Memo re. Justin Trudeau

Memo re. Justin Trudeau
Published: May 23, 2013
Professor of journalism and documentary filmmaker, James Cullingham on the current imbalance in Canadian political media coverage.

Memo re. Justin Trudeau
To: English language Canadian media

Justin Trudeau is not the Prime Minister of Canada. His party is a distant third in the House of Commons. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a Conservative. Thomas Mulcair of the New Democratic Party leads the official opposition. I hope this reminder is of use, particularly to The Toronto Star, The Globe And Mail and English-language CBC.

Here in Canada, a sometimes pleasant (unless you’re an Aboriginal person) settler nation to the north of the United States of America, one is currently witness to a media phenomenon. The ascendancy of the imponderably handsome, shaggy-haired Justin Trudeau to the leadership of Canada’s federal Liberal party has been greeted by an a-journalistic English language media crush on the former Prime Minister’s son. Dynasty politics in Canada? You bet. A reactive collective media bliss that rivals American liberal journalists’ denial of Barack Obama’s actual record and its frequent historic amnesia about John Kennedy has taken many supposedly responsible Canadian journalists in its grip.

Justin Trudeau can be commended for winning a seat in a francophone riding of east Montréal. He then had an undistinguished record as a backbench Member of Parliament prior to declaring his candidacy for the Liberal leadership. He won that contest and deserves appropriate media recognition for the accomplishment. However, that’s where the problem arises.


If one expects journalism to live up to a demanding standard, its citizens are being failed.

During the leadership campaign, and since Trudeau took his seat as Liberal leader in the Canadian Parliament, English language media has obsessively followed his every move. Utterly predictable and amusing attack ads on the new Liberal leader produced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative party have been greeted with howls of media outrage as if Canada did not have a long tradition of such salvos. (Seasoned Canadian journalists might remember a series of “Zap you’re frozen!” ads that the team of Trudeau le père unleashed against the economic policy of the worthy Progressive Conservative Robert Stanfield in the 1970s.)

If one expects journalism to live up to a demanding standard in a mitigated democracy such as Canada, a twenty-first-century nation state with an appointed Senate and an apartheid-like Native policy enshrined in a Victorian era Indian Act, its citizens are being failed. Justin Trudeau leads Canada’s third federal party. The most recent national election in 2011 produced a Conservative government led by the aforementioned Monsieur Harper. Her Majesty’s Official Opposition is led by Thomas Mulcair of the New Democrats, a social democratic party.

The fully bilingual and widely experienced Mulcair has largely disappeared from the English language media. This is less true in the francophone media in which Mulcair can often be witnessed presenting a comprehensive critique of government policy as befits an official Opposition leader. Not that the English language media would notice or care as it pursues the beguiling Mr. Trudeau. This discrepancy between English and French language media presents unsettling prospects for advocates of Canadian federal unity. The NDP has a significant majority of seats in the province of Québec. Close observers of federal Canadian politics residing there will not remain unmoved by the national English language media’s avoidance of its responsibility in covering Mulcair and the NDP opposition.

James Cullingham is an educator, filmmaker and writer. Cullingham is a professor of Journalism at Seneca College and president of Tamarack Productions in Toronto. His most recent film In Search of Blind Joe Death - The Saga of John Fahey (2012) is currently appearing at festivals on four continents and will be broadcast in North America and the United Kingdom in the autumn of 2013.


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