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Daniel Dickin is a columnist for The Prince Arthur Herald. He obtained his B.A. in law and political science from Carleton University in 2011 and is in his second year of M.A. studies at Athabasca University. @DanielDickin

Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Brand

One of the first orders of business for new political party leaders is the branding of their party.  What will their party stand for? What will they do if elected?  How will their policies help Canadian families?

A large portion of this branding is already done during the leadership race, but it is still a sizeable project once the leader has been elected and receives the full picture on where their party is and where they want to be before the next election.

The NDP branded former leader Jack Layton as your down to earth, hard working average Canadian: one who you could easily sit down with for a chat over a beer.  Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s brand has been jobs, accountability, and the economy.  His record has created over one million net new jobs since 2009, and it is an impressive record in an era of record deficits and ballooning government debt throughout the world.  Former Liberal Leader Stephane Dion’s brand was environmentalism, which (he hoped) would invigorate Canadians’ concerns about the environment.

We know how successful each of these brands were, or continue to be: successful, successful, and unimaginable failure.

The Liberals and the media together have been closely watching Justin Trudeau since he became leader.  They want to see what Trudeau’s brand will be.

That’s why it is interesting to see how closely Trudeau has aligned himself with illegal activity, questionable individuals, and morally-absent behaviour which is questionable for most Canadians.

Former Liberal cabinet minister and current Mayor of London, Ontario Joe Fontana has been criminally charged with using public money to pay for his son’s wedding.  This is the same person who took $41,000 from a charity he directs while holding office – a charity which has since had its charitable status pulled by the Canada Revenue Agency.  But that was just business as usual for a Martin-era cabinet minister, where playing fast and loose with public money was standard.

Trudeau should have been one of the first people to publicly condemn the disgraced politician. He should have said Fontana in no way represents the Liberal values and the Liberal brand Trudeau would build and sustain under his leadership.  He should have kicked Fontana from the Liberal Party and sent a clear message that Trudeau’s Liberals would not stand for the same corruption and nepotism seen under Chretien’s and Martin’s leadership.

But instead, Trudeau has remained silent, a trend for which he is increasingly becoming known: silent on policy, silent on the economy, silent on substance, silent on troubles in the Middle East.

In fact, the only record I can find of Trudeau saying anything related to Fontana is that they both support each other’s marijuana use.

Trudeau came out in early August to admit he smoked marijuana.  Regardless of your stance on whether it should be illegal (or to what degree), the fact remains that current Canadian law says its use is against the law.

Trudeau could hardly expect a court of law to accept the argument “this law is unfair” as grounds for breaking that law.  Could he?

But there was Fontana, like his boss, trying to lighten the mood by joking about their past and recent histories.

That Trudeau has remained silent on Fontana yet overly vocal about using marijuana is troubling.  Trudeau has set the stage for his priorities to read marijuana legalization first, government corruption second.  Where, Mr. Trudeau, is anything resembling an economic policy?

Or your policy on the ongoing Senate expense scandal?

Trudeau announced his Senators would post all expense statements online so they are publicly available.  An excellent policy for transparency and accountability – except that these statements are already publicly available for all Senators right here.

Liberal Senator Mac Harb has been the only Senator to resign to-date due to this ongoing scandal, paying back over $231,000 in an attempt to be cast in the best possible light while the RCMP continue their investigation.

But once again Trudeau has remained silent.  Trudeau had an opportunity to define his party as one for law and order, one that could be trusted with the public’s money – yet Trudeau was silent.  The last we heard from Trudeau, back in June, was that he would be happy to welcome Harb back into caucus.

Perhaps Trudeau’s communications team was on “vacation” after blatantly claiming religious people are “less intelligent” than atheists.

But his communications team was back in the office in time for their leader to say convicted murderer and terrorist Omar Khadr may be entitled to financial compensation.  Not once did Trudeau bring up how much money Khadr’s victim’s family should be entitled to.  Trudeau’s focus was solely on making sure a convicted war criminal gets some money for his troubles.

Not only is the Trudeau Liberal brand troubling for Canadians, but it’s equally unsettling that there are advisors in Trudeau’s office telling him to say these things.  Trudeau has been entirely empty on policies and platforms and ideas – but he has been quick to jump on the bandwagon of disgraced cabinet ministers, misuse of public money, and drug use.

Will this branding work come the 2015 election?