I came away from Peter Mansbridge’s tag-along with Justin Trudeau thinking the new PM is better on TV than the old anchor.
Throughout the 25-minute mini-doc on CBC’s The National, Trudeau appears comfortable in the momentous moment, self-assured and articulate.
Mansbridge seems lost in a sentimental journey of his own design, clumsily stuck in the cliché of the son succeeding the father.
The piece begins on an early morning ride up the elevator in the Peace Tower, where Trudeau will raise the flag on his first day as prime minister.
Mansbridge: “Remember your first time going up?”
Trudeau: “No, I think my dad made us take the stairs.”
Atop the tower, Mansbridge presses on: “Anything special about this flag, in terms of family history?”
Next stop, the PM’s office: “You remember this?”
“It’s totally different from when I was a kid.”
The Sage of Front Street persists: “Sometimes, when you go from childhood to adulthood, things that you thought were big look much smaller.”
“Um, yeah. But this, it’s fairly big.”
Mansbridge isn’t getting much, no blubbering about the past. Time to move on. Do some reporting.
Instead, he turns to one of Trudeau’s two kids.
“Enjoy, that?” the 67-year-old anchorman asks six-year old Ella-Grace. “That was fun, eh?”
The 43-year-old Trudeau appears as cool as his daddy, though more polite and less haughty.
He is also more observant than the one-time reporter as they sit side by side in a limo, en route to the next stop on their tour.
“Are we wearing the same tie?” Trudeau asks.
They fondle their neckwear, compare, and decide they’re similar but not exactly the same color or brand name.
The segment in the limo, Mansbridge one on one with Trudeau, is the longest Q&A of the piece.
There are predictable questions about the adjustment the new PM will have to make, living in the bubble of armored limos and RCMP protection, before Mansbridge returns to the ghost of Papa Pierre.
“You’ve mentioned your father a couple of times and I’ve asked about him and people do all the time. Did you ever talk to him about the possibility of this one day?”
Trudeau recalls “one awkward” conversation about politics in “maybe the last year of his life,” but there’s nothing revelatory.
For me, the most telling moment comes when they’re in the front seats of a bus, all the newly sworn-in Liberal ministers behind them.
“When you turn around and look at the people you put in cabinet,” Mansbridge says, “we’re on a BUS, heading up to Parliament Hill. It’s symbolism, I guess, not limos – a BUS.”
Trudeau talks about being part of a team.
“Still,” says Mansbridge, “it feels like you should be singing a we’re-going-to-camp song. Kumbaya, or something, in the background.”
“Maybe that’s your experience on the bus, Peter, but a lot of people take the bus every day to go to work.”
Who’s the one living in the bubble? The kid who grew up at 24 Sussex or the celebrity anchor?
In his element, Mansbridge is a colossus: The unchallenged heavyweight champion of the newsroom; the one everybody sucks up to; the one whose power bears the gift of gravitas.
During my 10 years at CBC, beginning in the late ’90s, my first and only experience in TV news, I never understood the reverence afforded any anchor.
A few were smart. Many were dumb. I never knew Mansbridge well enough – worked with him only a few times – to decide in which category he fit.
But you’d think a journalist spending Day One with a new prime minister would elicit some real news.
There was none in the doc. And, a story that day under Mansbridge’s byline on the CBC News website, merely amplified his only interest, his preoccupation with fathers and sons.
The text includes such chestnuts as:
“It would have been impossible for Pierre Trudeau not to have played some role in Wednesday’s swearing-in spectacle.”
Sorry, he couldn’t get a day-pass from St-Rémi-de-Napierville Cemetery.
“Over the several hours Justin Trudeau spent in front of a camera and tethered to a microphone for a documentary by CBC’s The National, it is clear memories of his father were threaded through his thoughts.”
Clear? Weren’t you the only one singing The Way We Were?
“The memories of his dad were waiting for him in his new office.”
Where you asked about his childhood memories.
“They had to be outside of 24 Sussex Drive when Trudeau pulled up in front of the empty executive mansion for the first time in years.”
Had to be? Is mindreading covered in the CBC style guide?
“What was Trudeau thinking as the armored sedan wound around the drive of his old home?”
“This is weird,” was all he would offer.
That’s because he isn’t joining your trip down memory lane.
“Trudeau would later insist publicly that few of his thoughts on this day would be dedicated to the father … ‘My thoughts today – sorry, Dad – aren’t mostly on him,’ he told reporters outside Rideau Hall.”