A true test of Trudeau’s leadership

Commentary with Geoff deGannes

Published on February 3, 2017

Commentary with Geoff deGannes

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrapped up his cross-country campaign-style, 10-city town hall tour last week hoping his efforts at outreach would show he’s trying to stay connected with average Canadians.

What the prime minister and his handlers wouldn’t admit to was the fact the tour was as much an exercise in damage control as a public consultation process in preparation for the return to the first parliamentary session of the New Year.

Such town hall sessions where audiences and questions aren’t vetted can be a gamble and yet this prime minister seems to thrive in such an atmosphere and enjoys the challenge of the impromptu question and answer exchange. Commentary with Geoff deGannes

The Liberal Party, and the prime minister in particular, have found themselves embroiled in plenty of political controversy in recent weeks over the cash for access fundraiser issue and the prime minister’s Christmas vacation to the Aga Khan’s private island in the Bahamas.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Canadians he encountered from coast to coast really didn’t want to talk about these specific issues. They were more interested in matters that effect their everyday lives like the state of the economy, jobs and the burden of taxation.  

Such town hall sessions where audiences and questions aren’t vetted can be a gamble and yet this prime minister seems to thrive in such an atmosphere and enjoys the challenge of the impromptu question and answer exchange. 

The exercise was not without a couple of miscues on the part of Trudeau who mishandled a question in Ontario about the Alberta oil sands with an offhand remark that fossil fuels will have to be phased out. His failure to elaborate on the timing of such a phase out was not well received in Alberta.

During his western tour, the PM faced a hostile audience at one stop where one angry protester accused him of being deceitful and dishonest.  

In a more diplomatic and balanced approach the prime minister articulated that the greatest responsibility of any prime minister is to get our resources to market and yes that includes the oil sands, while noting he would not abandon his commitment to protecting the environment for future generations. The other glaring “faux pas” came at a Sherbrooke, Qu. stop where he responded to an Anglophone’s query entirely in French.  

Despite a few missteps, I’d say the prime minister handled himself exceedingly well among some pretty tough audiences and was refreshingly candid in many of his answers. He certainly got an earful on his handling of the economy to date, as yet unfulfilled promises to Canada’s Aboriginals and the delicate balance of supporting pipelines while promoting steps to battle climate change.  

If, as Trudeau has suggested, the purpose of these town hall sessions was to hear what Canadians are saying and respond accordingly, then hopefully that will be reflected in this upcoming session of Parliament.

If we can believe the results of the latest Nanos Research poll, Canadians aren’t convinced this prime minister and his Liberal government are really listening. For all intents and purposes, the numbers show the honeymoon is over with the Liberals slipping below 40 per cent and the Conservatives climbing above 30.  

Canadians are also likely apprehensive about the competency of the Trudeau Government in standing up to the new Trump Administration in the U.S. with such glaring differences on issues like trade and immigration.

The coming weeks ahead will certainly prove to be a true test of the prime minister’s leadership.  

 

Geoff deGannes is the past chairman of the Tantramar Radio Society. His daily commentaries can be heard on 107.9 CFTA.