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Pulpit & Politics

By Dennis Gruending


Trudeau, from the heart outward, and his critics

Dennis Gruending

The Harperites and their fellow travellers in the Conservative universe have been scathing in their criticism of Justin Trudeau for saying recently that he wants to grow the economy “from the heart outwards.” After the Liberal leader made his comments during a stop at a Regina farmers’ market, the Conservative war room rushed out a news release to reinforce the party’s television attack about Trudeau not being ready. “Justin is an inexperienced politician who isn’t capable of managing Canada’s $1.9 trillion dollar economy,” the release said. This is rich coming from a gang that has run eight consecutive deficits and presided over the hollowing out of Canada’s manufacturing and energy sectors, as well as the replacement of full-time jobs with precarious work.

For the record, here is a somewhat longer quote from Trudeau’s remarks: “We’re proposing a strong and real plan, one that invests in the middle class so that we can grow the economy not from the top down the way Mr. Harper wants to, but from the heart outwards.”

The Conservative attacks on Trudeau elicited the predictable knuckle dragging commentary in the Twitterverse where the phrase “care bears economy” was trending. The Post Media newspaper chain quickly provided its member papers an editorial dripping with venom. “A flower child from the 1960s wants to run the country,” said the editorial. “A barefoot Liberal leader wrapped in a sarong.” Then we get to the lines that bear striking resemblance to the Conservatives’ attack ads: “We need a leader, preferably one that’s all grown up,” Post Media wrote. “Trudeau’s qualified to be a drama teacher, not prime minister.”

The Post Media empire was founded by Conrad Black beginning in 1998. Mr. Black, of course, encountered some misfortune along the way and he now serves as a columnist for the newspapers that he once owned. He sold to the Asper family who got swallowed in debt and sold in turn to a group backed by a American private-equity firm. Post Media has been thoroughly Conservative in its support but it has crossed an ethical line with its derisory anti-Trudeau editorial.

But there’s more. Todd Mackay, prairie director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF), contributed an opinion piece to Post Media on the same day bashing Trudeau for his comments. The newspaper chain described Mackay as a “guest columnist.” Indeed, CTF functionaries are frequently guest columnists for Post Media but this was a record turnaround time.

Mackay wrote: “Did (Trudeau) mean that he’s going to grow the economy by encouraging Canadians to follow their heart and only do the kind of work they love? Maybe there will be a tax credit coming for hockey bloggers and street poets?” The writing is crude and turgid but you get the picture. It is worthy of note that over the years a good number of CTF employees have made the short leap to becoming Conservative candidates. For example, Jason Kenny, the defence minister, was once the CTF’s president and CEO. 

The ridicule aimed at Trudeau is for his comment that our hearts should rule how we approach the economy. Anyone who has taken a high school English class will know that it is entirely common to have one word represent another associated with it in meaning. The word “heart” is often used to represent words such “courage” or “commitment.” It is said, for example, that Jonathon Toews plays with a lot of “heart” or that he is the “heart and soul” of the Chicago Blackhawks dressing room. This description of Toews has never resulted in howls of ridicule from the Conservatives and their friends.

Trudeau used the word “heart” to represent “values” when it comes to running an economy and there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, he may have been attempting to echo a line from President Obama in April 2012. The president was describing America as a place where prosperity should not “trickle down from the top, but (it) grows outward from the heart of the middle class.” Of course, Post Media and the CTF, not to mention the Conservatives, are not likely to be impressed with any line lifted from Obama.

In that case, let’s look to Pope Francis and his recent encyclical message on climate change and the economy. The pope made an unequivocal call for a change, a conversion, in the way in which we live our lives and order our economy. He said, “We need to experience a conversion, or change of heart.”

There is that word again. Trudeau’s stated his phrase somewhat inelegantly, but he was talking about a values-based economy. He is being pilloried for his values by people who don’t have any.

Gruending is an Ottawa-based writer and a former member of Parliament. His blog can be found at