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Five differences between Justin Trudeau and Stephen Harper: what we know so far

By Pieta Woolley

What do we know so far? Not much, really. Justin Trudeau’s election night “red wave” was a surprise. And so is Canada’s JFK-like Camelot romance with his young family.

Trudeau sought to differentiate himself immediately after he was sworn in on Nov. 4, slashing and burning some Harper-era ideological symbols (muzzled scientists; ISIS bombing mission; Coast Guard station closures; restricted Syrian refugees).

But starting-gate policy isn’t the only difference between these two men. A closer look reveals the next four — or more — years might be as unique as the past nine. But in a through-the-looking-glass way.     

1. Origins

Justin Trudeau: Born while his father was prime minister, is the oldest of three boys, and enjoyed wealth and fame from birth but also endured his parents’ public and messy divorce.

Stephen Harper: Also oldest of three sons, born to a father who was an accountant for Imperial Oil.

What it might mean: Like The Lion King, Trudeau’s one-percenter origins and sense of noblesse oblige could mean four years of confident, progressive government. But for those of us who, like Lorde, will never be royals, the inferred message is clear: he’s not one of us. Harper, on the other hand, was. In the long-term, will Trudeau reveal himself to really not “get” us working folk? 

2. Media

Justin Trudeau: At the APEC meeting in Manila this week, the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s front page asked who's hotter, Justin Trudeau or Mexican President Pena Nieto. Earlier this week, Trudeau and wife Sophie Gregoire posed for Vogue Magazine in the Library of Parliament. New York Magazine also published a slightly naughty paper doll of the newly elected prime minister. Oh, and he promised transparency.

Stephen Harper: Famously avoided media.

What it might mean: Trudeau is way up high on a Michaelangelo’s David-like pedestal right now. What can possibly go wrong? Will we look back on that Vogue shoot and shudder that we were once ever that naive? Or will his media presence help Canada create a new national narrative?

3. Family

Justin Trudeau: Married to former E-Canada host Sophie Gregoire and has three kids, Xavier, Elle-Grace and Hadrien. 

Stephen Harper: Married to former journalist and graphic designer Laureen Teskey, and has two kids, Ben and Rachel, who were also very young when Harper was first elected.

What it might mean: Here, actually, the similarity is striking. Canada has a wealth of education- and work-focused women. Yet these two powerful, ambitious men chose mates who seem confident in their choice to focus on their families and let their own careers take a back seat for the greater good. A new kind of familial role model, perhaps?

4. Education

Justin Trudeau: Went to both public schools and private Catholic schools, has a BA in literature from McGill and a BA in education from the University of British Columbia, studied engineering but dropped it before he finished and almost completed a MA in environmental geography before pursuing politics.

Stephen Harper: Went to public schools, delayed his post-secondary education in favour of moving from Etobicoke, Ont. to Edmonton to work in the mail room of Imperial Oil, and completed his BA in economics at age 26 and his MA in economics at age 32.

What it might mean: Like many Gen Xers and Millennials, Trudeau didn’t seem to pursue his education with ‘getting a job and supporting himself’ in mind. Harper, on the other hand, appears to have been more hard-headed in planning his own school path. In his time in office, Harper seemed to expect citizens to make sensible financial decisions, too. Will Trudeau’s Canada be more forgiving of the wandering — and impoverished — young?

5.  Faith

Justin Trudeau: Catholic; educated by Jesuits. 

Stephen Harper: Raised in the United Church of Canada; became a member of the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church.

What it might mean: In office, Harper was criticized for letting his evangelical faith influence his policy. But given the pope’s popularity with progressives right now, it will be interesting to see whether Trudeau will be lauded or loathed for any evidence of his faith in his policies. 

Author's photo
Pieta Woolley is a writer in Powell River, B.C.
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