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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Canadians and the Two Justins

Justin Trudeau and Justin Bieber are two names that Canadians know well. Most of you reading this blog know who Justin Bieber is. Few of you know who Justin Trudeau is. But they do share one thing in common.
They are both considered "rock stars". And they also share something else in common. Neither of them deserve that status because they lack substance. They have it for secondary reasons. Maybe it will be justified one day, but not currently.
Their level of their success and status don't jive with what they bring to the table. One has already started to unravel, while the other seems to be miles over his head and likely will as well. 

Both were in the news on the weekend. At this point they are at opposite ends of the scale. One is rising while the other is fading. In the future, that is likely to reverse itself. 
I have been very vocal and critical of Justin Bieber. Anyone who knows me knows that. 
Some have accused me of jealousy. Of his success. Of his looks. Of his fame. Of his talent. I can state for the record: It is none of those. And actually, I don't really have any problem with him or his success. I have a problem with a society that views him as a worthy recipient of rewards for his minimal to non-existent talent.
Mostly, I don't have a problem with him as person, as I don't know much about him either way. I just know his level of talent doesn't seem to jive with his level of success. That alone however, should not be any kind of a surprise. The world is full of many stars who have little to no ability.
What is he? Elvis?
Let's get some perspective here. He writes mediocre songs at best. He is a marginal best. The reason the backlash is so strong is that he doesn't realize what he is and his massive ego, one that has been inflated by his "handlers" is so offensive relative to the talent he doesn't have, that people are not going to give him much,  or any, leeway when it comes to that. If he started out as humble, or was once humble, he is far away from that now. He is just an arrogant, self centered little punk now. I can see him doing an interview in 10 years with someone like Oprah or Barbra Walters and admitting to that in hindsight, with some maturity. But in the moment, right now, he is so self absorbed that he can't see it. 

In most scenarios, Justin Bieber's 15 minutes would have run out a long time ago. A teen idol's shelf life is very short. One, maybe two years maximum. Bieber seems to be on year 4 or 5. He has had a great run. Better than most. Or could be expected. I think even he knows that. So, he is doing whatever he, and his handlers and hangers on can, most of whom benefit greatly as long as he keeps bringing in the big bucks, to keep it going as long as he can. Who can blame him for that? Not me. I get it. He is going to fade into obscurity. He knows it. They know it. I know it. Everybody knows it. Trying to make it last for as long as you can, for longer than it should, only makes sense for someone who has nothing to fall back on.
Even Michael Jackson, many people forget, had a very long dry spell from the time he was not a kid anymore in the Jackson Five to the period before Thriller. He couldn't even give records away for about 5 years. Most never regain the fame that he did. It is just a fact of life for child stars.
I will say one thing about Justin Bieber. He made his own way. He didn't rely on a rich or famous father to get him where he is today. Whatever it is he does, whatever it is he has, he did that on his own. The same cannot be said for Justin Trudeau.
If you are American, then you probably have no clue who Justin Trudeau is. Or why his famous name and famous father mean something to Canadians. In terms of Canadian politics, while this is a weak comparison, Trudeau=Kennedy. If you are born a Trudeau you have a license to get in doors that others of similar ability would not. And one of those doors is to get political power. Such is exactly the case. 
You see, Justin Trudeau is now the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. What does that mean in tangible, real terms?
It means that in the next two years, if he plays his cards right, he could easily become the next prime minister of Canada. That is equivalent to being the President of the United States for a Canadian. 
What did Justin Trudeau ever do to justify this honor and chance? As far as anyone can tell...he was born Pierre Trudeau's son. That's it. So, I decided to look deeper to see if there is anything there. Most say there is not.  
Justin Trudeau has a Bachelor of Arts degree in literature from McGill University and a Bachelor of Education degree from the University of British Columbia. After graduation, he worked as a social studies and French teacher at West Point Grey Academy and Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School in Vancouver, British Columbia. From 2002 to 2004, he studied engineering at the University of Montréal. He also started a Master of Arts degree in Environmental Geography at McGill University before suspending his program to seek public office. He is well educated. But so are many Canadians. We are a highly educated people as a rule. Many have much more impressive education credentials relative to Justin. I would say most that could have run for the Liberal Party leadership would have much more. In fact, the previous leaders of that Party had much more. It can be easily said that Justin Trudeau has no real world experience at all, nor much leadership or government experience. If his father wasn't a famous former politician, it is likely he wouldn't get anywhere near the leadership of this country. So, lets investigate if he is worthy, based on the premise that his father was a natural born leader and incredibly savvy, direct politician. Is Justin Trudeau that?

He gives great speeches. There can be no dispute about that. Being that he has a degree in Literature, a Bachelor of Education and was a teacher for a while, that is not surprising. But that wasn't Pierre Trudeau's strength. Pierre Trudeau had presence and was not afraid to take a stand and make it known he was a formidable person to go up against. Canadians remember that.
Part of the reason Canadians are searching for that again is the recent history of who has been running the country in the last 25 years. Our 3 most prominent Prime Minister's of recent history are Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien and Stephen Harper. It is safe to say that on the world stage they pretty much do whatever it takes to please the United States, even if that means that Canadian citizens must be sacrificed. Love him or hate him (and many people despised Pierre Trudeau) Pierre Trudeau was his own man and would not have hesitated to go against any world leader for any reason if he thought that it was the right thing to do for Canada.
I see none of that sort of verve from Justin Trudeau. Other than his last name, he is not anything like his father. He makes great speeches, but he never takes a stand or makes it clear he is on our side.
Canadians are clearly not happy, on the whole, with their current Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. The problem is the lack of viable alternatives to him. In steps Justin Trudeau. The great white hope. The Golden Boy. Pierre's son. A return to what we think of as Canadian. 
We like Americans. We like America. But we don't want to be American. There is a very big difference between us. When you are overseas, if they think you are Canadian instead of American you will be treated different. That is a fact all Canadians are aware of. And we want to keep it that way. Since Stephen Harper has taken office, that has seemed to change on a day to day basis. Many believe that Stephen Harper would be very happy if we became the 51st state, as long as there is something in it for him and the people that back him. Most of those are large corporations. Canadians are looking for an alternative to that.

"He needs to talk about ideas and policies. He has the charisma thing nailed. Now he needs to tell us what he thinks."

-Warren Kinsella 

Justin Trudeau reminds me very much of Barack Obama just before and right after he got elected in 2008. A lot of talk, a powerful speech, but at the end of the day, he says nothing specific and does even less to make it happen. It is easy to spout off when you don't have to actually produce. 

Jim Ross, who was a senior Conservative government staffer on the immigration committee when Trudeau was the Liberal immigration critic, told Yahoo! Canada News that the son of Pierre is unimpressive.
"He's a lightweight who didn't know his stuff," Ross said.
"He was the least knowledgeable of any of the opposition critics who I dealt with."

Like Canadian or American Idols, the two Justin's have been elevated by a thirsty public who want them to be what they are not and will overlook the obvious holes that suggest they don't belong where they are. When that happens, the targets of that fame and status are likely to implode. One already is and the other is sure to.

 "The world of Twitter, Facebook and 30 second sound bites is not conducive to a deep thinker who cannot explain his or her positions in less than 140 characters."

How did Justin Trudeau come to rise so far, so fast? 
Some brief history, courtesy of Wikipedia. 

Trudeau became more involved with the Liberal Party throughout the 2000s. Along with Olympian Charmaine Crooks, he co-hosted a tribute to outgoing prime minister Jean Chrétien at the party's 2003 leadership convention and was later appointed to chair a task force on youth renewal after the party's defeat in the 2006 federal election.
He decided to run as a candidate in 2007 in a riding in Quebec (Papineau).
He won the nomination on April 29, 2007, defeating two well-known municipal politicians. On election day, Trudeau narrowly defeated one-term Bloc Québécois incumbent Vivian Barbot.

Following the election, Edward Greenspan, editor-in-chief of The Globe and Mail, noted that Trudeau would "be viewed as few other rookie MPs are—as a potential future prime minister—and scrutinized through that lens."
Trudeau was re-elected in Papineau in the 2011 Canadian federal election, as the Liberal Party fell to third-party standing in the House of Commons with only thirty-four seats.Trudeau has been acknowledged as the "rock star" of the party, and since his re-election he has traveled the country hosting fundraisers for charities and the Liberal Party.
When interim leader Bob Rae, who was also seen as a frontrunner, announced he would not be entering the race in June 2012, Trudeau was hit with a "tsunami" of calls from supports to reconsider his earlier decision to not seek the leadership. Opinion polling conducted by several pollsters showed that if Trudeau were to become leader the Liberal Party would surge in support, from a distant third place to either being competitive with the Conservative Party or leading them.

Why Justin Trudeau? Better yet, why now? 
Justin Trudeau brings one thing to the table that the other leaders of the party have not been able to master. He can operate well in the social media culture of the day and bring in young voters who really don't understand or care about actual talent, ability or leadership skills. He speaks their language and has easily been able to convince them that he is right for the job.

During his time as a Member of Parliament he has spoken little on policy matters and it is not known where he stands on many issues such as the economy and foreign affairs.Some strategists and pundits believed the leadership is the time for Trudeau to be tested on these issues.

In 1975, Pierre Trudeau introduced into law the Wage and Price Controls. It was not a popular idea by many, but at the time it was very necessary. It is the kind of thing he did repeatedly.

The question is, at least for me: Why do Canadians think Pierre Trudeau was such a great PM?

Pierre Trudeau had a fire in his eye that Justin does not have.

One thing you can say about Pierre is that he always took a strong stand on any issue, even when he likely knew it would not be popular. Justin Trudeau has not done that. He does everything he can to be popular. Leaders are like parents. It is not about being popular. It is about doing the right thing because that is what leaders do. They lead. They don't follow.
For that reason, Pierre Trudeau was in and out of politics very quickly. He is remembered as being a great Prime Minister, even though at times he was despised and many of the things he did didn't work. He didn't care. He was smart and knowledgeable and he did what he thought was right. The people respected him for that, even if they didn't like him much of the time.

 "There's a lot of bleeding hearts around that don't like to see people with helmets and guns. All I can say is go on and bleed. But it's more important to keep law and order in this society than to be worried about weak-kneed people who don't like the looks of it. (How far will you go?) Just watch me."

 -Pierre Trudeau, the full quote.

In March 2013, during his leadership campaign, Justin Trudeau made a rare gesture of evoking his father's memory by repeating the phrase "Just watch me", made iconic by his father as Prime Minister during the October Crisis in 1970, just prior to invoking the War Measures Act. It was in answer to a fellow airplane passenger's question in a handwritten note, asking Trudeau if he could beat Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The comment sparked mixed reaction on social media and from several commentators, some of whom saw the quote as a politically sensitive and risky one in Quebec. 

Yes, it was gutsy to try it. And it was wrong. Justin Trudeau will always rest on his fathers coat tails, because that is the only reason he has gotten where he is today. It is the reason he is there, and it is the same reason he will fail. Because, Justin Trudeau doesn't have the fire and the guts that his father did to say those types of things. He is a copycat, and a weak one at that. To him, that is just some catch phrase. Just words. Something like someone of his generation would post on Twitter without any meaning. A hashtag of sorts. Meaningless.
Kind of like saying "Anne Frank would be a Belieber."
Both Justins know how to do one thing very well: Use the social media to get where they need to go without the talent to actually get there.  
They are two of a kind and a symptom of what is really wrong with our society these days. If you learn how to manipulate the social media, you can get rewards long before you deserve them. Justin Bieber made his name on You Tube. He didn't work his way up through the ranks. Play the clubs for years. Struggle to get a record deal. Hone his craft. He did none of that. And it shows. 
And in the case of Justin Trudeau, if you also have a very bankable last name, you can get there long before you are ready. Justin Bieber also got there long before he was ever ready, and now that is coming back to haunt him. I suspect Justin Trudeau won't be far behind him on that implosion trail. 

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