Ottawa Ontario – I must admit that our visit to the St Albert’s Cheese Factory yesterday started out as a bit of a lark.
After reading David Akin’s post on Twitter that Justin Trudeau would be visiting the cheese factory, we decided to go over and see him. The original intention was to try to get a selfie with him which we could then post on Facebook and horrify all of our friends, former Conservative staff etc. Now don’t get me wrong, we love St Albert’s cheese and as it is roughly 20 minutes from our home, we often drop by there to restock our cheese supplies.
Once there it became more interesting. With more years than I like to think about in politics, old habits kicked in and I became a political observer once again. Checking over the crowd, it was quite a mixed group of seniors, tourists and locals from the town and surrounding farms. There was no strong Liberal cheering club present. As with most leaders and Prime Ministers, he arrived a little late; security was adequate, and not over bearing and Conservatives take note, anyone who wanted to be there could be there. There was no vetting of people in the crowd, or previous sign in approval, no necessity to have a Liberal membership etc.
For those that caught a glimpse on TV, the place was packed. While he did speak a few words there was no sound system, so except for a few reporters and folks at the front, no one else heard anything.
Having spent almost 50 years being involved in politics in one way or another I have been to several hundred functions with MPs, ministers, party leaders and Prime Ministers, each has a different way of working a room. You also learn how to read a crowd and the most likely route that he might follow if you want to shake a hand, get a photo etc. We picked our spot (and yes Bev got a selfie) and waited and more importantly watched him in action. What you see in person is always very different from the few seconds shown on TV.
This guy knows how to work a crowd. He is fearless at plunging into the midst of it (that must drive his security detail nuts). He has a way of greeting people in a very friendly and informal manner and everyone within a short distance of him gets a few words, a handshake, or a selfie. He is exceptionally patient and when he has a few seconds with you, you have his undivided attention. Trudeau made a point of working the entire crowd, from the front of the room to the back and then went outside to do the same with those who couldn’t fit into the building. Not too many Prime Ministers or party leaders like to do that, most just want to get out of there and on to the next function.
It was impressive to watch. I would say Mulroney’s ability to work a crowd stands out in my mind, but Trudeau would be a close match and might even have an edge.
The point of all of this is that it so obvious how badly the Conservatives underestimated this guy.
In politics you have to study and know your opponent, both their weaknesses and their strengths. Think back to all of the pre-election negative advertising. The Conservatives always focused on his weaknesses- inexperience, his showmanship, lack of policies, his hair. I said back then that it was a foolish line of attack and I am more convinced of that now. I never saw any indication that the Conservatives really understood his strengths; they were just too dismissive of him. They paid a price for that miscalculation.
No one will ever say that Trudeau will turn into a policy wonk; we all know who calls the shots in PMO and who designs the Liberal strategy, but as the front man for the government and the party he is good at what he does and that makes him a formidable opponent.
Attack Trudeau (IE PMO staff) for poor Liberal policies and attack his personal blunders (such as his island holiday), when he makes them, but personal attacks on him will largely wash off. Never make the mistake of under estimating his impact and the impression he leaves with voters when he makes this type of feel good excursion. The Liberal brain trust would be wise to keep him on the road all summer and as often as possible when the House is sitting. It certainly explains their desire to only have him in the House one day a week.
By the way the security detail had what looked like a lot of new and interesting vehicles. The press used to like going after Harper’s detail and their vehicles, costs etc., perhaps someone might want to check out the costs of Trudeau’s- just a thought.
In conclusion, the Conservatives need to go back to the drawing board, study him all over again and find a strategy that works if they hope to defeat him in 2019.