Justin Trudeau, the ultra-fortunate son of a G8 prime minister/part-time millionaire trust fund heir, says he's the best guy to defend the interests of Canada's middle class. But don't worry -- he's not sheltered enough to think he can do it alone: he's recruited a wealthy Oxford-and-Harvard educated international business journalist to help.
On Saturday it was announced that Chrystia Freeland, a managing editor at the Reuters corporation with a resume as thick as the visa section of her passport, would be seeking the Liberal nomination in Toronto-Centre, the wealthy Ontario riding previously held by Bob Rae.
Freeland is one of those famous journalists no one's ever heard of but still gets to be described as "widely respected" since she writes for pretentious, upscale publications like the Economist that everyone pretends to read but few actually do. A card-carrying member of the jet-set, she's worked in all sorts of glamorous foreign capitals and attended all sorts of smart people conferences in the Hamptons, but never shed her progressive roots -- or so I imagine her campaign biography will insist. She recently wrote a much-acclaimed book on the troubling rise of the planet's grotesquely rich global elite, and has been using her weekly finance column at the Globe and Mail (which of course she has) to spread concern over the fact that not enough of this planet's wealth is trickling down to poor schlubs like you and me, while far too much is being hoarded by upperclass big shots like, well, her.
The Canadian media's been quick to dub Ms. Freeland the Liberals' first "star candidate" of the J-Tru era. In fact, says good ol' Paul Wells at Maclean's, she's "the press corps' favourite kind of star candidate, one drawn from our own ranks. From its highest echelons, to be precise." Less flatteringly, she also appears to be Justin's first parachute candidate -- someone the boss drops from dizzying heights directly into a safe riding.
Though a quick glance at her career history suggests Freeland has barely lived in Canada (let alone Toronto) since high school, her personal closeness to Trudeau allowed her to leapfrog would-be Liberal rivals like perennial Toronto also-ran George Smitherman into a basically de facto uncontested nomination. Oh sure, notes Jon Ivison in the National Post, other people are technically allowed to run against Chrystia, it's just been, ahem, "made clear" that "Ms. Freeland was the leader's preferred candidate." Smitherman took the hint.
I don't begrudge Ms. Freeland for her candidacy nor the authenticity of her political views, which, when you read her writing, come off as informed, insightful, and empathetic. Nothing, likewise, should make anyone automatically presume that those from well-connected and well-off backgrounds can't possess honest sympathy for the plight of society's lessers, or push useful ideas on how to shrink Canada's unsettling class divide -- which, as Freeland often notes, is real and growing. But when this distractingly paradoxical presentation becomes Liberal norm and not exception, when the party chooses to deliver all its messages of progressive populism through the absolutely least-credible seeming messengers, well, it starts to be a problem.
Here's a fun fact: It's entirely plausible that at least seven of the last eight leaders of the Liberal Party might have celebrated Thanksgiving together at one time. Probably in the late 1970s or so, when Pierre Elliott Trudeau was in charge and might have wanted to share some stuffing with his beloved finance minister, Jean Chretien. And maybe that one senator he appointed, Paul Martin Sr., and his son, Paul Jr. And perhaps his former ambassador to the United Nations too, George Ignatieff, and his son, Michael. Plus his current UN ambassador, Saul Rae, and his son, Bob. Young Bob and Michael would have been roommates at the University of Toronto at that time, so conversation at the kids' table would have flowed easily -- until, that is, lil' Justin decided to pull up his booster seat.
The unavoidable fact is that Canada's Liberals are a party that oozes wealth, power, and establishment cliquishness. That's not a partisan slur or a conspiracy theory, it's simply an observable fact based on the sorts of people the party has routinely chosen to groom, guide, and promote for higher office. It's an ingrained cultural tradition -- and a growing electoral vulnerability.
Certainly the unprecedentedly unsubtle rejection of the uber-pedigreed Michael Ignatieff in the last federal election was an unmistakable indicator that the sorts of leadership qualities most valued by the urbane network of wealthy families and professional pointy heads who comprise the Liberal elite -- worldliness, Ivy league diplomas, literary awards, etc -- are simply not traits that make for compelling or relatable candidates on the campaign trail. This is presumably because the average voter, statistically speaking, didn't go an Ivy League school or write a book on Eastern Bloc post-Soviet economic restructuring. Heck, he probably didn't even own a passport until they were required for cross-border shopping.
The fact that the Liberals currently seem so infinitely confident that their path back to power starts with electing, basically, an Ignatieff in heels to represent Canada's third richest postal code, reveals how little the party's actually evolved despite several years of ballyhooed "renewal." Recruiting a globetrotting bobo public intellectual to teach her one-percenter boss what middle income Canadians want brings to mind the old adage about doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.