glam and boredom on the campaign trail

Two new stars, both of them hunky athletic guys, made their entry onto the Canadian reality TV scene this week.

Two new stars, both of them hunky athletic guys, made their entry onto the Canadian reality TV scene this week. Brad, a former football player, will star in the Canadian version of The Bachelor, while Justin, a one-time boxer, will play the lead role in an upcoming special called the Liberal Leadership Race.

The Bachelor Canada is an offshoot of an American TV show, in effect a drawn-out beauty pageant in which the prize is not a purple sash and a golden crown, but a man, in this case Brad Smith of Hudson, Quebec.

Brad is the Bachelor, while the women are collectively known as the Bachelorettes. This custom of feminizing nouns by adding a trivializing suffix has fallen out of use over time, except in a few special cases, and it’s a pity, because it could be used to explain so much.

Consider, for instance, Stephen Harper’s recent decision to abandon the modern practice of striving toward gender balance on the Supreme Court. When he chose to promote a man over a similarly qualified woman at a time when the bench already had a male bias, his motivation would have been so much clearer if he had simply said he preferred to advance the career of a judge, rather than to indulge the ambition of a judgette. But I digress.

The Liberal Leadership Race is another drawn-out beauty pageant, and again the winner doesn’t get to sport the sash and crown, but instead receives the dubious honour of carrying the Liberal banner into a second round of voting, called a general election.

It’s a bit like being crowned Miss Papineau, and going on to compete for the Miss Canada title. This is where Justin’s path diverges from Brad’s, for while Brad is the prize, Justin is a contestant. Nonetheless, the two have similar tasks. Each must present himself as a desirable object to a select group while entertaining a broader public. Let’s take a look at how they’re doing so far.

In the Age of Google, it was a safe bet that both Brad and Justin would turn up on YouTube. I found several clips from interviews with Brad, and I must say I was disappointed. While each and every interviewer came across as predictably vapid and silly, Brad seemed personable, intelligent, and completely at ease. In vain I sifted his answers for a quote that would make him sound suitably idiotic, given the enterprise on which he is embarked. In Justin’s case, I had no trouble at all.

Justin Trudeau launched his campaign for the Liberal leadership in his home riding of Papineau, and on YouTube. I did my best to watch the whole thing, but the entertainment value of any political gathering being inversely relative to the number of times the crowd breaks into the iambic chanting of the candidate’s name, I failed. Only notable on this occasion was the fact that, eschewing the custom of given-name chanting, the Liberal crowd was using Justin’s surname. Still it drove me off, but not before I had time to glean a couple of facts.

The first thing I learned was the nature of Justin’s great vision, his Just Society, as it were. It is this: “hard, honest work.” Hard honest work cropped up early in the speech, and it was clear from the delivery that this is Justin’s bold new plan, like nobody ever thought of hard honest work before, except maybe Plato.

Having delivered his dream of the future, Justin went on to outline his equally dreamlike vision of the past. “This magnificent, unlikely country was founded on a bold new premise,” he said, “That people of different beliefs and backgrounds, from all corners of the world, could come together to build a better life for themselves and for their children than they ever could have alone.”

Really, Justin? Is that how it was? In the 19th century, were we all about founding a nation on co-operation and diversity? So what was all that talk about the degenerate Irish, the treacherous Chinese, the primitive Indians? How to account for the two wars with the Metis, the broken treaties, the stolen land? And then it came to me: Justin wasn’t talking about the 1860s. He thinks his dad founded the country in 1982.

A week ago, a poll conducted by Forum Research for the National Post found that if Justin Trudeau were their leader, and the vote had been held on that day, the Liberals would have been elected to government with 39 per cent of the popular vote. Not to fear, there is plenty of time yet for Justin to correct the misapprehension that he is the second coming of Pierre Trudeau. If his maiden speech was anything to go by, now that people are actually paying attention, he’s more likely to follow Michael Ignatieff’s footsteps than his own famous father’s.

Breaking into metaphor, Justin promised his listeners a Canadian highway with “breathtaking vistas and a few boring stretches.” I like to imagine Brad and Justin getting together for a beer to talk over their respective careers in reality TV. “Dude,” Brad might say, offering some friendly advice, “Boredom is a total turn-off. The Bachelorettes hate that. If you’re bored, you might as well get into a new line of work.”

Al Pope won the Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in B.C./Yukon in 2010 and 2002.