Justin Trudeau, praised for his fashion, but questioned about style

From a distance, the Trudeau government is dramatic and showy, still perhaps glimmering slightly with the stuff of hope. Within the confines of the House of Commons the idea is somewhat more complicated, tinged with the faint hints of reasons to be cynical.

GQ hails the 'Prime Minister of Suave,' but the opposition is unimpressed with what it sees

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is the only politician to make GQ's list of stylish men. (Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images)

​"This Canuck," reports GQ magazine, "is proving that leading well and dressing well aren't mutually exclusive."

So is Justin Trudeau hailed as the "Prime Minister of Suave," officially one of the 13 best-dressed men on planet Earth.

This much was declared just a few days after he set social media aflame with his explanation of quantum computers and just a day before his government was noted in the pages of the Wall Street Journal as a potential model of proper fiscal policy. 

Meanwhile, new legislation to regulate medical assistance in dying is about to be debated, the democratic institution's minister has laid out the principles for electoral reform and the health minister has now announced an intention to move ahead next year with a bill to legalize marijuana. 

On Thursday, Trudeau will be in New York where he is formally sign on to the Paris declaration to combat climate change (for whatever reason, he will also have a photo opportunity at a boxing gym in Brooklyn).

So will have gone another seven days in the life of Justin Trudeau's government.

PM has fun explaining quantum computing

6 years ago
Duration 1:28
Justin Trudeau responds to a flip question from reporter with a good-natured, not-so-flip answer

'He better not screw it up'

From a distance, it is dramatic and showy, still perhaps glimmering slightly with the stuff of hope. 

"He's just the liberal dream, isn't he?" Tim Minchin, the Australian playwright mused aloud this week. "And people like me believe that you can govern like that, so he better not screw it up."

Within the confines of the House of Commons the idea is somewhat more complicated, tinged with the faint hints of reasons to be cynical.

"When will the minister face the facts," Conservative critic Lisa Raitt asked rhetorically on Wednesday afternoon, "that they talk a good game, but they are really not delivering on an open and honest government?"

At issue here was the suggestion of the Parliamentary Budget Officer that the presentation of the government's fiscal plan was something less than transparent.

Wrinkles in the tailored suit?

Raitt's question was preceded by another number of Conservative queries about the International Trade Minister's trip to Los Angeles last November, the official opposition still trying to find something unquestionably nefarious about Chrystia Freeland's two days in California (there is now some question of who booked the minister's hotel room). 

Later, the New Democrats would have another go at the government's willingness to abide by a deal to sell light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia. And question period would be followed by the new government's first motion of time allocation, a move to limit debate — in this case on a bill concerning Air Canada — that was quickly decried by New Democrats as an abuse of process.

(The Conservatives also tried on Tuesday night to make something of the Prime Minister's foray into quantum computing, claiming his tech talk was a way of avoiding a question about the country's involvement in the fight against ISIS. The Liberals rather easily swatted that much away by playing video of the response he indeed offered after the computer stuff.)

Individually, these matters might not amount to a searing indictment and even together they might come to be footnotes. The next budget might meet a higher standard of clarity, Freeland's trip might be basically defensible and not part of some wider tendency toward ministerial excess, future arms deals might be handled with perfect moral clarity, the government's use of time allocation might be sparing. 

But these also might be the first hints of wrinkles in the finely tailored suit.

A question of style

This was government that came to office with the promise of a certain style. It would not be perfect, but it would be "honest, open, and sincere in our efforts to serve the public interest." It would "trust Canadians." It rested on the antithesis of cynicism, the notion that "better is always possible."

And so — in addition to its ability to properly design and deliver policy, and its willingness to make difficult decisions — it might be measured by how long it can keep the worst elements of cynicism and self interest at bay.

A reminder of how badly things can turn will be on offer Thursday when Mike Duffy enters a courtroom in Ottawa to hear a judge's ruling on 31 charges. The undoing of Trudeau's predecessor was greatly aided by the grubby mess of the Duffy affair, a cascading series of events that culminated in the Prime Minister being unable or unwilling to extensively explain why and how his office had gotten so deeply involved in trying to make a senator's expense scandal go away. 

Of course, all governments eventually go out of fashion. But presumably Stephen Harper did not imagine that his "new era of accountability" would end amid such stuff.

The justice minister's fundraiser

Though unmentioned at question period Wednesday afternoon, the closest thing to a verifiable scandal for the Trudeau government so far might be the matter of Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and the fundraising event near Bay Street.

Even if within the letter of the law, the notion of lawyers paying the Liberal party to be in the presence of the attorney general is at least curious and challenging to square with the government's own guidelines on accountability. 

But when faced with questions about the event, the Liberals did not embrace the opportunity to directly discuss the issues (potential, perceived or real) that such an event might raise. There were problematic claims that the minister was attending as an MP and that she had proactively raised the issue with the ethics commissioner (the latter seems not to have happened until after the CBC noted the event). Government House leader Dominic LeBlanc eventually stood in the justice minister's place to take questions in the House.

Platitudes and talking points

There is likely a conversation to be had about the fundraising efforts of cabinet ministers, but the Liberals seem in no rush to lead it. Indeed, presented with the situation two weeks ago, Trudeau retreated into platitudes and general reassurances. And it is such stuff that can come to deeply grate.

Indeed, it was on a similar note, but another matter entirely, that NDP leader Tom Mulcair was moved to harrumph on Wednesday afternoon.

"Straight to his talking points, Mr. Speaker," Mulcair complained after the Prime Minister had similarly avoided addressing a question about a disabled veteran. "Why are we not surprised?"

As with pocket squares and socks, it is the details that matter on questions of style in government.

Trudeau talks to students at NYU

6 years ago
Duration 5:16
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau held a Q&A with students at NYU on a number of topics including climate change.


Aaron Wherry

Senior writer

Aaron Wherry has covered Parliament Hill since 2007 and has written for Maclean's, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. He is the author of Promise & Peril, a book about Justin Trudeau's years in power.


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