Both Justin Trudeau and Tom Mulcair recently wrote political autobiographies. The Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, had the good sense to write about hockey, which many Canadians actually care about. When self-serving politicians write about themselves, the results are usually badly written and filled with clichés (as both these books are). Worse, they are boring. Reading Common Ground and Strength of Conviction is a duty, not a pleasure.
Even so, there are things to be learned. First, Justin and Tom are parochial Quebec politicians, deeply concerned with the problems and resentments of Laurentian Canada. Mulcair has added the resentments of class that Trudeau’s circumstances allow him to ignore. Hence, one obvious contrast between them: Trudeau’s ready smiles are genuine; but Mulcair produces a grim rictus. His eyes never smile.
Trudeau’s book, written by a 25-person committee with an imperfect command of English grammar, is filled with “feelings” of various kinds and is intended to explain “how I came to be the person I am,” namely a “late bloomer.”
Chief among the explanations and central to his feelings is his father who, to young Justin, “pretty much knew everything.” Indeed, that’s pretty much how I remember Pierre. In contrast, he several times excused the behaviour of his mother because she was sick. Beyond that, the author reveals little of himself and less of his policies.
One can only make inferences. For example, he said he was “an educator.” Indeed, he likely was a competent high-school teacher. If he can successfully project that limited competency to enough of his fellow citizens, he will have shown that we are still teenagers.
Mulcair claims to be a reluctant author and, despite typos and a few odd translations, it’s not badly written. Where Trudeau is practically devoid of substance, Mulcair tells us enough that we suspect he is not telling the whole story.
He would have us believe that his family and his in-laws constitute a cauldron of love. He is sentimental about orange crates that as a student he used for bedside tables because they were “symbols and reminders of what’s important.” No angry Tom in sight.
And yet . . . as head of a public sector union he “was used to giving no quarter.” He allowed he was a “pit bull” in opposition to the separatists and had “a bit of a reputation for being very tough.” But, really, there is no truth to the notion that he has anger-management issues.
There is plenty of discussion about his several law professors but nothing about his aspirations to be a professor or a judge. He became a bureaucrat, the head of a public-sector union, and a politician. But he was never ambitious.
Michael Ignatieff was ambitious. Mulcair has, as his title says, convictions. These led him humbly to step into “Jack’s” shoes (former NDP leader, Jack Layton) and “contribute.” But only so long as that was “best for the party”, and thus, best for the country.
And yet again . . . Mulcair’s environmental convictions will eliminate any number of resource industries, but he will retain a “clear conscience.” His climate alarmism will lead us away from an “antiquated fossil-fuel-based” economy to one where “governments create jobs.” Perhaps we will all join public-sector unions?
He is proud of his time as Quebec environment minister but never said what species he protected by preventing a development in Longueuil, or why it led to a “disagreement” with his boss, Premier Jean Charest. He is equally evasive on the Keystone XL pipeline.
One conclusion: all of Tom’s many convictions mean is that he’s not a team player. In that respect (and others) he resembles Justin’s dad.
Barry Cooper is a professor of political science at the University of Calgary.