Election of Justin Trudeau rational?

The son of Canada’s 1970s leader, Pierre Trudeau, was recently elected to be the new leader. At first glance this would seem to make a mockery of the idea that Canadian society is a meritocracy. How can it be that among the 35 million Canadians the most qualified person to lead the government is the son of the old leader? Won’t this example of nepotism discourage young Canadians from striving their hardest?

On the other hand, Justin Trudeau‘s parents are well-known to Canadians and genetics determines 50 percent of behavior (see The Nurture Assumptionfor where the rest comes from; it will be a rude shock to helicopter parents!). So perhaps for Canadians who thought that Pierre Trudeau did a good job the most rational choice, more or less regardless of qualifications, is any child of Mr. Trudeau.

What do readers (esp. those from Canada) think? Is electing the son of the old leader a good or bad idea?


  • Family Law in Canada (summary: a country that offers the possibility of making $1+ million in tax-free child support after a one-night sexual encounter will now have fully legalized marijuana…)


  1. paddy

    October 22, 2015 @ 12:33 pm


    Trudeau was a lousy leader. Ergo, 50% chance that Justin will also be lousy.

  2. George Macdonald

    October 22, 2015 @ 12:33 pm


    Only time will tell. His predecessor and opponent was rejected as much on style as on substance, as he introduced Rove-style wedge politics to a populace unused to it. There was, after 10 years in power, limited cabinet bench strength, and for the last several years legislation consisted mostly of small tweaks intended to solidify the base vote, rather than to have any real economic or social effect.
    In a multi-party first-past-the-post system, a small difference in popular vote translates into a large difference in seat count, which determines who gets to be PM. And the former PM had become unpopular with 70% of the voters.
    I’ve come to the conclusion that political leaders are seldom as good, or bad, or effective, or not, as they are painted. In a globalized economy the levers available to shift the economy have limited efficiency.
    I don’t think we needed a Trudeau to unelect Harper. It was his time to go.
    Trudeau may be stylish and attractive (for which he was derided during the campaign) , but he does have a very good, very competent team behind him. If he listens to them and makes decisions based on data, not political expediency, we’ll be OK.

  3. George

    October 22, 2015 @ 1:19 pm


    Forget Pierre. Look at the crazy mom and failed marriage. One has to expect that Justin is damaged.

  4. dorfsmay

    October 22, 2015 @ 3:41 pm


    @philg: Have the Bush and the possible (likely?) Clinton dynasties discouraged young Americans from striving their hardest?

    Trudeau was the chosen one among 60 k, not 35 M, you have to be a members of the party before you can become its leader. The fact that electors value recognizing a name higher than the party’s platform and the politician past performance is sad bu far from being a Canadian only phenomenon.

  5. ianf

    October 22, 2015 @ 7:56 pm


    @Paddy, if Trudeau père was a lousy leader, then, given that children always rebel against parentheses, chances are that Trudeau fils will at least be different—maybe lousy, but then in a novel way.

    BTW. leader dynasties in democratic/ meritocratic societies, are nothing new… even in places like the Benelux and Scandinavia. It may to a degree be due to that, already as children and adolescents, the offspring move in the right (left) circles, go to the same summer camps with other future leader-fodder etc. From then on it’s just a matter of acquiring the right education, the right mentors, and not seemingly riding on the coattails of Mummy/ Daddy.

  6. Raleigh

    October 22, 2015 @ 8:17 pm


    In North Carolina nepotism is a secondary ill, the first being using personal wealth to buy US senate seats and such. Think John Edwards who went from non-voter to US Senator in short order. This has significantly supplanted the old decades-long grooming process that took one from volunteer to appointed board member to local elected position and then state and possibly national office.

    Of course now that all politicians do is vent their spleens and make sure their gerrymandered district stays that way, it doesn’t really matter that so few are skilled in the art of governing.

    In NC, a good path to political power is to try very hard to get rich during the first 45 years of your life, then subscribe to the Charlotte Observer and the Raleigh News and Observer, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal for a few weeks, then register to vote and buy a U.S. Senate seat.

  7. Raleigh

    October 22, 2015 @ 8:21 pm


    P.S. – I forgot. You also need to hire a very skilled political consultant who can tell you exactly what words to say and when to say them. . . . Because otherwise you’ll have no idea whatsoever.

  8. dorfsmay

    October 22, 2015 @ 9:12 pm


    @ianf: Isn’t it only children of LISPers who rebel against parentheses?

  9. Ed

    October 23, 2015 @ 9:12 am

  10. Ed

    October 23, 2015 @ 9:22 am


    The link I posted above is pretty much all you need to know about JT, but as Gerald MacDonald posted, maybe the people telling him what to do are on the ball.

    To show where I am coming from, as a leftist, if I were Canadian I would have voted for the leftist perennial third place finisher, which again finished in third place, but in a straight up election between Trudeau and Harper I would have picked Harper, who at least is smart, maintained balance budgets, and left the provincial governments that are actually supposed to run the country to get on with the job.

    However, I coined a new term in analyzing this election, and that is this was a “stampede” election. The votes for the Liberal Party, either in terms of percentage or in absolute numbers, more than doubled from the last election. The percentage increase set a record for post World War 2 elections. And following the polls, voters pretty much decided to do this in the weekend before the election (right up until the weekend there was a three way tie). The news media was selling Trudeau throughout the campaign, so this seems to be a case of voters agreeing to buy a salesman’s product to get the salesman to finally go away.

  11. Ben

    October 23, 2015 @ 2:19 pm


    What balanced budgets were those? http://globalnews.ca/news/2202138/did-harper-really-run-eight-straight-deficits-like-the-ndp-liberals-claim/. And which news outlets were “selling” Trudeau? They, like the Harper ads, questioned if he was ready, if he had the experience. And this is not the US, in Canada the feds run the country not the provinces, that’s why we don’t call them states.

    Personally I believe Canadians were ready for a change after 10 years. The scandals and negative response to recent legislation and proposed legislation snowballed. The Conservatives and to a lesser extent the NDP ran negative ads attacking opposition leaders while the Liberals ran positive ads based on platform. All of this culminated in the Liberal win. It doesn’t hurt that Trudeau is charismatic and according to some attractive. The Trudeau name did help I think in the east where Pierre is still fondly remembered, in the west it didn’t matter since the mantra is generally anything but Liberal, but may still have actually pushed that further since Pierre is still aggressively vilified some 35 years after the National Energy Program. Finally the youth vote; the Liberals campaigned hard to the youth and it helped. The Conservatives told Elections Canada that they were not allowed to advertise that voters should vote. So instead Elections Canada appeared to try to make it easier for those who usually don’t, the youth. Early ballots were set up at University campuses and saw higher turn out than ever.

    TL;DR, The Conservatives had outstayed they’re welcome and then made it rough on themselves on the way out.

  12. Russil Wvong

    October 23, 2015 @ 3:35 pm


    It’s a fascinating story, at least if you’re Canadian.

    The centrist Liberal Party was basically left for dead after the 2011 election, finishing in third place with only 36 seats. The previous Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, has superb political skills, easily destroying weak opponents in 2006, 2008, and 2011. One of his long-term goals was to kill the Liberal Party, leaving a two-party system with the Conservatives facing the left-wing NDP; he figured that the Conservatives would easily defeat the NDP most of the time.

    Over the last couple of years Trudeau and his team were able to revive the Liberal Party, bringing back the base, raising funds, mobilizing a large army of volunteers, and recruiting star candidates. It’s not just the name: he may not be a brilliant intellectual like his father, but he’s no slouch either (his policy proposals show that he’s not just talking to economists, but listening to them). And he’s got tremendous energy, charisma, and compassion. A fascinating and revealing profile by Jonathan Kay describes him as a classic example of a wounded healer.

    Compared to US voters, Canadians are far more willing to switch parties. When they’ve had enough of one party, you get these “wave” elections where people move en masse to another party. And after nearly 10 years, people were definitely fed up with Harper, even long-time Conservatives. Andrew Coyne, a centre-right columnist, describes the “poisonous cynicism” of the Conservatives. Scott Gilmore: How Stephen Harper led me to do the unthinkable.

    A friend who always votes Conservative told me: “Politicians are like diapers. They need to be changed frequently, and for the same reasons.” Over time, any government accumulates scandals and mismanagement. Voting provides the opportunity for people to throw the bums out.

    It was a three-way race, with the left-wing NDP starting well ahead in the polls, and Liberals in third place. Perhaps for this reason, the NDP leader, Thomas Mulcair, was cautious, having more to lose, while Trudeau was far more willing to make bold proposals and take political risks. In particular, the Liberal plan included three deficits of 0.5% of GDP, while the NDP were promising to balance the budget immediately; the NDP base wasn’t enthusiastic about this. Trudeau also did well in the job-interview part of the campaign, the five debates in English and French. It turned out the incessant Conservative ads attacking him as an airhead for the last two or three years had only set him up to succeed, by lowering people’s expectations.

    And then Harper scored an own goal by using a wedge issue (the niqab) to attack the NDP in Quebec, causing the NDP to drop in the polls — but that just caused anti-Harper voters to move to Trudeau. And immigrant and visible-minority voters, a key part of the Conservative coalition in past elections, were not happy with the rather shocking willingness of the Conservatives to use Muslim-bashing tactics in the last couple weeks of the campaign, while Trudeau defended them vigorously (“a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian”).

    Right up until the day before the election, the Liberals were ahead in the polls, but there was still a reasonable chance the Conservatives could win the most seats. It took until the evening of election day to find that the Liberals had been given a solid majority, with 184 seats (they only needed 170 for a majority). On Twitter, people said it was Shakespearean: Harper had been defeated by the son of his old nemesis.

    Epic recounting of the entire campaign by Paul Wells.

    And for some bilingual, inside-joke humor, in RPG form: The Quest for Canada.

  13. David

    October 27, 2015 @ 7:20 pm


    Democracy is not hardly a meritocracy. That being said I supported the Liberal party and am happy about their victory. At least we will hopefully get a census back.

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