All political reporting in Canada should read like Martin Lukacs’ new book, The Trudeau Formula, published by Black Rose Books. It should be critical and rich with detail. It should take nothing the prime minister says for truth. The role of the press should be to examine Liberal truth from every side and help Canadians decide where the truth really lies.
Mainstream political reporting isn’t like The Trudeau Formula, though. It too often reprints talking points or refuses to challenge comments that are not exactly true. It has let the Liberals mostly off the hook, which makes Lukacs’ book stand out — way out — as a must-read analysis on the rise of Justin Trudeau.
Lukacs combines information gathered from sources with what he’s seen and heard directly, creating a compelling narrative of events that have unfolded over the past four years. He relies on several unnamed political operatives to gather information from spaces few people have access to and takes readers behind the scenes. What do the Liberals say when the room is friendly? A lot of times, we read, it sounds like what the Conservatives would say.
Except, as Lukacs points out, it’s sometimes worse. The Liberals’ near-decimation in 2011 led the party to search internally for a way to win back the favour of the masses. Trudeau was the candidate who could do that, and his openness and Sunny Ways was exactly what Canadians and the corporate world wanted. After years of a chilly and closed Stephen Harper, Lukacs shows, corporate Canada — in particular, the Business Council of Canada — saw that a popular and progressive prime minister could put a shine on policies that the corporate world might otherwise struggle to sell to Canadians.
Lukacs walks through each of Trudeau’s key issues and pulls back the curtain on the real story. He writes that electoral reform sank just as the Liberals realized the consensus was moving away from their preferred method — ranked ballots. Their reconciliation agenda looked more like complex re-colonization. Their pro-immigration rhetoric was barely met by their actions and they moved to make it even harder for people to seek asylum in Canada. Their environmental policies remained very pro-business.
One part of the book that stood out for me was just how complicit Canada is in international war. Since Pierre Trudeau relaxed the rules on arms exports, Canada has exported $50 billion in Light Armored Vehicles (LAVs) to countries around the world.
The highest-profile buyer is Saudi Arabia, which has used weapons on its own people and is engaged in a war in Yemen. Drawing on research by Anthony Fenton, Lukacs writes that there is strong evidence to show Canadian weapons are being used in Yemen: “In one photo posted on Instagram, a Saudi soldier sat cross-legged on a carpet next to a miniature mosque constructed out of ammunition boxes. A few metres from his makeshift shrine is parked a giant, dusty, weaponized Canadian combat vehicle. In a separate video, a long convoy of the same military vehicles cruised over sand dunes in Hajjah province, Yemen, as the heavy beats of electronic Arabic music pulsated from open tank hatches.” More than 50,000 civilians have been killed.
Then-foreign affairs minister Stéphane Dion had the chance to stop the deal with General Dynamics for LAVs in January 2016, but decided to allow it to continue, Lukacs writes.
Lukacs breaks up the text with quips that show his sense of humour, although I found myself needing a dictionary to look up several adjectives he chose.
The Trudeau Formula explains how Trudeau has cynically broken every one of his main promises and how the Liberal brand is slippery enough to avoid taking accountability for disappointing Canadians. I had hoped to see this connected with the rise in movements of discontented Canadians, especially in how the far right has demonized progressive politics and Trudeau. Linking peoples’ anger over these failed promises to what is happening outside of partisan politics is the next important step for this analysis; it would help explain to Canadians why we have been plagued by disappointment for having voted Liberal for years, despite their veneer of progressive politics.
Instead, the book ends with an analysis of the NDP and Leap Manifesto, of which Lukacs is a co-writer. The juxtaposition of this with the rest of the book suggests Lukacs believes the way to hold the Liberals accountable for their actions is through an NDP that adopts a Canadian version of the American Green New Deal (which Lukacs says has its roots in the Leap). The problem is the NDP has its own, different issues that are getting in the way of it playing a strong, oppositional role to the Liberals. The issues about the Leap and the NDP’s own slide to the right could be a subject for a separate book, and I was not convinced something born from the Leap would be the way to both save the NDP and confront the Liberals.
Even still, with a few weeks left on the political trail, every reporter should read this book and use it to form their questions. How will the opposition parties do things differently? And is it even possible for the Liberal brand to change?