Article: Taras Matkovsky – Contributor
Justin Trudeau recently got himself into heavy controversy on two counts. The first involved a promotional poster for one of his fundraisers that critics complained was demeaning to women. However, that paled in comparison to what he said at that same fundraiser. When asked which country’s administration he most admired after Canada’s, Trudeau said that he admired China’s “basic dictatorship” for its ability to turn the economy around. He went on to say that he admired China’s investments in green energy and offering praise for the Canadian territories form of consensus governance (which Yukon, unlike the other two, does not have).
When I first heard about these comments, I was a bit stunned and worried. I had previously decided to support the Liberal Party, and though I was impartial to Justin Trudeau (I preferred to have Marc Garneau as Liberal Leader), I thought he was doing a fairly good job in practicing the honest and transparent style of politics he had promised, and then this happened. What worried me was not the actual content of what his speech. Thanks to the “basic dictatorship” of China, the Chinese economy is in a better shape than it was under Mao. According to Vijay Mehta in his book The Economics of Killing, China’s industrialization under the Deng Xiaoping regime managed to lift 600 million people out of absolute poverty in thirty years. Nor is Trudeau’s quip about Chinese prowess in green energy investment factually wrong. Despite (or even because of) their massive pollution problem, China has made a serious effort to invest in wind and solar power, far beyond American and Canadian efforts. What worried me was that Justin Trudeau did not understand how to deliver the message he wanted.
In his National Post opinion article on the incident, Andrew Coyne defines Justin Trudeau’s gaffe as a “quite deliberate statement, presented not flippantly or off-hand, but in a determined effort to sound provocative or profound.” I agree with this interpretation of Trudeau’s words, for they reveal an interesting irony. Trudeau, after all, was elected Liberal Leader in part because he was seen as being more personable and less like a “career politician.” However, he now finds himself in a position where continuing to successfully market himself requires the abilities and instincts of a career politician. China still remains a major human rights violator, despite its economic progress. Since Canadians like to think of themselves as supporters of democracy and human rights, you cannot just simply mention China in such a light way as Trudeau did. Spontaneity and willingness to speak will not be tolerated if it results in those kinds of statements.
My advice to Trudeau would be to develop an oratorical style suitable to Parliament. Learn some clever quips and insults. Develop a manner of speaking that will not only appeal to people, but get them to think about what you just said. I am willing to overlook this slip-up, simply because I find Trudeau to be a refreshing change from Stephen Harper’s way of politics. But, if he does not learn to speak better, or retreat into purely scripted responses, then my support could be gone.