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Two Takes on Justin Trudeau’s Time as Prime Minister

A week ago, I offered the hopeful suggestion that this late-summer Canada Letter would not be about politics. Well, that’s not how it turned out.

ImageCreditSean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press, via Associated Press

October’s federal election has brought with it two books by journalists that look at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s first four years in office, the forces that influenced and shaped him and his prospects. Likely to the relief of both publishers, while the books survey the same subject, they are very different in their approaches.

That’s likely a product of the authors’ different backgrounds. John Ivison, the author of “Trudeau: The Education of a Prime Minister” (Signal McClelland & Stewart) is a columnist for The National Post. It’s his job to offer opinions, and neither he nor the opinion pages of his newspaper are known fans of Mr. Trudeau and his Liberal Party.

In his introduction, Mr. Ivison makes it clear that working on the book has not changed his mind about Mr. Trudeau, “The conclusion is hard to escape that he entered politics as a man of promise but has emerged as a man of promises that have failed to materialize.”

The carefully footnoted book, however, is not a mere polemic. In his research for it, Mr. Ivison spoke to many of Mr. Trudeau’s friends and allies as well as his critics. In it, he knocks down some criticisms of Mr. Trudeau, particularly the idea that the prime minister is an undisciplined, intellectual lightweight.

ImageCreditSignal McClelland & Stewart

Like all books that promise a peek behind the curtain surrounding power, Mr. Ivison’s unavoidably includes anonymous quotes. Too often, however, he granted people anonymity to take cheap shots rather than to offer behind-the-scenes insights. One “insider,” for example, said of the Liberal caucus elected in 2015, “Some people who got in were borderline idiots.”

In some ways, the strongest part of the book is the first 125 pages, which cover the period before Mr. Trudeau became prime minister. It is one of the best summaries of his evolution as a politician and the Liberal Party’s recovery from its near death experience.

Aaron Wherry, who now works for the C.B.C. and who previously wrote for Maclean’s, is a reporter, not an opinion writer. And he takes a neutral, if not skeptical, approach to the prime minister in “Promise and Peril: Justin Trudeau in Power” (HarperCollins).

While Mr. Ivison had just a single, hourlong interview with Mr. Trudeau specifically for his book, he has interviewed him several times in the past. But the prime minister gave Mr. Wherry an exceptional amount of access. So although Mr. Wherry also interviewed Mr. Trudeau’s friends and foes, many sections of the book are the prime minister himself discussing his successes and failures in direct quotes much longer than what other forms of journalism permit.


Those conversations didn’t produce any significant revelations. But they do give insight into Mr. Trudeau’s perspective on several issues, including his working relationship with Jody Wilson-Raybould during her time as a cabinet minister before the SNC-Lavalin affair. Earlier this year Ms. Wilson-Raybould accused Mr. Trudeau and his aides of exerting undue pressure on her to settle a corruption case against SNC-Lavalin, an engineering company, with a large fine, not a criminal conviction. Mr. Trudeau said he feared job losses from a criminal conviction, with its accompanying ban on government contracts.

But the account of SNC-Lavalin and Ms. Wilson-Raybould is also a major problem for Mr. Wherry’s book. Because of publishing schedules, Mr. Wherry and Mr. Ivison were wrapping up their manuscripts about the time the SNC-Lavalin dispute came to the public attention in February. Mr. Ivison dealt with it by adding an extra chapter near the end, which is one of his book’s weaker sections.

But Mr. Wherry was able to discuss the situation at some length with Mr. Trudeau, Ms. Wilson-Raybould and others. He had so much access, in fact, that this week Lisa Raitt, the Conservative deputy minister, unsuccessfully called for Mr. Wherry to bring his interview transcripts to the House of Commons ethics committee so that it could determine if the conversations broke cabinet secrecy rules.

The result is that the affair now dominates the book which, at points, reads as if the search and replace function of Mr. Wherry’s word processing software was excessively exercised as he scrambled to update the manuscript. In the end, however, Mr. Wherry was still left with the awkward problem that it’s impossible at this point to predict how SNC-Lavalin will affect the election. For example, as Dan Bilefsky, my Montreal-based colleague, and I found, it appears to have been a gain for Mr. Trudeau in Quebec, though not outside that province.

[Read: Trudeau, in Trouble in Much of Canada, Still Has Fans in Quebec]

When Mr. Trudeau calls the election in September, he will undoubtably lay out some new promises and emphasize the unfinished business from his 2015 campaign agenda that he wants to complete. Voters who want to assess what he’s achieved in his first four years will find both books useful regardless of how they view either author’s conclusions.

Trans CanadaImageCreditTara Walton for The New York Times

—Kimberley Rampersad, a dancer and choreographer turned director who is originally from Winnipeg, has taken on George Bernard Shaw’s “glorious beast”: the full six-hour production of “Man and Superman.”

—Cineplex and Netflix are in talks that will determine if Martin Scorsese’s upcoming film about the killing of the union boss Jimmy Hoffa makes it to Canadians’ theater screens as well as their small screens.

—When Richard Williams was 15, he ran away from his home in Toronto for California with the hope of meeting Walt Disney. Mr. Williams, who died last week, became an animation director and won two Academy Awards for “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”

—The Times’s Frugal Traveler suggests Canadian alternatives to tourist destinations in the United States.

—The Canadian indie singer Feist discussed her fame among 3-year-olds with The Times.

—Dr. Norman Barwin of Ottawa isn’t the only physician who used his own sperm to inseminate patients.

—“Genèse” (“Genesis”), a film by the Montreal director Philippe Lesage is an NYT Critic’s Pick.

Around The TimesImageCreditGetty Images

—Fifty years ago John McEnroe and Ilie Nastase, the bad boys of tennis, met for a match at the U.S. Open. The result was a near riot.

—Several times while reporting on the Tour de France, I met Felice Gimondi, an Italian cycling star who had the misfortune of competing at the same time as Eddy Merckx, the sport’s greatest star. This week, I wrote Mr. Gimondi’s obituary.

—The answer was 8,186,699,633,530,061. It was calculated in seconds on an abacus.

—French immersion schooling has made its way to Cajun country.


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