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Media Bites: Watch Out Liberal Party, Voters Don't Like Elites

02/20/2014 12:18 EST | Updated 04/22/2014 05:59 EDT

Canadians do not want to be ruled by rich snobs.

Such was the conclusion of a big survey commissioned by the Tory government last summer, but only revealed last week.

The results exposed a Canadian public deeply critical of what they perceive to be an out-of-touch Ottawa elite comprised of "rich politicians" feathering their nests with perks and privileges "while taxpayers personally struggled to make a decent living."

It was a sharp, humbling rebuke to a self-important Canadian political class that too often takes their own needs more seriously than those of the public they purport to govern  --  and indeed, frequently can't tell where one begins and the other ends.

It's an admonishment Justin Trudeau apparently has little intention of heeding.

If there's been one consistent theme of J-Tru's leadership, it's an unapologetic willingness to skim generously from the cream of the Canadian elite to fatten his inner circle.

First it was noted Harvard-Oxford educated globetrotting super-pundit (and now Toronto-Centre MP) Chrystia Freeland, a one-percenter who last fall was given the somewhat implausible position of Justin's emissary of middle class concerns. Then came national security advisor Gen. Andrew Leslie, the Harvard-educated ex-head of the Canadian Army turned senior vice president at multi-billion dollar mega-corp CGI, who, in an only-in-Canada story, was dubbed the "general with a pedigree" on account of coming from a family in which both his grandfathers were former Liberal defense ministers.

And now, word is out that Trudeau is planning to officially unveil another three dazzling "star candidates" at this weekend's big Liberal convention: Jim Carr, the outgoing CEO of the Business Council of Manitoba, Jody Wilson-Raybould an aboriginal treaty lawyer and head of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, and William Morneau, who's been running Morneau-Shepell, the country's largest HR consulting firm "for over two decades now," according to his official biography. No word yet if they'll be joined by Zach Paikin, the somewhat infamous dilettante son of noted journalist, Order of Canada alum, and Laurentien University chancellor Steve Paikin, who we learned on Tuesday is currently the sole contender for the Liberal nod in the newly rejiggered riding of Hamilton West.

Justin-logic clearly holds that such well-heeled, well-schooled, well-connected bigshots make for more ethical, intelligent, principled leaders than the common hoi polloi, which explains why he seems increasingly comfortable imposing them on his party from the top-down, despite earlier claims of favouring grassroots-chosen candidates picked through open nomination elections.

But is there much evidence to support such thinking?

Precedent seems ambiguous at best. In fact, one could argue if any consistent lesson's been imparted by Canadian politics over the last year or so, it's that elite status Canadians actually seem to display a rather high propensity for exactly the sort of sticky-fingered charlatanism that's currently repelling voters in record amounts.

Consider the three crooked Tory senators whose antics held the Canadian news cycle hostage for much of 2013. All were elites of various sorts: Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin were award-winning journalists; Patrick Brazeau the former chairman of the national Congress of Aboriginal Peoples. Though the Liberals now enjoy pretending the trio were some manner of unqualified "partisan hacks," it's quite hard to believe they wouldn't have been equally eager to appoint similar people to similar sinecures if given the chance (and in the case of Ms. Martin, they did).

Closer to home, this week's news cycle brought to light revelations that Trudeau's pal Andrew Leslie bilked taxpayers out of some $72,000 when he moved his family from one million-dollar Ottawa mansion to another back in 2012, a Duffy-like scam that involved opting into a generous state-funded expense account that was clearly intended for a different purpose  --  in this case, helping retired soldiers relocate back to their suburban hometowns after a long stint in some far-off military base or the Ottawa bureaucracy.

As Tim Harper observed in the Toronto Star the other day, this sort of behaviour seems to stem from that entrenched public servant mantra so famously articulated by disgraced former Bank of Canada president David Dingwall: "I'm entitled to my entitlements." In other words, if you've achieved great status and success in life, it's your right to fully exploit the perks that accompany it. Former CTV executive Bev Oda felt entitled to $16 tumblers of OJ. Former UN lawyer Allison Redford felt entitled to an all-expenses-paid trip to South Africa. Justin Trudeau himself felt entitled to charge a charity 20,000 bucks for a 30-minute speech. It would obviously be unfair to suggest every politician with an elitist background is destined for this sort of corruption, but it does correlate just enough to justify suspicion.

Already, we can see that 2015 is shaping up to be a tale of two quite different cultures of politics and parties. On the one side, you have frumpy old Stephen Harper with his corny hockey book, his sweater vests, and his humble, almost painfully suburbanite agenda of boutique tax credits, cheaper cable rates, smaller cellphone bills, and other humdrum fixes to the minor irritations of middle class life.

On the other, you have the glamorous celebrity son of a prime minister leading a team of uber-wealthy Harvard scholars, titans of industry, and world-renown intellectuals who attend big-think conferences in Whistler and talk about reimagining "Canada's role in the world" between motivational speeches by Malcolm Gladwell.

Unfortunately for the Liberals, Canada's got an awful lot more suburbanites than bigshots, and the polls suggest the two tribes aren't exactly on good terms.

J-Tru's challenge is to build up trust for a party of high-status people at a time, ironically, when their status has never been lower.

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