Trudeau launch update: Everywhere but Ottawa
Make that four provinces for Justin Trudeau's first week as a Liberal leadership candidate. Apparently, Justin Trudeau will also be touching down in Alberta this week after he kicks off his campaign tonight, in addition to previously announced stops scheduled in Mississauga and B.C.
At the moment, we in the media are dealing with the Trudeau campaign much like that old tale about the blind persons and the elephant, each of us knowing bits and pieces of the organization (and the itinerary), but not the full size of it. Just yesterday, I was chatting with one of my French-media counterparts, and we made a casual agreement to pool what little knowledge we were gathering. We didn't catch word of the Alberta event, obviously.
This may be just the product of an operation not fully in gear yet; it may also be a somewhat deliberate decision to keep distance between the Trudeau campaign and the political media in the capital. And if it's the latter, it's an interesting comment on what some Liberals (not just those supporting Trudeau) believe were the mistakes of campaigns past.
During the 2011 campaign, I heard repeated mutterings from (as always) anonymous Liberals about how the party was campaigning to please the Ottawa press gallery and not Canadians outside the "bubble." All the Liberals' election talk about the Conservatives' alleged offences against democracy, for instance, were going right over the heads of the Tim Hortons crowd. Similarly, Mr. and Mrs. Average Canadian didn't care how political leaders were treating the media travelling with them. So Liberals weren't gaining any public-opinion points for conducting press conferences that were less restricted than Stephen Harper's five-question encounters to roped-off reporters. In short, the Liberals conducted the campaign that was most accommodating to the media last campaign, and it netted them a third-place finish.
Cast forward to 2012, and we may be starting to see the product of this hard lesson learned. The New Democrats have already instituted their own version of the tight-message discipline of the Conservatives and we shouldn't be surprised to see the Liberals starting to also care less about being Ottawa-media-friendly. In at least a couple of conversations I had with Trudeau-team members the past few days, I got the impression that they don't mind if their candidate is seen at odds with the usual pundit class in Ottawa. The more harsh words from the press gallery, the better, even.
And that also probably explains why Ottawa is not on the multiple-city launch for the Trudeau campaign this week. Prime Minister Stephen Harper hasn't held a press conference in the capital since 2009, and that hasn't appeared to hurt him at all in the court of public opinion. Trudeau's dad used to say that MPs were nobodies as soon as they got 50 yards away from Parliament Hill. Now the reverse seems to be true -- you're nobody until you get far away from the Ottawa bubble.