IS THE SECOND Coming over? Can we drive downtown again? Victoria sure likes to give Justin Trudeau the rock- star treatment. During September’s royal visit, it was hard to say who got the bigger cheers outside the legislature, Kate and William or JT and Sophie.
The prime minister pulled the crowds again this week, too, though this time they were divided over whether the rock star was Saint Bono the inspirational reformer, or Jerry Lee Lewis after he married his 13-year-old cousin. Some of those outside Victoria City Hall wanted a selfie, others wanted Trudeau’s head.
This is what happens to charismatic politicians when the hard decisions become inescapable, leaving believers feeling betrayed.
And it makes you wonder: How long will Trudeau remain this accessible, this eager to mix with the Great White North’s great unwashed?
As it is, his visibility in Victoria is a break from prime ministers past. His predecessor Stephen Harper was the bubble boy, never exposed to dissent. Harper was so shielded from the public on his visits to the Island that he might as well not have been here.
Extraordinary steps were taken to hide his whereabouts from the unwanted. Typical was a 2009 visit in which journalists were bused from the Juan de Fuca rec centre to a secret location that turned out to be Royal Roads University, which was packed with friendly party insiders who had been given the heads-up. A single protester — a well-dressed speech therapist bearing an anti-seal-hunt sign — had the clever idea of trailing the media bus, but she was politely but firmly kept at bay by security. After Harper’s announcement — something about university funding — the journalists were hustled out the back door like a drunken uncle at a wedding, leaving the room to the party faithful, who got to pose for photos (old-school selfies) with the PM.
In his defence, Harper had reason to worry about security. Whenever his itinerary was known, demonstrators appeared. Even his son — a kid, for heaven’s sake — got booed at a high school volleyball tournament after protesters discovered his dad would be there.
And at least Harper showed up here. Some prime ministers were seen less frequently than Halley’s comet, couldn’t find British Columbia, let alone Victoria, on a map. (“B.C., is it one of the flat ones, like Saskatoba?”)
When they did come, things didn’t go well. (See “Salmon Arm Salute.”) Every time Jean Chrétien popped up in Vancouver, someone got pepper-sprayed. The infamous APEC conference of 1997, which prompted Chrétien’s glib “for me, pepper, I put it on my plate” line was followed a year later by the Riot at the Hyatt. Eventually, everyone agreed that maybe it would be best if le p’tit gars de Shawinigan just stayed back East, and we pulled off our gas masks and sighed in relief.
Chrétien was one of those whose personal popularity only guaranteed he had further to fall when he lost the public trust. It was Victoria’s David Anderson, as revenue minister, who found himself in the unenviable position of having to explain to Chrétien that the Goods and Services Tax, which Chrétien had campaigned against (“We hate the GST and we will kill it”), was, after thorough study, the best thing for Canada. Keeping the GST might have been the right decision, but Canadians never forgot that Chrétien said one thing and did another.
Now it’s Trudeau’s turn. Mixed with the cheers outside Victoria City Hall were jeers for the man who OK’d the Kinder Morgan pipeline and broke his promise about electoral reform.
Even those whose eyes glaze over at the mention of the latter can quote Robert Munsch: “A promise is a promise.” It speaks to character when one is broken. To some, Trudeau has lost his new-car smell.
To others, at least for now, Trudeau’s rock-star qualities transcend all. At her post-meeting news conference Thursday, Mayor Lisa Helps, bless her, shut down a questioner who asked whether she had seen new photos of Trudeau shirtless, and what she thought of his eyes. “You know what? This is ridiculous,” Helps replied. “Guys, I just met with the prime minister of Canada. I’m not going to talk about shirtless and I’m not going to talk about eyes. I’m going to talk about serious issues.”
It’s only going to get more serious for Trudeau. When it does, will we still see as much of him, and will he see as much of us?
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