Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

We need Justin to silence bullies

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I am not a member of the Liberal party. I have voted everything from Green to NDP to Liberal, depending on the candidate in my area.

But I'm watching new Liberal leader Justin Trudeau these days as he goes up against Team Harper, and I have to admit that I wish him well.

I wish him well because the bullying has already begun, and I fear he will not be smart enough or confident enough to counter it properly.

And if he can't, the bullies will win again.

We've already seen what the Tory attack ads did to Stéphane Dion (he was painted as a ditherer, a 'weak' man), and Michael Ignatieff (an ambitious academic, far too snooty to lead). Dion in particular chose to ignore those ads at his peril. He was not well-known enough outside of Quebec, and a lot of the Tory dirt stuck.

This week, hours after Trudeau took over the Liberal leadership, the Tories unleashed their first attack ad, portraying Trudeau as a vain and shallow person -- look, he's doing a mock striptease at a public event, he's sporting long hair and a moustache -- how unbecoming of a leader!

"Does he have the judgment to be prime minister" asks a voice dripping in contempt, as carousel music plays in the background. "He's in way over his head."

So far, the real Trudeau appears to be earnest and forthright enough, an open book compared to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

He's not an intellectual like his father, Pierre. He is possibly more like his mother Margaret -- more emotional and empathic, traits that tend to make him look younger and less of a 'leader' in some people's eyes.

(In fact, columnist John Ibbitson called him a "callow youth" last weekend. Seriously? Trudeau is 41.)

But why do we persist in defining leadership according to some kind of cowboy-macho stereotype? Surely we have learned in the last few decades that there is real value at the top for empathic virtues such as collaboration, consultation and compromise.

In my opinion, the true test of Trudeau's leadership lies before him right now.

It is how he will react, how he will allow his party to react, to the attack ads.

The Tories may think they have taken the right tone; one of mild contempt, right down to the fairy dust and Disney-like swirl at the end.

But videos such as these are not funny at all. Not to a nation still raw from the suicides of two young women. We've seen what happens when the power of social media is used to bully and belittle.

So I admit, I have no political aspirations for Justin Trudeau. I don't even know if he has a platform, let alone a vision for Canada. But I want him -- I need him -- to stand up to the bullies.

He needs to fight back with grace, with courage, and with humour. He needs to say this country deserves better. He needs to refuse to play along.

He has already deflected the ads in exactly that fashion.

The day they first aired, Trudeau said he was happy to have offered his shirt to the Canadian Liver Foundation. "I hope that all the attention drawn to that today and my willingness to have a little fun with it will actually lead them to receive more donations," he said.

The mock-strip footage stems from the CLF's charity lunch in 2011 in which he raised about $1,900.

But can he control his own party? Liberal party officials have already vowed to respond with ads of their own.

And so we the voters hold our breath, hoping beyond hope that they choose to take some high road.

Yes, Trudeau has to respond, but he must not be defensive, or even worse, angry.

We need him to laugh off these personal attacks with the derision they deserve, to show the bullies that these tactics do not belong in Canadian politics today, even as U.S. campaigns wallow in the muck.

Canadian politics needs to take a new tack. And Trudeau has the power and the momentum right now to show us the way.

He told the Globe and Mail that Canadians are tired "of negativity, of bullying, of cynicism."

We are. We truly are. Lead on.

 

Margo Goodhand is a former editor of the Winnipeg Free Press. She is working on a book about women's shelters.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 18, 2013 A15

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