It’s a strange feeling when your prime minister is openly contemptuous of what you do for a living. Even more so when he feels the same about a very different job done on the side.
While Stephen Harper’s disdain for reporters is well-documented and some would argue even understandable given our habit of trying to get straight answers from this super-secretive PMO, I’m baffled by the attack ads dismissing Liberal leader Justin Trudeau as a former “whitewater rafting instructor” as if this somehow discredits him from returning to his childhood home at 24 Sussex Drive.
I can’t speak for Tory spin doctors but can state with some authority after spending many summers as a river guide that it’s something on a lot of people’s bucket lists. Most people even, politicians included. Some of you might remember a front-page photo in the Globe and Mail years ago of then-Prime Minister Jean Chretien whooping it up on the Ottawa River.
I also took an exuberant Frank McKenna and his staff down the Class V Penobscot River back when he was the premier of New Brunswick, and he told me in no uncertain terms afterward how much he’d like to trade jobs.
Leave it to the Conservatives to think there’s something suspicious about wet and fun physical activity in the great outdoors. Or maybe they’re just hoping the word “whitewater” still has a lingering stench from the probe into Bill and Hillary Clintons’ old real estate investments.
Little is actually known about Trudeau’s time teaching people how to run rapids. He doesn’t mention them in his recent memoir despite devoting several pages to stints as a snowboard instructor, although the inflatable kayak shown in the photo has the name of a well-known outfitter who operates on the Rouge River written on it. Emailed inquiries to his communications team were not returned, but the only people who ever refer to him as a whitewater instructor seem to be the Conservatives, whose own current leader began his working life toiling in an oil company’s mailroom. Like a boss.
The Papineau MP is clearly at home on the water. The book begins with a description of a photo on his family’s fridge of him, as a small boy, canoeing down a small rapid with his father, a noted outdoorsman as well as Canada’s fifteenth prime minister. Another photo taken 20 years later shows the two paddling down far more dangerous rapids on the Rouge River, this time with Justin steering the boat while his famous papa – who sensibly chose to wear a helmet unlike his long-haired son – sits in front.
Belittling someone for knowing how to run rapids is absurd, particularly in Canada. This is the country, after all, where the Inuit invented the kayak and where First Nations have paddled canoes from sea to shining sea for millennia. Where explorer Samuel de Champlain had to figure out how to make it past the Saint Lawrence’s deadly Lachine Rapids, and Simon Fraser the same 200 years later through Hell’s Gate. This is a country where we boast of knowing how to make love in a canoe, although this is likely more in theory than in practice for most.
But running rivers is, as the aspiring Liberal prime minister himself might say, “in our bones.” Sometimes in our broken bones.
At the very least, most voters would likely prefer whitewater to whitewashing during the final days of summer as the Mike Duffy trial grinds on.