Dan Gardner is the New York Times best-selling author of Risk, Future Babble, Superforecasting (co-authored with Philip E. Tetlock), and How Big Things Get Done (co-authored with Bent Flyvbjerg). His books have been published in 26 countries and 20 languages. Prior to becoming an author, Gardner was an award-winning investigative journalist. More >

Trudeau: Untested and Unknown

As a general rule, a public figure cannot become a polarizing figure without having done or said a great deal, or, at an absolute minimum, without having done or said at least one extra-ordinary thing.

But that rule, like others, doesn't apply to Justin Trudeau.

His supporters swoon. He's deeply intelligent, they say. He has a vision of the nation and the world that is profound and moving.

He is sparklingly articulate in both official languages. His oratory makes the heart swell, the eye moisten and the audience roar. And the charisma! Wherever he goes, heads turn and cameras capture yet another alluring image of the young lion with the magnificent mane.

This is a leader, they say. Critics typically respond to this sort of talk with mock gagging, followed by withering comments.

They say Trudeau has never said or written anything insightful, or even reasonably serious, about public policy or anything else. His vision is warmed-over platitudes. His oratory is the sort of thing pretentious wankers do before the high-school debate coach tells them to knock it off. The popular excitement he is supposed to provoke is simply the celebrity that comes from almost two decades of media coverage so fawning it would embarrass Kim Jong-un.

This is not a leader, they say. This is a crock.

I cannot pretend to be an objective judge in this matter. To be frank, I used to be in the crock camp.

I've seen Trudeau speak at conferences and lectures and heard nothing but a jumble of clichés and lazy liberal assumptions. And the style?

When you're Winston Churchill rallying the nation to resist the Nazis, feel free to declaim from Olympus; when you're an MP discussing more prosaic matters, you should resist the temptation.

And I don't think anyone can seriously dispute that Trudeau and the media have a relationship rather like that of Justin Bieber and a mob of 13-year-old girls.

Wretchedly typical was a recent issue of the magazine Cottage Life, which had a bland squib of an article by Trudeau and a cover emblazoned with THE CANOE: A CELE-BRATION BY JUSTIN TRUDEAU, as if Pierre Berton had risen from the dead and penned a magnum opus about paddle and nation.

But most of all, there's the question of Justin Trudeau's record. He studied this and that at university.

He spent a little time as a high-school teacher.

He sat on the boards of various good causes, as those born with wealth and connections often do.

He tried his hand at a various opportunities - acting in a mini-series, host of the Giller Prize - which were offered to him because he's famous and nice to look at.

And he became a Member of Parliament in a competitive riding.

There's nothing wrong with any of that, except there's so little of it. Strictly in terms of experience and accomplishment, Justin Trudeau is Sarah Palin minus the books, the vice-presidential candidacy and the governorship.

Is this really a man prepared to be leader of the Liberal Party? A future prime minister?

In the 1920s, when the once-mighty British Liberal party plummeted to the dismal place where Canada's Liberals are today, they turned to David Lloyd George - creator of the British welfare state, wartime prime minister, international statesman - but not even that giant of 20th century politics could save them.

Will Canada's Liberals actually seek salvation in the leadership of a man whose greatest personal accomplishment was scoring 38 per cent of the popular vote in Papineau?

But, hey, people sometimes surprise.

Stephen Harper was badly under-qualified when he became leader of the Conservative Party.

Unlike Trudeau, he had a considerable record of thinking about policy, but he had never sat in government, never started a business, never done anything extraordinary.

He hadn't even been in charge of an organization larger than the office of an opposition MP, which is a slightly less daunting managerial task than running a corner store.

And yet, Harper built a unified party, won three elections, and now utterly dominates the political landscape. A perusal of his resumé a decade ago would not have led one to think that outcome likely, to say the least.

Roll the dice and they may come up seven. Who knows?

And that's the flaw in the crock case. And in that of Trudeau's fans.

We don't know. We think we know. But we don't. Not really.

Trudeau's record is simply too thin to support reasonable conclusions. Maybe he is not much more than a smile, a name and great hair. Or maybe he has charisma, character, sound judgment and steel in his soul.

We don't know. And pundits who suggest otherwise by extrapolating from trivia - how he comported himself in a charity boxing match is a favourite - only underscore the point that there is so little to judge him by.

Justin Trudeau taking the leadership of the Liberal party, and attempting to become prime minister, is not ludicrous because Trudeau is unfit to be either party leader or prime minister. It is ludicrous because we have no way of judging if he is.