Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has faced criticism after he “manhandled” an MP, and accidentally elbowed another, during a parliamentary debate. Is the shine starting to fade from the rockstar politician many thought could do no wrong?
He was elected on a wave of so-called Trudeau-mania.
The athletic, young prime minister, who can box, perform arm balancing yoga poses and reel off quantum physics theories, loves the cameras and they love him.
But now the Liberal leader has been forced to apologise – not once, not twice, but three times – for a candid camera moment he’s now regretting.
During a televised parliamentary debate on his government’s euthanasia bill, Prime Minister Trudeau – impatient for a vote to get under way – was seen grabbing Conservative MP Gord Brown by the arm and dragging him across the chamber. At the same time he accidentally elbowed New Democratic Party (NDP) MP, Ruth-Ellen Brosseau.
If that wasn’t enough he then got into a heated argument with NDP leader Tom Mulcair, as MPs looked on. Canadian news outlets are reporting that Mr Trudeau also swore at a group of MPs.
The PM was given a dressing down from the Speaker of the House, Liberal MP, Geoff Regan who warned him, “It is not appropriate to manhandle other members”.
“I made a mistake. I regret it and I’m looking to make amends,” Mr Trudeau said, as he offered mea culpas for his actions in the chamber.
“I expect better behaviour of myself.”
The episode has stirred the usually tame world of Canadian politics, with Prime Minister Trudeau’s critics lining up to condemn him.
Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose said his actions were “unbecoming of a leader” and “out of line”.
This isn’t the first time Mr Trudeau has lashed out in Parliament. In 2011 he had to say sorry after swearing at Conservative MP Peter Kent, who is now suggesting Mr Trudeau enrols in anger management training.
Canada’s media hasn’t been too forgiving either. The Globe and Mail newspaper described the episode as a temper tantrum, borne out of frustration.
“Maybe he thinks there are better uses of his time than sitting through the tedious business of democratic legislating,” the paper suggested, in an apparent dig.
“Having to face day after day of opposition MPs opposing, because that is both their job and their belief, is not as much fun as speaking to an adoring audience at Davos, or making the scene in global capitals, or being a guest on an American television programme.”
Months earlier, the same newspaper published a column arguing that Mr Trudeau’s star appeal gave him opportunity, but also warned it could be wasted on “self-aggrandisement”.
To many, he’s demonstrated the latter, and despite offering apologies, there are those who see Mr Trudeau’s actions as bordering on arrogance.
“There has been this thing that, ‘wow he’s so glamorous, it’s all pretty good’, and while there’s no question Canadians are pleased with his style and new approach, I sense there could be some tremors with this particular outburst,” says David Akin, the parliamentary bureau chief for the right leaning, Toronto Sun newspaper.
Akin believes that for the son of former Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, there’s also “the whiff of entitlement” which could harm Trudeau Junior’s popularity, which has risen since he took office in a landslide last October.
One of the criticisms levelled at him during the election campaign, when he beat Conservative Stephen Harper, was that he was too young, arrogant and inexperienced. Now even those on the left, including the Toronto Star newspaper, fear this just plays into their hands.
“The Prime Minister does himself and his country a grave disservice when he proves his critics right,” the paper writes in its editorial.
“The kind of government he is promising requires work, patience and collaboration.
“Shoving won’t do.”
For a leader who has built his reputation on a promise to bring more optimistic, “sunny ways” to politics, this has undoubtedly cast a cloud.
Mr Trudeau has been able to ride out accusations he failed to meet his election pledges in the budget, or even recent controversy over his wife’s comments that she needs more staff to help her with her official duties.
But this parliamentary fracas could damage him in a different way, because it isn’t just about policy, or his partner. It’s personal. It’s about how the politician who sells himself, conducts himself.
Historian Michael Bliss, from the University of Toronto, says all of this highlights the fact, Mr Trudeau has a lot of growing up to do.
“Right now he strides and jogs and jets across our political stage, as well as international ones, like a breath of fresh air. He’s the most handsome and popular prime minister in decades, his political enemies are in utter disarray,” he writes, “Perhaps how easy it’s all been explains his astonishing lack of judgment on Wednesday.”
Bliss believes the 44-year-old PM could use this to develop and mature in a positive way, “Maybe he’s had so much early success, has been so seldom seriously tested, that he’s in danger of ceasing to grow in office.”
On the flipside, Kate Heartfield, a columnist for the Ottawa Citizen, doesn’t think any of this will dent PM Trudeau’s brand.
“He’s always shown a pugnacious streak, both physically as a boxer and in his tactics as a politician, and it’s one of the things many people like about him,” she says.
Heartfield argues that if Justin Trudeau was a fictional character, “his physicality and occasional boorishness would temper his usual handsome earnest cheerfulness.” It is a character flaw she argues makes him more well-rounded and likeable.
Perhaps Justin Trudeau should take note of another former prime minister who was also elected on a landslide. Brian Mulroney won a huge majority in 1984, but within a year saw his popularity fall.
“It turned on a dime in a year, so it can happen. The Canadian mindset is don’t be too tall a poppy,” says David Akin.
“We like to chop down tall poppies, we’re jealous of someone who seems to be acting a little too high handed,” he warns.
But Justin Trudeau is doing politics from a new script. There’s every chance that this controversy will only really have a lasting impact in the corridors of power, and not beyond.
“If he (Trudeau) refrains from putting anyone in an unwanted headlock between now and 2019, this might only be remembered as a merely unfortunate kerfuffle.” writes CBC’s Aaron Wherry.
“He has public goodwill to burn and he has time to undermine any unflattering narrative that might be forming.”
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