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Be careful what you wish for, Conservatives: Canadians may like a tougher Trudeau

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Memo to Conservatives, New Democrats and others who are crowing about how Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appears to have been revealed as a harsher and less cuddly politician than he has been thought to be till now: Be careful what you wish for.

If Trudeau is revealed as a tough guy who is not particularly nice to his MPs, under a mere veneer of sensitivity, Canadians, who have a history of liking tough leaders like the current PM's Dear Ole Dad, may like him better.

It's certainly true that the version of Trudeau now emerging from the wreckage of the SNC-Lavalin affair shows him as not quite the warm and fuzzy high school drama teacher we were all so keen on when we were justifiably hell bent on getting rid of Stephen Harper. This is true even if Trudeau can still summon up a tear when circumstances warrant.

But the fact is, the recent record suggests Canadians don't mind tough leaders. In fact, they may prefer them. Consider Harper himself, and Jean Chrétien, two of the more obvious electoral successes in recent Canadian political history.

Nor do Canadians seem to mind politicians switching their narrative from idealistic to tough -- consider the old block himself, whence Justin Trudeau was chipped.

As a youth, I heard Pierre Trudeau speak before he had yet won the Liberal leadership. He sounded coolly intellectual and warmly idealistic, but he had not yet revealed the steel at his core. However, if any of us had really been paying attention we might have sensed it there.

What's more, despite claims to the contrary, Canadian voters apparently don't mind serial liars, an extreme lack of diplomacy or even an apparent degree of corruption in their politicians, as long as they give the impression of being tough enough. Consider the recent success of Doug Ford in Ontario and the apparent popularity of Jason Kenney here in Alberta, if the latest poll touted by the Calgary Herald, which acts as Kenney's personal publicity department, is anything to go by.

As for leaders who are self evidently not so tough -- Joe Clark, Kim Campbell and John Turner, the latter's old-style male jockery notwithstanding, spring to mind -- they seem not to have been so successful in the same epoch. (Brian Mulroney? I'm of two minds about him. More conniving than tough, methinks.)

Consider the late Jim Prentice, premier of Alberta, who, among other things, didn't appear to be as tough as the NDP's Rachel Notley as election day neared in May 2015. Andrew Scheer, do you hear the wind whispering your name?

So don't be too surprised if Canadians don't mind all that much if Trudeau lets a new, steelier persona more like his late father's emerge.

Right now, we are told, Trudeau's personal popularity has taken a hit. But if I were a Liberal strategist, I would not panic about that, driven as it is by nearly hysterical tweeting by Conservative operatives -- the inspiration for which Scheer's Conservative Party strategic advisers take from their Trumpian Republican mentors south of the imaginary line, and perhaps others.

More than one side can tweet, after all, and having the National Post and Rebel Media in his corner is probably worth less to Scheer than he imagines. I guess if things get desperate for him, there's always the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg.

But if I were the Liberals, I'd wait to see how the public adapts to the emerging new narrative, reasonably confident things would work out just fine for their guy's electoral chances next fall. If necessary they can remind them what Senator Patrick Brazeau discovered about Trudeau's right hook.

So don't be surprised if we soon hear Trudeau uttering, as another tough old pol once did: "Just watch me!"

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also apears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Photo: Chiloa/Wikimedia Commons

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