WASHINGTON – Anecdotes about the late Pierre Elliott Trudeau are surfacing in foreign news reports as international media begin focusing on the possibility his son might succeed him as Canada’s prime minister.
Canadian conservatives who seethe over the father’s legacy and abhor the prospect of a Justin Trudeau prime ministership might be advised to bypass some of the foreign coverage in the interest of blood-pressure management.
But Canadian Liberals will feel warm waves of nostalgia over pieces like one by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which shares stories about one of the country’s best-known figures — a politician who would have turned 96 on Sunday, the eve of the election.
In an item entitled, “Will Canada throw out Conservative Prime Minister Harper in Monday election?” the writer describes the elder Trudeau as an athletic, dashing bachelor.
“Pierre Trudeau famously likened life with the U.S. as a next door neighbor to being in bed with an 800-pound gorilla: ‘You feel every twitch,'” it reminisced, although the old quote was actually about an elephant. “He was equally irreverent in dealing with the British crown, once doing a pirouette behind the back of (the) Queen…
“The vote on Monday night could well raise the profile of the Great White North.”
A New Yorker online piece described conflicting feelings in Canada over Trudeau’s son leading the polls. His victory, it said, would be “an operatic turn in a long-running Canadian psychodrama.”
It referred to the legacy of bilingualism, multiculturalism, and a Charter of Rights deemed by one study to have become the world’s most-emulated constitutional document.
But it also mentioned crashing oil prices, the National Energy Program, Western alienation — and their impression on a young Stephen Harper, who authored an unflattering obituary in 2000: “After Pierre Trudeau died, Harper wrote a Hitchens-esque scourging of the dead.”
The piece predicted Harper would almost certainly resign if he loses on Monday, then delivered this parting shot: “For many inside and outside the country, that alone would be enough to make Canada feel a bit more Canadian again.”
Under a picture of Trudeau in a Habs jersey, the U.K. Independent wrote: “Observers agree while his intellect and temperament differ from his father’s, Mr. Trudeau has inherited the late Prime Minister’s grit and determination… His rivals may have realised too late.”
While some foreign news outlets have barely noticed the Canadian election, The Guardian has been hitting it hard — but it’s punching just one way.
The left-leaning broadsheet has had headlines comparing Canada’s leader to unpopular world figures: “Stephen Harper is the last remnant of George W. Bush in North America,” “Scandals worthy of Watergate,” “Harper: master manipulator,” “Harper’s politics put Canada to shame,” “Harper’s dismembering of the country.”
The paper has also completed an about-face on Liberal prospects.
A piece a few days ago said: “Will Trudeaumania sweep Canada’s Liberals into power?” That’s not to be confused with a piece three months ago headlined “Canada’s Liberals face bleak future.”
A senior political writer at the Washington Post blogged about how all three North American countries could have left-leaning leaders for the first time since 2000.
The headline was: “The very Barack-Obama candidate who could soon be Canada’s prime minister.” Speaking of Obama, his former aides David Axelrod and Neera Tanden tweeted messages supporting Trudeau.
Foreign media have also published Canadian writers of conflicting views.
David Frum mocked a piece in the New York Times accusing Harper of running an anti-Muslim campaign. Frum tweeted pictures of Harper appearing with Muslim religious figures.
The conservative writer and onetime George W. Bush speechwriter lauded Harper for presiding over a decade of strong economics and near-total peace from persistent national-unity crises.
Frum responded to a New York Times piece headlined, “Canada Has Its Trump Moment,” referring to anti-Islam electioneering. It was from a Canadian writer who wrote a similar Times piece about Canada-U.S. nativist parallels before the last Quebec election titled, “Quebec’s Tea Party Moment.”
Several foreign media covered Canada’s niqab debate. Guardian pieces were scathing. The Washington Post offered a straight summary headlined, “How a Muslim veil is dominating Canada’s election race.”
Some media offered granular details of Canadian politics. The L.A. Times said Toronto’s 905 region could decide the result. The New York Times wrote about strategic vote-swaps between people hoping to unseat Harper.
The Economist took a broad economic view.
This week’s edition examines the challenges facing whoever wins. High personal debt and moribund business productivity could spell trouble, it says.
“Canadians are not a people of excess,” began one piece.
“‘Why did the Canadian cross the road? To get to the middle,’ they joke. Temperance served them well during the global financial crisis… But something un-Canadian has been happening.” It said no leader has dared deliver the bad news: Canadians’ houses may be worth less than they think.
Another Economist piece was entitled: “Harper’s long tenure as prime minister may be nearing its close.”
That was the theme of some French coverage.
Paris’s Liberation summarized the Harper era thusly: “Originally from Alberta, he built his success on that of his province, hopped-up on oilsands bitumen. But the oil bubble burst.”
Le Monde profiled the leader who opposes the Kyoto protocol and, in its view, refugee settlement. It said Harper seems unperturbed by Canada’s reputation as a climate laggard. He also appears to be betting Canadian voters care more about security than generosity to refugees, the news outlet reported.
Its conclusion: “The piercing blue stare, the often-forced smile… hides a complex and enigmatic personality …. Whatever happens Oct. 19, Stephen Harper can claim he helped transform Canada without sacrificing his principles.”