At Issue panel: Justin Trudeau's apology enough to limit damage done?

Panelists Andrew Coyne, Chantal Hébert and Shachi Kurl had their say on Thursday night's At Issue on the Ottawa story that took everyone by surprise — Justin Trudeau grabbing one MP, while elbowing another in the process.

Panelists Andrew Coyne, Chantal Hébert and Shachi Kurl weigh in

At Issue panelists Andrew Coyne, Chantal Hébert and Shachi Kurl joined Peter Mansbridge on Thursday to discuss the out-of-nowhere story that stopped Ottawa in its tracks midweek: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau bounding across the House of Commons and forcefully escorting Opposition whip Gord Brown, while elbowing NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau in the process.

The panelists assessed whether the story's ultimately as big as the amount of coverage it has inspired, and whether there will be lasting damage for Trudeau and the Liberal Party.

Coyne said Trudeau will have to tread carefully and avoid more "high-handed and somewhat erratic" behaviour in the next little while as it will tarnish his brand and cause Canadians to look more closely at the Liberals, who have encountered some self-inflicted damage in their push for electoral reform and setting the parameters of debate in the House of Commons.

Hébert suggested that while the incident taken in isolation might be overblown, the timing is problematic for the governing party as it has derailed their agenda at a time when they "needed a lot benefit of the doubt to get its legislation through," pointing to the electoral reform missteps and the possibility the clock may run out on getting assisted-death legislation achieved before this session of Parliament concludes next month.

Kurl said there will undoubtedly be a political cost for Trudeau as "it's hard to unsee this type of thing," but the extent of the damage is unclear as many of his supporters skew young and may reject or not even read punditry heavily critical of the prime minister.

She rejected any comparisons to Jean Chretien's hands-on approach with a protester years ago, which was not entirely inconsistent with his often fiery image. Trudeau, on the other hand, made pledges on the campaign trail last year to improve decorum in the House, she said.

The panelists seemed to be in agreement that Trudeau handled the first 24 hours after his forceful walkabout as well as could be expected, apologizing profusely and withdrawing the government's motion to limit Commons debate.

Coyne argued that the Conservatives and NDP might have already squandered the change to get the most "bang for the buck" out of the flap due to overheated language from some of their members, while Hébert added that the opposition parties should let the matter percolate with Canadians and not overplay it, as "it becomes smaller the more you try to make it big."

Kurl said that while Trudeau looked more like a "blue-line grinder" than the leader who's scored heavily with his style, his approval ratings may be high enough to absorb a bit of a hit.

The At Issue panel appears Thursday nights on CBC Television's The National.