OTTAWA (Reuters) - The governing Conservative Party gave Justin Trudeau no honeymoon in his new role as leader of the Liberal Party, with attack ads launched on Monday that questioned if he has the judgment to run Canada.
Canada’s next federal election is not due until October 2015 but the Conservatives clearly are concerned that Trudeau, 41, may be able to consolidate the left-of-center votes that are now split between the Liberals and the opposition New Democrats.
The ads, on television and on a Conservative website, www.justinoverhishead.ca, show Trudeau stripping down to his undershirt during a cancer fundraising gala and highlight controversial comments from the new Liberal leader, whose father Pierre was Canadian prime minister for a total of more than 15 years between 1968 and 1984.
“We know Justin Trudeau has a famous last name, but does he have the experience to be prime minister?” the narrator in one of the ads asks, pointing to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s record in dealing with the recent recession.
“And Justin Trudeau? Well, he’s been a camp counselor, a white-water rafting instructor, a drama teacher for two years, a member of Parliament with one of the worst attendance records. And now he thinks he can run Canada? Justin Trudeau - he’s in way over his head.”
The Conservatives also refer to Trudeau musing about wanting to make his home province of Quebec a separate country if it became much more conservative, as well as a remark in which he questioned the use of “barbaric” to describe spousal abuse and so-called honor-killings of women. He later apologized for his comment.
Trudeau won 80 percent of the weighted vote in a weekend Liberal leadership election after a candidacy that propelled the party ahead of the Conservatives in some polls. In the 2011 election the Liberals slumped to third place in the House of Commons for the first time.
After his first time as leader in the much-watched Question Period in the House of Commons, Trudeau told reporters in the foyer that Canadians wanted to discuss issues and not try to score points off each other politically.
Asked if it was wrong for the Conservatives to call attention to last year’s remark about possibly helping make Quebec independent, he suggested they were bullying him.
“I’ve had a microphone in front of my face since I was about 4 or 5 years old, so there’s an awful lot of things that they’re going to try and bring up and put out, and what I’ve heard across the country is Canadians are tired of that bullying, they’re tired of the cynicism,” he said.
In an op-ed piece in Monday’s Globe and Mail newspaper, Trudeau said he has been upfront in declaring he does not have all the answers to problems facing Canada.
“No one person does, in Canada or anywhere else in the developed world,” he said. “Indeed, Canadians should be deeply suspicious of any political leader who claims to have all the answers. While I may not have all the answers, I am certain that together, we Canadians do.”
In his acceptance speech on Sunday night, Trudeau said he expected Conservative attacks. The Tories defined the image of two of his predecessors, Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff, with attack ads from which they never recovered.
But some pundits say Conservative ads might backfire, possibly because of fatigue with negativity or because people might not like to see attacks on a young man whom they watched grow up.
Editing by Janet Guttsman, Bill Trott and Eric Walsh