Justin Trudeau, The 'Shiny Pony' Who Became Canada's Prime Minister | KERA News

Justin Trudeau, The 'Shiny Pony' Who Became Canada's Prime Minister

Mar 8, 2016
Originally published on March 9, 2016 9:17 am

In 2012, Justin Trudeau, then a young member of the Canadian Parliament, stepped into a boxing ring at a charity event in Ottawa. His opponent, a heavily tattooed and much beefier senator named Patrick Brazeau, was favored to win by 3-to-1 odds.

Trudeau, wearing red boxing shorts and sporting a large tattoo of the Earth encircled by a raven on his left shoulder, took as many hits from the announcer as he did from his opponent. Conservative broadcaster Ezra Levant mocked Trudeau as "the Shiny Pony," said his daughter could skip rope better and predicted the fight would last one round.

But the Shiny Pony surprised everyone: Trudeau won in the third round.

That boxing match could very well have been a preview of Canada's elections last October. Trudeau and his Liberal Party lagged in third place at the start of the short campaign. But once again, his opponents underestimated him. Trudeau won a decisive victory against Conservative incumbent Stephen Harper.

"Have faith in your fellow citizens, my friends," Trudeau said in his victory speech, delivering his signature "Sunny Ways" message. "They are kind and generous, they are open-minded and optimistic." At heart, he said, "A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian."

Tall, athletic and with matinee idol looks, Trudeau energized the Canadian elections, normally dull affairs. But his appeal is more than skin-deep, says Althia Raj, Ottawa bureau chief for the Huffington Post.

"I think there's more to it than looks," she says. "I think there's the sense he seems authentic." Trudeau captured the mood for change, especially among young and cynical Canadians.

"They feel like he's a little bit like one of them," she says. "He embraces social media, he's present, he's kind of cheeky, he's a Star Wars nerd. And they feel connected to him."

Many Canadians also feel a natural connection to Trudeau through his father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who served as prime minister from 1968 to 1979 and then again from 1980 to 1984. The elder Trudeau was a charismatic but divisive leader who drove sleek, foreign sports cars, dated celebrities and married a much younger Margaret Sinclair — Justin's mother — a woman 28 years his junior. He inspired a phenomenon dubbed "Trudeaumania."

Many Canadians remember this colorful era fondly, Raj says, and have an affinity for Justin Trudeau.

"A lot of people remember the day he was born; they remember him growing up; they remember his father; they remember his parents' nasty divorce. They have a feeling they know him," she says. There is a sense, she says, that Trudeau represents "our first dynasty."

Trudeau is living up to his father's charismatic image. Vogue has called him "dashing" and ran pictures of him and his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, in a passionate embrace. In the New York Times, an article suggested the new prime minister has helped make Canada hip.

He earned the Twitter hashtag #hottie at an international forum and poses for selfies with the likes of Bono and Kevin Spacey — and just about anybody else who wants a picture with him.

This has led critics like Stephen Taylor, former director of the National Citizens Coalition, a conservative lobbying group, to say Trudeau is all show and no substance.

"I don't know if Justin Trudeau would be anywhere today if his name was Justin Jones," he says. "I think the prime minister risks a bit of overexposure and accusations of being a bit too flashy, because we're facing serious economic troubles in Canada in the future."

Trudeau's immediate test will come March 22, when he presents his government's first budget. Canada's deficit is projected to be $18.4 billion for 2016-2017, far more than what Trudeau's Liberal Party had been forecasting.

Some Canadians are just deeply uncomfortable with Trudeau's self-promotion and with having a celebrity for a prime minister, says Stephen Marche, a Toronto-based author and Esquire magazine columnist. He says Trudeau is very good at controlling his image and building a brand, which he uses as a foreign policy tool to help shape Canada's image in the world.

"If we want to spread our values, if we want to have an agenda globally, we're not going to do it by buying some military planes," Marche says. "We're going to do it by being this shining example."

Marche points to Trudeau's most visible success so far, his decision to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees in Canada within four months of taking office. Trudeau says he will raise his two sons as feminists. Half his Cabinet members are women and his administration is a portrait of diversity, including Muslim and Sikh Cabinet ministers.

L. Ian MacDonald, editor and publisher of Policy, a bimonthly political magazine, notes that many in the Cabinet are rookies, including the finance and environment ministers. He says mistakes are inevitable.

But "Mr. Trudeau has permission slips from the voters to do a lot of things," he says. And MacDonald is sure that "if he comes up short that they'll be in a forgiving mood, at least in the beginning."

But the honeymoon period is limited. MacDonald's advice to Trudeau: Stop with the selfies already, and start governing.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

If you've picked up a celebrity magazine recently, there's a good chance you've seen a photo of Canada's new prime minister, Justin Trudeau. The 44-year-old was elected last October, and since then he seems to be everywhere - meeting with Queen Elizabeth in London, hobnobbing with the rich and famous in Davos, Switzerland. This week, he's in Washington for a state dinner at the White House. It is the first attended by a Canadian leader in nearly 20 years. NPR international affairs correspondent Jackie Northam has this profile.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: In 2012, Justin Trudeau, then a young member of Parliament in the Canadian government, agreed to a charity boxing match.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

EZRA LEVANT: On the red corner, 180 pounds, Justin Trudeau.

NORTHAM: Trudeau, sporting boxing shorts and a large tattoo of a raven of his left shoulder, took as many hits from the announcer as did from his opponent, a much beefier senator.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LEVANT: He's wearing liberal red, of course. I call him the Shiny Pony. Oh...

PATRICK BRAZEAU: ...I saw him skipping rope...

LEVANT: The low blow.

BRAZEAU: ...He skips like my 4-year-old daughter.

NORTHAM: The odds going in were 3-to-1 against Trudeau, but the Shiny Pony surprised the crowd.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LEVANT: And there you have it, the fight called for Justin Trudeau.

NORTHAM: That boxing match could very well have been a preview of the Canadian elections last October. Trudeau and his Liberal Party were in third place at the start of the short campaign. But once again, his opponents underestimated him. Trudeau won a decisive victory.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Justin, Justin, Justin, Justin.

NORTHAM: During his victory speech, Trudeau delivered a message of unity and optimism for the future, what he calls sunny ways.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JUSTIN TRUDEAU: Have faith in your fellow citizens, my friends. They are kind and generous. They are open-minded and optimistic. And they know, in their heart of hearts, that a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian.

(APPLAUSE)

NORTHAM: Tall, athletic and with matinee idol looks, Trudeau energized the Canadian elections, normally regarded as pretty dull affairs.

ALTHIA RAJ: I think there's more to it than looks though. I think there's a sense that he seems authentic.

NORTHAM: Althia Raj is Ottawa bureau chief for The Huffington Post. She says Trudeau captured the mood for change, especially among young, cynical Canadians.

RAJ: They feel he's a little bit like one of them, you know? He embraces social media, he's present, he's kind of cheeky, he's a Star Wars nerd. And they feel connected to him.

NORTHAM: There's a natural connection to Trudeau for many Canadians through his father. Pierre Elliott Trudeau was twice prime minister of Canada. He was a charismatic but divisive leader who drove sleek foreign sports cars, dated celebrities and married a woman, Margaret Sinclair, 28 years his junior. He inspired a phenomenon dubbed Trudeaumania. Raj says many Canadians remember this colorful era fondly, and have an affinity for Justin Trudeau.

RAJ: A lot of people remember the day he was born. They remember him growing up, they remember his father, they remember his parents' nasty divorce, so they have this feeling that they know him. And there is the sense that he is our first dynasty.

NORTHAM: The younger Trudeau is living up to his father's image. Vogue magazine called him dashing, and the New York Times ran an article questioning whether the youthful prime minister has helped make Canada hip. Trudeau earned the Twitter hashtag #hottie at an international forum. Trudeau poses for selfies with the likes of Bono and Kevin Spacey, and just about anybody else who wants a picture with him.

STEPHEN TAYLOR: I don't know if Justin Trudeau would be anywhere today if his name was Justin Jones.

NORTHAM: Stephen Taylor, former director of the National Citizens' Coalition, a conservative lobbying group, says so far Trudeau is all show and no substance.

TAYLOR: I think that the prime minister risks a bit of overexposure and accusations of being a bit too flashy. We're facing serious economic troubles in Canada in the future.

NORTHAM: Some Canadians are just deeply uncomfortable with the self-promotion and having a celebrity for a prime minister, says Stephen Marche, a Toronto-based author and columnist with Esquire magazine. He says Trudeau is very good at controlling his image and building a brand. On Skype, Marche says Trudeau uses it as a foreign policy tool to help shape Canada's image in the world.

STEPHEN MARCHE: If we want to spread our values, if we want to have an agenda globally, we're not going to do it by buying some military planes. We're going to do it by being this shining example.

NORTHAM: Marche points to Trudeau's decision to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees within four months of taking office. He says he will raise his sons as feminists, and his administration is a portrait of diversity. Ian MacDonald, editor and publisher of Policy, a bimonthly political magazine, says many in the Cabinet are rookies, including the finance and environment ministers. He says mistakes will ultimately be made, but -

IAN MACDONALD: I think that Mr. Trudeau has permission slips from the voters to do a lot of things and that if he comes up short that they'll be in a forgiving mood, at least in the beginning.

NORTHAM: MacDonald's advice to Prime Minister Trudeau? Stop with the selfies already, and start governing. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Ottawa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.