The Biggest “Rope-A-Dope” in Canadian Political History

Former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson famously used to say:

“Everyone has a plan until they get hit.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — a serious boxing fan and amateur pugilist himself — has been punched in the political face so hard, he’s bleeding from the nose and his pants are down around his knees.

And, it’s all because he had the wrong fight plan from the very beginning and made the biggest mistake in politics: he underestimated his opponent.

For those just catching up: Trudeau faces allegations of inappropriately applying political pressure on his own Attorney-General, Jody Wilson-Raybould, to stop the prosecution of a big company (SNC-Lavalin) facing charges in Trudeau’s home province of Quebec in an election year — and then allegedly retaliating and demoting her when she didn’t submit to repeated attempts to influence her. The story is now making international news. The BBC calls it “the scandal that could unseat Canada’s PM”.

Trudeau’s game plan has been simple. He says he didn’t do anything illegal.

Wilson-Raybould agrees. Everything that happened was legal.

But, I always tell my clients:

“It may not be illegal, but do you want to read about it on the front page of the newspaper next to your photo.”

Clearly, Wilson-Raybould understands this better than Trudeau. So, she’s fighting an entirely different fight than the Prime Minister.

He came into the ring as the champ and hit her with a swarming style, using politics to strike early and even getting others to take shots at her. Trudeau came with everything, thinking the newcomer’s legs would buckle and she would give in. He brought the heavyweight power game he learned from his dad. It was an intimidation play.

The problem is Wilson-Raybould had her own game plan and she’s not easily intimidated. She comes from a political family, was a successful lawyer and Indigenous politician, and was personally courted by Trudeau to run in the last election. She’s the real deal.

So, with her opponent underestimating her, Wilson-Raybould did what Muhammad Ali did to George Foreman back in the “Rumble in the Jungle” fight. She let Trudeau attack and attack, making him think he was winning and beating her, and then — when she was ready — she spun him into the corner and hit him hard, fast and often.

Wilson-Raybould had diligent notes she referenced from the meetings she had on this subject. She hammered Trudeau with referenced quotes like jabs, uppercuts and overhand rights. To a politician, her legal style was as unorthodox as a southpaw, and near impossible to defend against.

He never saw it coming.

Leon Gast

Wilson-Raybould has already won. She spoke her truth and it seems like Canadians believe her in the public opinion ring.

Simply put: what Trudeau did doesn’t pass the ‘smell test’ for many Canadians. It may be legal, but it’s not right.

Many people feel betrayed and that is a feeling that can’t be unfelt. Feelings are emotions and emotions are sticky. As one woman who doesn’t follow politics told me, “He’s just like all the others.” That’s not a good sign when you sell yourself as a prophet and are facing an election around the corner.

You see (and my humble apologies to the lawyers out there), a court of law is easy compared with the court of public opinion. A court of law has rules, laws and precedent. It has due process. Emotions are kept in check for the most part by those rules and parameters. The court of law has the patience required to hear all the evidence and then make a measured decision on guilt, credibility and punishment. It is all rather civilized. The process often takes years to conclude. It is a serious place for serious people.

And then there’s the world I work in. The court of public opinion. It’s a bloody three-ringed circus, complete with flaming swords, fast-talking carnies and a sky-high tightrope with no net to save you. In the court of public opinion, it is a mob-rules free-for-all where perception is reality. Emotions and the theatrical appearance of authenticity hijack facts. The loudest people are heard, not always the smartest. With the evolution of social media, the mob usually decides guilt or innocence fairly quickly, with a recommended punishment coming just as fast. This entire process can unfold in mere hours. It is ruthless and often criminally unfair with no recourse because the harder you defend, the more guilty you look.

Patrick Doyle/Reuters

Justin Trudeau promised voters ‘sunny ways.’ He said they’d see politics being done differently. He was light on issues but big on emotions, energy, yoga poses and boxing. He was the ‘cool dad.’ American celebrities tweeted about how much they loved him. Trudeau rode that pony to the top of the political mountain and stood on the narrow, shaky pinhead that is the moral high ground in modern-day politics.

The new narrative is about a man who wouldn’t take no for an answer, like an entitled trust-fund frat boy who doesn’t know what rejection or losing feels like. He went head-to-head with someone who appears to not just speak about ethics and the rule of law — but someone who actually lives by them.

It’s a sadly familiar story in politics, and it’s not one that’s likely to end well for Trudeau who appears to be a lightweight who stepped in the ring with a heavyweight who had him measured the entire time.