Justin Trudeau used to take his grandmother for joyrides in the halls of her Saanich care home.
“He and my other nephew pushed her in her wheelchair as fast they could, up and down the corridor,” says his Aunt Heather. “Mum was so thrilled.”
Victoria’s Heather Walker is the sister of Trudeau’s mother, Margaret. She and another sister, Betsy Dening, were on hand with a clutch of younger local relatives Thursday as the Liberal leader used the Veterans Memorial Lodge in Broadmead, where his grandmother spent the four years prior to her death in 2012, as the backdrop while launching a raft of election promises related to seniors.
After deploring the weaknesses in the long-term care system that were exposed by COVID (“We had to send the armed forces into retirement homes, in Canada”) Trudeau spoke of $9 billion in new spending. A $25-an-hour minimum wage for personal support workers. Training for up to 50,000 more of them. A doubling of the Home Accessibility Tax Credit.
Arrayed behind him were three local Liberal candidates — Nikki Macdonald of Victoria, Sherri Moore-Arbour of Saanich-Gulf Islands and Doug Kobayashi of Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke — doing their best to pretend that they weren’t being harassed by wasps. Trudeau, in a crisp white shirt, sleeves rolled up, no jacket, narrow tie, looked remarkably similar to the way he looked when he made Victoria the first stop of his 2019 campaign (though, happily, the media bus didn’t drive into the Liberals’ plane at the Victoria airport this time).
Back then, Trudeau used his local appearance to talk about housing affordability, a subject he barely touched on Thursday. It’s one of the topics his opponents are beating him over the head with right now, with the NDP brandishing stats showing the price of the average Victoria home (and this is for all types of housing, not just single-family dwellings) has jumped from $461,300 when Trudeau was elected in 2015 to $843,600 today. To those wondering how they will ever get into this market, he could only say a housing announcement is coming.
Trudeau also didn’t give the local tourism industry much to cheer about when asked about cross-border ferries. While Canada has opened its arms to U.S. travellers arriving by land and air, it has yet to do so for those arriving aboard vessels like the MV Coho from Port Angeles, the Clipper from Seattle and the Sidney-Anacortes ferry. The feds are working on getting the boats across the border, Trudeau said, but “it isn’t something that we have the capacity at this exact moment to manage safely.”
This is the challenge for those who have been in power for a few years: while their opponents get to sound off like drunks in a bar, talking exclusively about what they would do if they had the reins, prime ministers have to answer for what they have, or have not, actually accomplished.
Trudeau and his sunny ways were the beneficiary of that in the 2015 election, which was effectively a referendum on the leadership of dour Stephen Harper. But by the time the 2019 election rolled around, Trudeau himself had lost his new-car smell. He had his own baggage: Blackface, the Trans Mountain pipeline purchase, Jody Wilson-Raybould and SNC-Lavalin, the electoral-reform turnabout.
The thing is, those controversies were out there and he was elected anyway (albeit with a minority). This is the challenge for his opponents: Few people are likely to be any more disillusioned by Trudeau’s flaws in 2021 than they were in 2019. In fact, this time he gets to argue that he kept the train on the tracks during COVID, rushing in CERB and wage subsidies to keep the economy afloat and locking up more vaccine doses than Canadians have, so far, been willing to stick in their arms. That’s the record that made him confident enough to call the Sept. 20 election.
It’s a calculated political gamble by someone whose political bloodlines, remember, run deep on both sides of the family. After Thursday’s event, his Aunt Heather spoke about campaigning for her father — a longtime Lower Mainland Liberal MP and 1950s minister of fisheries — and for her brother-in-law, Pierre Trudeau. She said she was happy to do so for her nephew Justin, who is now much more than the one who used to race Kathleen Sinclair through the halls in Broadmead.