Justin Trudeau once granted an interview to a Western-based columnist, because this fellow had attended the same type of school his father, former Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau, did, a private French Jesuit school.
That was the only reason he got the interview – Western journos are generally despised and untrusted by Liberal types.
And the question was asked, “Are you more like your dad or your mom [Margaret Trudeau]?”
The answer came quick. Justin said: “Of course, my mom.
“I like people … my dad had to learn to like people.”
And thus there could not be a better differentiation between his dad, a man of great repute and controversy to this day, and Justin … now the prime minister of Canada, struggling to retain power for the Liberal government in an October 21 vote that has split Canada apart.
To say that young Justin has fallen from hero to zero in Canadian political altitude is an understatement.
After a series of political disasters, including embarrassing trips abroad that involved the PM over-dressing for the part, lecturing China on human rights, the SNC-Lavalin scandal that is being investigated by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the “brown face” furor that gripped the nation, to name a few, the once dashing and handsome Justin has clearly fallen out of favor, and only maintains some popularity because the political alternatives are somewhat lacking.
But it is his latest faux pax that, in the light of Swedish teen climate activist “Glum” Greta Thunberg and her dire warning to the UN, has caught recent media attention.
According to a report in the Toronto Sun, the Liberal leader raised eyebrows after admitting his campaign uses a gas-guzzling 1970s-era Boeing 737 and a next-gen Boeing 737-800 to bring his “green” message to Canadians.
Using publicly available data from flight-tracking websites, the Sun determined that the Liberal Party’s rusty cargo plane embarked on 35 trips between the beginning of the campaign on September 11 and October 4, logging more than 27,000 kilometers – nearly three-quarters of the circumference of the Earth.
Hardly the green image Trudeau wants to advertise, which is the one of the main pillars of his campaign.
Truth be told, using aircraft to campaign efficiently is not new. What has changed is people’s attitudes about climate change, and so-called carbon footprints.
In fact, it was John F Kennedy who changed the game back in the late 1950s.
In 1959, Joseph Kennedy purchased from American Airlines a 1948 US-manufactured Convair 240-series aircraft. The purchase price of US$270,000 back then was equivalent to nearly $2 million today.
The twin-engine craft was powered by Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engines and designed to fly short to medium distances. It was placed in a Kennedy company named Kenaire Corporation and then leased to his son, US senator John Fitzgerald Kennedy, for his 1960 presidential campaign.
There were 16 seats along the right side of the plane with tables in between. A large map of the United States was on display. On board was a desk for Kennedy to work at, a full food galley, bathrooms and a separate bedroom. One pilot and one stewardess serviced the plane.
The registered number for the craft was N240K, but it was dubbed the Caroline, in honor of John Kennedy’s first child, Caroline Kennedy. Being able to fly on a private plane with his staff made the immense campaign travel itinerary much easier, faster and more comfortable for Kennedy.
Besides staff members, reporters were invited on certain trips. Kennedy would slowly walk the aisle of the plane chatting with the reporters about how the campaign was going. This very successful method of reaching more locations on the campaign trail forever changed how future presidential candidates traveled. From then on, all candidates traveled by private planes.
Robert F Kennedy also campaigned for the presidency in 1968 using his own aircraft, a Lockheed L-188 Electra. A famous photo shows RFK, a relentless campaigner, collapsed between seats, trying to get some shut-eye between campaign stops.
Although the Kennedys popularized campaigning by aircraft, it was Lyndon B Johnson who was the true pioneer.
The saga began just months before the July 1948 Democratic primary, when US congressman Lyndon Baines Johnson of the Texas 10th District decided to run for an open seat in the US Senate. The Democratic Party was so strong in Texas that if he won the primary, he was sure to win the general election in November.
There was one problem: Every poll gave a wide lead to Coke Stevenson. Johnson was little known outside his Austin-area district, and those voters knew him as a Roosevelt liberal.
The answer was bold and outrageous – Carl Phinney, Johnson’s north Texas campaign manager, presented a Sikorsky helicopter to LBJ at Love Field in Dallas.
The machine was equipped with a loudspeaker system and painted with slogans in big block letters. Phinney told reporters that “Dallas Veterans for Johnson” would be covering the cost, a lie as big as Texas itself.
Long story short, the helicopter campaign paid off in the end. After one week, Johnson had climbed to second place and was just 10 points behind Stevenson, a stunning development.
“Of course, mostly they came to see the helicopter,” political operative Tommy Corcoran told Merle Miller, who wrote the LBJ biography Lyndon. “They’d never seen one before. Christ, it was brilliant as hell.”
Newspapers, even big-city ones that opposed him, liked the novelty angle and assigned reporters to tag along. Smaller newspapers brimmed with enthusiasm; a front-page editorial cartoon in the Tyler paper showed Johnson dropping a bomb from his helicopter, putting the old guard on the run. The bomb was tagged “Young and Vigorous Approach.”
Johnson would go on to win, although critics would claim LBJ’s people had bought hundreds of ballots from county bosses. But there was no question it was the Sikorsky S-51 (which left for overhaul after reaching its maximum hours) and, later, a Bell 47D that got him there.
According to reports, the Bell 47D once got caught in its own downwash and plunged toward an east Texas street, narrowly missing parked cars and landing so hard it must have come close to losing the tail boom.
And then there was gonzo journalist Hunter S Thompson, aboard the “Zoo Plane” that followed the presidential political campaigns of Richard Nixon and George McGovern in 1972, and was documented brilliantly in Thompson’s masterpiece, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72.
Consider this description from Thompson, in the media plane, a United Boeing 727.
“There were five or six of us crowded into the cockpit, along with the three-man crew. ‘Here, take this,’ I said, handing him the joint. ‘I have to get a grip on something.’ I seized the back of the navigator’s chair as we kept rolling left/east, and still climbing. Behind us, in the bright belly of the United Airlines 727 Whisper Jet – or whatever they call those big three-engine buggers with the D B Cooper door that drops down from the tail – 50 or 60 drunken journalists were lurching around in the aisles, spilling drinks on each other and rolling spools of raw TV film towards the rear of the plane where two smiling stewardesses were strapped down by their safety belts, according to regulations.”
No doubt, those days are long gone. Nothing of the sort would be tolerated now. But what has changed is the temperature of the time, set brilliantly by a 16-year-old from Sweden by the name of “Glum Greta” – by all respects, an environmental game-changer who has rocked the world.
While the Liberal government claims it bought carbon offsets to counter its fleet’s carbon-dioxide impact (the Conservatives under Andrew Scheer did not), the point is, it’s not enough any more. The Trudeau gesture is about as meaningless as the runner-up award in the Stanley Cup finals. It don’t matter a whole helluva lot.
And whether we like it or not, the bar has been raised. It isn’t enough to be wealthy and buy your way out of it. Not anymore.
It is ironic that Trudeau’s campaign is heavily burning fuel (an estimated 2,700 kilograms of JP4 per hour) while his campaign pushes green initiatives, a costly carbon tax and the gradual phasing out of the Alberta oil sands, which will cost thousands of jobs and devastate the Canadian economy.
One can only imagine what Jack Kennedy would say.