Justin Trudeau dishes over beers about haters, the ‘Freedom Convoy’ and why he plans to stay on the job

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s annual gabfest over (half a glass of) beer with longtime friend Terry DiMonte, a former Montreal radio host and now Vancouver-based podcaster, gave another revealing glimpse into what the year was like on a more personal level for the prime minister.

Trudeau sat down with DiMonte in Vancouver a couple of weeks ago, and in a 44-minute interview posted on YouTube, the prime minister riffed on everything from the so-called “Freedom Convoy,” how he views the haters, what he is binge-watching and reading, what it’s like on the home-front with teenagers, and what he looks forward to one day in retirement.

Here are 11 things Trudeau revealed in that interview:

The year as a plot-driven movie: Trudeau described the pandemic as a “horror movie” that offered up a “jump scare” when Omicron-fuelled COVID-19 lockdowns hit this time last year, followed by the so-called “Freedom Convoy,” the invocation of the federal Emergencies Act, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Queen’s death and an inflation crisis. “A really, really busy time,” but the prime minister insisted he was “invigorated” once restrictions lifted and he could go back on the road to reconnect with Canadians and global leaders in a way he said “grounded” him again.

Retirement plan? What retirement plan? DiMonte seemed surprised as Trudeau talked at length about why he was still jazzed by the job of prime minister and Liberal leader despite seven years of big challenges. He’s pumped by “the sense that I’m able to actually make a difference in life for the country and help people.” And if anyone needed proof he intends to take all the political credit he can and stick around, Trudeau cited dental care (the policy the NDP demanded in exchange for supporting his minority government) as an example of how he’s making a difference.

Chef’s kiss — goodbye in 10 years? Trudeau insisted he can cook, but admitted he drives his wife Sophie crazy because he is “slow” and “meticulous” in “trying to do it right.” These days, Trudeau confessed he mostly makes waffles with his son Hadrien on Sunday mornings. Then he dropped a tantalizing hint: “I don’t cook as much as I used to. I enjoy it. … I look forward to having more time in my retirement — in about a decade — to cook.” Trudeau turns 51 on Christmas Day, so he seems to be looking at Freedom 61.

The Queen’s death: Trudeau paused to compose himself briefly as he recalled the moment he learned Queen Elizabeth II had died, just as he was preparing for a news conference at a cabinet retreat in Vancouver. Privy Council clerk Janice Charette delivered the news from the palace “and everything stopped.” He downplayed his personal ties to the Queen as Canada’s prime minister and the son of a former prime minister: “You didn’t have to have a personal relationship that I had with her to feel like OK, it’s a time where history unfolds with a capital H.”

The dark side of “Freedom Convoy” protests, and populism: Trudeau said what troubled him wasn’t protesters who were not vaccinated against COVID-19 — he said many people in many communities were vaccine-hesitant “for cultural reasons, for religious reasons, for philosophical reasons,” or because they spent too much time on the “wrong websites.” His bigger concern was the spread of misinformation or disinformation and those who “preyed on people’s fears.” Trudeau said it represented a risk to Canadians who were wrongly told vaccines were more harmful than COVID-19. “It’s more of a deliberate attempt to destabilize, to fundraise, to make money off of people’s fears, to shift the narrative, to undermine their trust in institutions … to just sow chaos in our democracy, in our society and (they) are using very, very powerful tools to do that, that social media and the online world have developed in a way that actively and deliberately harms Canadians.”

The haters: Trudeau shrugged off political vitriol that DiMonte called “eye-popping.” “Just because someone hates you doesn’t mean they don’t have a point,” Trudeau quipped, adding that “sometimes there’s a kernel of truth that makes me reflect that OK, yeah, maybe I should do this differently … is there something I can do to find a middle ground?” Trudeau said “you can’t take it personally.”

Binge-watching: Trudeau, a long-time “Star Wars” geek, is tripping on the Disney Plus TV series “Andor,” which he called “everything that ‘Star Wars’ could be and should be. It’s thoughtful. It’s gritty. It’s not filled with cameos by a digital Luke Skywalker. It is for grown-ups. And it’s political.”

Binge-reading: Trudeau reads for pleasure, apparently a lot. He revealed Stephen King has “always” been his favourite author, and he is loving King’s latest novel, “Fairy Tale,” which reminds him of the 75-year-old King “in his youth.” He said he chills with Ian Hamilton’s Ava Lee books, which feature a forensic accountant/martial arts protagonist. Also on his Christmas reading recommendation list is Michelle Good’s “Five Little Indians,” a residential school story about reconciliation and intergenerational trauma that Trudeau called “powerful.” “I spent basically the second half of the novel just really weeping.”

How the hell does he make time to read fiction? Trudeau said he relieves the grind of reading briefing notes, analyses and work documents by turning to novels. “For me, the world unfolds in stories, and the stories we tell each other about who we are, who we want to be, and the story of what we are as a country. And if you’re not staying connected to stories, you get lost.”

Teenagers have social lives too, ya know: Trudeau and wife Sophie have three children — Xavier, 15, Ella-Grace, 13, and Hadrien, eight — and he talked about the challenges of trying to find “normal” as a family. The teenagers often want to stay in the city with their friends on weekends instead of going to the “cottage” at Harrington Lake, the prime minister’s official getaway in the Gatineau Hills. There are “curfews” and limits on screen time that “they keep finding apps to work around.” And then there’s “the amount of time they waste on their phones.” Trudeau’s lament that he was 28 when he got his first phone falls on deaf ears. The prime minister said he tries to make it home to help out with homework, and to see Xavier before a basketball game. He marvelled that his eldest — now 6’2” and taller than him — is still growing.

Global diplomacy: Trudeau didn’t dish much about the whirlwind of international summits over the past year, but insisted the chance to see his counterparts in person — just like for any other workplace — was critical to advancing agendas. Asked about the prickly conversation caught on camera with China’s President Xi Jinping, Trudeau said he and Xi have had several interactions at summits over the years, including during the challenging era when the detention of the “Two Michaels” in China was a major source of tension. Shown a cartoon by Montreal cartoonist Aislin depicting a cheeky Trudeau goading Xi, Trudeau insisted, “I’m not that undiplomatic.”


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