Don Martin: Why should Justin Trudeau be entering his last full year as PM? Because it's 2022
It’s a mid-life crisis like no other as Justin Trudeau turns 50 with nowhere to go but down.
The three-term prime minister and Christmas Day baby of 1971 faces a bleak Omicron beginning to his seventh year in power while confronting a major personal decision: Stay or go?
But, but, but, you may say, that question was answered with Trudeau emphatically insisting he will absolutely run again. Oh, puh-LEEZE. What leader would surrender power by even hinting at retirement just three months into a new mandate?
Common sense says Trudeau sticking around not only tempts fate by going against traditional three-strikes-and-you’re-out electoral math but risks the start of impatient grumbling from leader wannabes in his cabinet.
And yet, it’s not easy to see a lucrative post-politics career for a youthful and healthy party leader who’s gone stale in the country’s top political job.
He may ooze charisma and excel at spontaneous interactions with the masses, but Trudeau tends to deliver plastic scripts through dead-eyed Teleprompter readings whenever he hits the podium for an official speech.
Couple that with few signs of great intellectual depth and it seems unlikely Trudeau would be swamped by corporate board chair offers or sustain a prolonged world tour of $150,000-per-speech fees to blue-chip audiences.
This is not to say Justin Trudeau’s legacy is simply one of a drama teacher with a family-name birthright allowing him to coast through the job of prime minister.
He has done big things, arguably presiding over a far more productive era than Stephen Harper or even Jean Chretien with nation-defining acts like legalizing pot, legislating medically-assisted death, handing provinces the money for cheap child care, enshrining gender balance in cabinet and launching a massive pandemic rescue package in mere weeks. Those hefty political acts took courage and determination and all of them rolled out with a minimum of fuss or scandal.
But timing is everything in politics and his stature is clearly shrinking as too-many months of soul-destroying pandemic-suffering stretch into years with no end in sight.
So the smart money would bet on 2022 as Trudeau’s last full year in office.
The footprints for his future walk in the snow are already there.
He’s showing a startling lack of inspiration to start a fourth mandate he framed as an essential turning point in Canadian history, his mind-numbing series of year-end media interviews put his talent for saying nothing of substance into clear focus and his usual high-octane energy seems drained by the weight of too many pressing challenges.
Besides, he has clearly crowned his preferred successor by giving Chrystia Freeland the top two jobs of deputy prime minister and finance minister to set her up as Canada’s first elected woman prime minister.
Now, before we move on, my top prediction for 2022 if Trudeau-retirement speculation becomes a reality is that the next Liberal leader will be a woman who will indeed be elected prime minister if the Conservatives don’t somehow catch fire.
But it won’t be Chrystia Freeland.
She’s got the right stuff for the job and all, but Freeland’s public persona can be aggravatingly condescending, her caucus relations aren’t much better than her reportedly cool and aloof treatment of her own top bureaucrats and she acts too much like her leadership victory is a fait accompli.
For a more likely post-Trudeau leader look to current National Defence Minister Anita Anand, whose first cabinet job delivered spectacular success of procuring vaccines for all Canadians and who went on to deal more forcefully with the military sexual misconduct mess in a month than former minister Harjit Sajjan did in six years.
The law professor is well liked by Liberal MPs, commands the meeting room when big decisions are made and is known to be quietly building links to the Liberal membership, whose votes will eventually crown the winner.
So I’ll limit my New Year column to just one longshot prediction – Anita Anand will be the Next One as Liberal leader.
As for the Current One, well, if he makes tangible made-in-Canada progress toward withstanding climate change, delivers meaningful Indigenous reconciliation and puts the economy on a healthy track, Justin Trudeau could bow out late next year as a transformational prime minister who delivered far more than anyone expected when his sunny ways dawned in 2015.
But if he sticks around too long, weary voters will dropkick his poll numbers toward a probable election defeat and he could end his reign with a forced march out the door by his own Liberal MPs.
So why should Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seriously consider leaving? Because it’s 2022.
That’s the bottom line.