the honesty and openness that’s supposed to be one of his greatest strengths.

    In any case, I’d much rather focus on his condemnation of the PQ’s ‘secular’ charter. That’s much more important, and he’s the only federal leader so far who’s really come out strongly against it, much to his credit. It makes a good and solid contrast to the muted reaction of Mulcair and careful silence from Harper.

    • Vancouverois

      I forgot to mention that his earlier votes in favour of stricter laws could also be used against JT – no matter what explanations his offers, they make him look hypocritical.

      • Luke

        That’s a good point, and I seriously doubt that will remain quiet. We’ve already heard some whispers of his support of mandatory minimums, but I imagine it will come out more prominently (from maybe any of the other leaders) in the leaders’ debate, next election. Maybe he’ll just say that he saw the error n his ways or something, and be done with it, instead of rationalizing it.

  9. Nuna D. Above

    On the same day Trudeau was talking about more lenient sentences for those busted with pot, there was a story in the paper about how marijauna cause brain damage in teen users, affecting their cognative abilities. It’s well known how pot also is related to schizophrenia. Margaret Trudeau has written about how her mental health issues were affected by pot use.
    The British government looked at health issues surrounding pot use and ran ads warning about the dangers. I remember hearing the ads listening to online sets from DJ John Digweed. There are Globe and Mail columnists who have written about how pot has changed over the decades and the health risks its use entails.
    What the Einsteins in the Liberal party have done is to now set the stage for the Conservatives to use tax payer money to run ads warning about the dangers of pot. Every time an ad runs, it will make Trudeal look more foolish.
    It also raises the question of how much money Canadian governments have spent fighting tobacco use, and why is Trudeau turning around and promoting something else that is harmful. Trudeau can now be dismissed as “the pothead from Papineau” and it may stick.

  10. john

    CG, the Federal commission for Electoral boundaries just finalized its proposals in BC, AB and QC. In BC and AB the conservatives get almost every single new seat created. The NDP tried hard to lobby against some of the changes which look like gerrymandering at best and seem to accomodate conservative wishes after 2008 and 2011 elections for example, BC southern interior is being split and attached to parts of the Okanagan and Burnaby North which had been very close in the last two elections is being turned into a weird riding separated by the water from the newer parts of the riding in North Vancouver which have been reform con for ages which will make it another solid con riding, Nanaimo Cowichan is another safe NDP riding becoming a close contest now in the new Nanaimo Ladysmith riding. Liberal stronghold of south Granville in Vancouver centre has been moved to the newly carved potentially con riding of Vancouver Granville. In BC alone the conservatives could easily take at least 5 of the 6 new seats and potentially even some existing NDP seats due to boundary changes.

    Also, in AB Calgary McCall is now strangely Calgary Skyview(Calgary McCall is Liberal provincially) and the area north of Mcknight and east of 68th ave around coral springs that was a liberal stronghold was incuded in the previous proposal, is now part of Calgary Forest lawn while fairly conservative Whitehorn and very conservative Temple have been added to the riding instead of the previous proposal which had McKnight blvd. as its southern border.

    The name change itself(considering the final boundary changes) suggests that someone did not like the idea of a repeat of what happened provincially.

    The real battle will be in Ontario in the 15 new ridings. I think the Conservative protests in Saskatchewan were just their way of deflecting attention away from the bigger prize in BC and AB.

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  12. Jason Holborn

    I’m surprised how much controversy this topic always generates; I think marijuana/cannabis is much milder than alcohol. From a taxation perspective, it’s sort of a no-brainer, and, it would take some bite out of violent crime.

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