IN THE House of Commons this week, federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer took a swipe at his main political opponent over the latter’s alleged lack of real-life experience.
This line of attack is a dodgy one. Scheer’s contention that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau can’t possibly understand the financial burden the federal government’s proposed carbon tax will put on average Canadians — pointedly, because he was born into wealth — may resonate with some. But it also has the potential to backfire on the 39-year-old Tory leader.
It is true that many leaders of note have grown up not having to worry about where their next meal is coming from. Winston Churchill and John F. Kennedy come immediately to mind.
Those who are well off and achieve high public office aren’t able to choose their parents or backgrounds. Despite their wealth, this is what they have in common with all of us. Often, they face more scrutiny than most, as well as the expectation that they will accomplish something of import. This can be a great psychological burden, if not a financial one.
Both Churchill and Kennedy served admirably in world wars and, despite their flaws, brought undeniable intellectual gifts to their roles as political leaders. Kennedy’s heroism as the commander of a U.S. torpedo boat in the Second World War helped him deflect sniping about his privileged upbringing. As Kennedy memorably put it, when he and his crew were under enemy fire, it didn’t matter how much money their fathers made, or where they were from.
In hindsight, Trudeau may have avoided similar criticism about being born with a silver spoon by serving in the military. Two other notable men of his generation did: William, the Duke of Cambridge, and Harry, the Duke of Sussex. And yet, Trudeau arguably exceeded the expectations of Liberals and Tories alike by becoming prime minister. No matter how you slice, it, that was a remarkable accomplishment. Though Trudeau would never be accused of being a scholar, many of us average folks, who are certainly no more intellectually gifted than he, wonder how we would navigate the complicated landscapes of business and international relations if we were in his shoes. On that aspect alone, we can relate to Trudeau, even though it might have been better for us and him if he had brought to the job some experience in those areas.
In interviews, Scheer comes across as a smart fellow. What he has in common with Trudeau, in addition to being very likable, is that he has spent much of his adult life in politics. This has included a stint as speaker of the House of Commons under the Stephen Harper government. Scheer is the youngest MP ever to be appointed to that position; that, too, is a remarkable accomplishment, and yet there were times when, like Trudeau, it appeared that Scheer was flying by the seat of his pants.
Like Trudeau, Scheer did not go into the military. Before being elected to the House of Commons at the age of 25, Scheer spent some time as an insurance broker. But that relatively short period in the private sector hardly qualifies him as an industry veteran or business expert; which suggests that, like Trudeau, what Scheer would bring from that world to the prime minister’s office is rather limited. Unlike former prime minister Brian Mulroney, say, Scheer, has never been president of a major international company. Neither has Trudeau.
Like Trudeau, Scheer has for many years drawn a more than ample MPs salary, and will one day qualify for a generous pension that most Canadians can only dream about. Like Trudeau, he lives in a big house on the taxpayer’s dime.
Trudeau was born into wealth, and Scheer was not. But, in the here and now, both men seem to show up for work and do their jobs to the best of their abilities. That’s really all that matters. References to someone’s upbringing — over which they have no control, and cannot change — are just petty-minded.
(Originally published Jan. 30)