Like many who are now of a certain age, I cast my first federal ballot in 1968. Over my adult life I have been fairly ecumenical (and as a member of the media for many years, discreet) in my voting preferences but it should come as no shock that as a 20-something in the Age of Aquarius that I voted for Pierre Elliott Trudeau. It is hard to describe to a younger generation the excitement that Trudeau Sr.’s campaign generated. He had only been in the House of Commons 3 years when he captured the leadership of the Liberal Party. In the year prior to becoming leader Trudeau had served as Justice Minister and immediately introduced an omnibus bill that simultaneously decriminalized homosexuality, made divorce easier (and in so doing put a lot of motel-creeping private eyes out of business), and legalized contraception, which nominally, at least was illegal until then. This assault on Puritanical mores made Trudeau a hit with a whole younger generation who needed no encouragement to kick over the traces of sexual convention in the era of peace and love…and the low-yield weed that passed for pot in those days. I told some Liberal workers who were secretly worried that Justin’s campaign might be suffering from a lack of gravitas not to be concerned — that Justin’s father’s 1968 campaign had no substance whatsoever—it was a pure love-in from coast to coast. Like father, like son, Trudeau wowed voters with his appearances at hotel swimming pools in bathing suit during the campaign. Straw-boatered girls threw themselves at the PM showering him with kisses and screams reminiscent of the Beatlemania of only a few years earlier. He came to Hamilton and was driven into a packed Ivor Wynne stadium in a white convertible amid a roaring ovation. Sid Bibby was the boss at CHCH in those days — also a prominent Liberal back-roomer and he made no bones about ensuring that Trudeau’s visits in that election and subsequently, were given comprehensive live coverage. Indeed it became the practice for the Liberals to wind up every campaign in Hamilton, knowing that the live coverage and enthusiastic crowds would be beamed across the seat-rich GTA and Southern Ontario. It was the Liberals, after all that granted CHCH its first broadcast license.
In contrast to his father, Justin Trudeau’s campaign was a more staid affair. He did create excitement and drew larger crowds than his opponents, but nothing approaching Trudeaumania. We live in a different time now with 24 hour news cycles and a million TV channels to divert eyeballs. Pierre’s campaign didn’t have to compete with the Blue Jays because there was no major league baseball in Canada. In the 60’s people still attended evening political rallies—nowadays most campaign events are finished by noon—largely staged photo-ops. The other difference between 1968 and now was that Pierre Trudeau was a swinging bachelor—Justin has a beautiful wife and three adorable kids—he better not be a swinger.
But there are similarities—they are…were both athletes, including the boxing. Both demonstrated surprisingly disciplined minds beneath the cheery surface. Both were portrayed as dilettantes by their opponents. Trudeau Sr. delegated a lot of political and cabinet authority to those around him. Hopefully that approach won’t be lost on Justin Trudeau, who, by the way, has already logged 14 years at 24 Sussex Drive.