Stephen Harper is to journalists, what cats are to dogs: they’re natural enemies. The Canadian Prime Minister that served a term of almost a decade in the office is now being replaced by 43-year old, charismatic Liberal party-leader, Justin Trudeau and the results will trickle down to every element of Canada’s public political discourse.
One of the biggest changes from the Harper Government to Trudeau’s, will likely be the process by which information is collected by journalists, lobby groups and the public. Harper was so secretive and information was so hard to find from the federal level that he was awarded the “Code of Silence Award” in 2012 from the Canadian Association of Journalists that recognized Harper’s “death grip on information” according to CAJ president Hugo Rodrigues.
Perhaps under the Trudeau administration, journalists won’t have to fill out a freedom of information request just to find out what the Prime Minister’s favourite flavour of ice cream is.
Even before Trudeau has officially taken office, Trudeau seems to have declared war on the Facebook feeds of Canadians, posting personal messages, videos, responding to voters’ letters and more.
While this is a good public relations move, it’s a lot more than that. It’s setting up an expectation of transparency for a position in which Canadians have come to expect near-villianous suppression. Of course, this is also post-election buzz, hopefully this same momentum of openness and direct communication to Canadians will be maintained even when Trudeau is in the heart of his four-year term.
There was a reason Harper suppressed information and established an unprecedented difficulty in accessing public information, to save scrutiny from every publishing news source around. Trudeau, if he continues this momentum of public visibility, he’s likely to open himself up to media scrutiny the second one of his decisions goes against his incredibly marketable image. Imagine just how much more material the papers will have against Trudeau than Harper?
We’ve already seen the downside of being in the public eye during his childhood, as host of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver pointed out that a simple Google search would reveal “every poor fashion choice that he’s ever made”, as well as a video where Trudeau reveals his party trick of falling down the stairs. Therefore, it will never be too hard to find a great photo for a new Trudeau-meme, which seems to be one of the only forms of Canadian political discourse that’s listened to now-a-days.
Pierre Elliot Trudeau uttered those now famous words “just watch me” in an impromptu back-and-forth interview with a journalist on Parliament Hill during the October Crisis in 1970, and while the new Trudeau may not be quite as accessible, it’ll definitely be an improvement over the Harper days.
Whereas Harper was, at times, literally defiant towards even overwhelming public opinion (especially near the end of his term in office, with Bill C-51), hopefully Trudeau will understand that there’s a balance between indifference to the Canadian public’s values, and basing political decisions solely on matters of public relations.