In the online survey of a representative national sample of 1,510 Canadian adults, 36 per cent of respondents think Trudeau has been the best Canadian Prime Minister since 1968. Stephen Harper is second on the list with 16 per cent— down three points since 2011—followed by Jean Chrétien with 11 per cent, and Brian Mulroney with five per cent.
Let us give the benefit of the doubt to this online survey. More than a third of Canadians regard Pierre Le Grande as our best modern PM. By the strangest coincidence the son of the aforementioned Best PM in Recent Memory is running for the Liberal leadership. I'm sure the timing is just one of those things. Scheduling mix-up and all that.
What are we on the Right to make of this poll? The most important thing to keep in mind is that while 36% of Canadians had PET as their first pick, the second place finisher was not actually Stephen Harper with 16%. The second place in the poll with 24% went to "Not Sure." Yeap. The Liberal Party's Lord and Saviour is running 12 points ahead of a good old fashioned Canadian shrug. In La Belle Province that figure rises to 29%, though I suspect many of those were surprised to discover they were still part of Canada.
As with the politics of the living, the recollection of political history is driven in large part by name recognition. A large number of those who put PET as their first choice probably did so because it was a name they remembered. For good and mostly ill the former PM's "vivid" personal style and very long tenure have engraved his caped image on the Canadian mind. This is not especially difficult given the traditional grayness of Canadian politics.
Who is Trudeau's competition? Not the part-timers Martin, Clark, Turner and Campbell. Those are footnotes recalled by historians and journalists of a certain age. The Jacobin's only comparable rivals for top spot are the Brian and Papa Jean. We must discount the current Prime Minister as he has not yet finished his term and the passing passions distort any kind of a fair evaluation. His admirers will exaggerate his good points and his detractors the bad.
The Brian is hated for being hated much the same way that some people are famous for being famous. Try this next time our eighteenth Prime Minister's name comes up and people start swearing: So why exactly was Brian Mulroney such a bad leader? One time out of a hundred you'll get a coherent answer. That one time the answer will consist of 50% budget busting and 50% Meech Lake. The other ninety-nine will not be able to focus their rage. It is a hatred passed down from one generation to the next. Essentially the Brian came across as a nouveau riche bastard out to feather his own nest. Rightly or wrongly that image will remain with him at least until he reaches the grave.
Papa Jean is half-forgotten, despite being more recent, because of his personality. If the Brian was a scheming and greedy bastard, his successor stood in sharp contrast with his folksy pseudo-charm. For nearly forty years one of the most cunning political operators in this country's history successful passed himself off as a Quebecois rube. This, of course, merely enhanced his power and earned him the sobriquet of the Teflon PM. In this he is similar to Dalton McGuinty. They are both so forgettable as to seem nonthreatening. The downside to his approach is that no one remembers you the second after you leave office.
So between the ambitious bastard, the language mangling wardheeler and the guy who went through hot babes like the rest of us go through socks, a large portion of the electorate retrospectively sided with the cool guy. Just like they did in 1968, 1972, 1974 and 1980. Style with a modicum of substance can carry you a long way. Don't believe me? Just look South my friends. With a little bit of bad luck we're about to see it happen once again next month.