Fight or flight: new book looks at how much time Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has left in office

It’s no secret the popularity of the Trudeau government has taken a beating in recent months. With a general election expected by October 2025, will the prime minister answer the bell? Or will he stay down for the count? Those are the questions journalist and political pundit Paul Wells raises throughout the 100 pages of his latest book Justin Trudeau on the Ropes: Governing in Troubled Times.

The cover of this slim volume shows a Lego figure in boxing gear, sporting a black eye. It’s a good visual metaphor for Trudeau, who has been trailing Pierre Poilievre and the Conservatives since last summer. Wells argues the prime minister views whether to stay and fight through the lens of a 2012 celebrity boxing match that no one expected him to win.

“He says to friends, ‘Look, I’ve been in trouble before. I’ve had everyone count me out before and it worked out okay.’ Not just that boxing match, but the elections of 2015, 2019, and 2021,” he said. “I’m not sure he’s brimming with confidence about an election coming up, but I think he likes his chances better than most people do.”

Back in 2012, Trudeau was his party’s critic for post-secondary education, youth, and amateur sport. The Liberals, then led by former Ontario Premier Bob Rae, were in third place in the House of Commons for the first time in their history. So, with some time on his hands and likely looking to raise his profile, Trudeau agreed to take part in the Fight for the Cure celebrity boxing match in Ottawa. He would find a willing sparring partner in Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau.


“Almost anyone who remembers the match, remembers that Pat Brazeau was a very formidable-looking guy with arms like tree trunks and a serious dude while Trudeau was less so,” said Wells. “And, so, especially among Conservative members of the Harper government, it was just assumed that Trudeau would have his teeth handed to him.” Instead, Trudeau defeated Brazeau in the third round, which many considered an upset.

Following that boxing match, Wells says Trudeau has come to view every possible defeat the same way. That may well include running for a fourth mandate next year.

“Yeah, he’s inclined to test that hypothesis,” said Wells. “I don’t know if he knows whether he’ll be there leading the party at the next election. But I absolutely believe that he, right now, today, his plan is to stick around and lead the party into the next election, come what may.”

Wells doesn’t spend much time in the book looking at the opponents Trudeau has bested in the past, be it Stephen Harper, Andrew Scheer, or Erin O’Toole. He doesn’t even have that much to say about Pierre Poilievre, the current Conservative leader. Wells argues these days Justin Trudeau’s greatest opponent is himself.

“He’s beating himself up,” he said. “He is himself disappointing people who would normally be Liberal supporters by not paying as much attention to the economy as Liberals often hope that a Liberal government would, by starting a whole bunch of projects that go badly or announcing a whole bunch of projects that never get done. It’s not a government that even its own supporters feel they can rely on. And I think that’s a big part of why he’s in trouble now.”

Wells recounts the times Trudeau was nearly sunk by scandals like SNC-Lavalin only to live to fight another day. However, eight years in, fatigue has set into his administration. “Trudeau’s government can’t stop announcing bright new days, even though it seems increasingly unable to deliver,” he writes.

“You certainly rarely had a prime minister this unpopular this far before an election who has stuck around,” he said. “I mean, typically when it gets this bad, people start to take walks in the snow and find something else to do with their time.”

Wells, who admits he once admired Trudeau for his self-awareness, says something changed last summer that he still can’t quite put his finger on.

“If I had to put a name on it, it would be that people finally started to realize that he wasn’t going to clean up his act or reform his approach to get another mandate. He’s just going to be who he is,” he said.

Wells says, stay or go, Canada deserves a leader who can do more than simply outlast their opponent.

“Lately, he seems awfully inclined to swallow a bunch of clichés about himself that are obviously not true, and that’s not a great way to keep your edge before a fight.”

Ultimately, he feels the idea of Trudeau as a boxer who doesn’t know when to hang up his gloves is a political dead end.

“Because [the] boxing metaphor essentially is, ‘Just wait until everyone realizes I’m better than they thought.’ It’s passive. It leads you to not pay enough attention to your own shortcomings. Because the main shortcoming in the system is everyone else doesn’t realize how great you are. And so that tends to breed complacency.”

“I offer no prediction of the outcome,” Wells writes. “But I can’t look away.”

Neither can we.

Justin Trudeau on the Ropes: Governing in Troubled Times is published by Sutherland House.

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