Trudeau – Canada’s Dorian Gray

Photo credit: Adam Scotti (PMO)

Predicting the outcome of an election is hard even a few weeks before the vote, never mind two months earlier. However, I believe that if Justin Trudeau loses the next election, it will not be because of the SNC-Lavalin scandal. Trudeau’s political future took a fatal downturn during his trip to India. The SNC-Lavalin scandal, even if much more serious than the India affair, doesn’t have the political damaging capacity as the first.

Let’s face it, the SNC-Lavalin issue, at the worst, would add one more name to the list of the “dishonest politicians.” Unfortunately for most voters, rightly or wrongly, politicians are automatically corrupt, and their voting preferences are not significantly shaped by this judgment.

Justin Trudeau had a golden opportunity to close the issue with seven words, “I made an honest mistake. I apologize.” Case closed.

He didn’t and now the damage comes from his perceived arrogance, entitlement and smugness, not from his original action of interference in the judicial system that most of us don’t even really understand.

This unfortunately accepted image of a “dishonest politician” and the complicated conflict of interest issue very difficult to explain, is overpowered by one picture from India that doesn’t need to be explained.

Trudeau’s problem started right there. Not that something dramatic happened, after all he only had a…dress code problem. But that mistake exposed his lack of depth and his incompetence in dealing with international leaders, and opened a large hole in his perceived charismatic image. He arrived in India with the same attitude with which he would visit multicultural communities in Canada, showing patronage, pageantry but no substance. He simply didn’t understand the difference between visiting Little India or Little Italy in Ottawa and visiting governments in Rome or New Delhi.

That behavior was not the result of a momentary lack of judgment by an overzealous organizer. That gimmick required long and a very expensive planning involving many people in the PMO. Not to mention other mistakes like the choice and the screening of the people on the guest list along with the political team and the lack of ethnocultural sensitivity towards the government of India in relation to some internal issues. He and his team exercised in India the same sensitivity of an elephant in a proverbial china shop. It was this trip that removed to firewall to penetrate the perceived indestructible charismatic package that the World started to appreciate and showed instead its emptiness, created doubts, suggested incompetence and fostered arrogance. The India trip showed that the Emperor was naked, or…not properly dressed.

So, can Justin Trudeau win the next election?

The electorate is volatile, and the leaders are so undefined and perceived weak that even a sneeze at the wrong time during the electoral debate might influence the outcome. To make things more complicated, there is the Green Party factor. But this factor doesn’t stand alone. The Greens will take votes mainly from the Liberal Party and the NDP and, marginally, from the Conservatives, only because the other parties have unconvincing leadership and confusing platforms. If the Liberals or the NDP will increase their popularity, the Green Party will fade accordingly.

This means that Trudeau can still win the election, but the real issue is not the SNC-Lavalin scandal. The difference with some governments of the past is only that he has been caught. What really hurts him is the perception of incompetence, superficiality, his knack for theatrical gimmicks and inability to deal with the substance, at home and abroad.

His problem is not what he says, but what people see in him, and, after the trip in India, they see the real picture of a modern Dorian Gray.

If he wants to win the next elections, he must apologize for the handling of SNC-Lavalin interference first, then start rebuilding his image from India.

Angelo Persichilli is a former political columnist for the Toronto Star, an editor of the Italian language newspaper Corriere Canadese and a producer of multilingual newscasts on OMNI Television. He also served as director of communications for former Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2011-2012.