How much does Justin Trudeau’s personal wealth matter?

Thomas Mulcair joins the Conservatives in questioning Trudeau’s economic status

Over the weekend, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair decided to make an issue of Justin Trudeau’s personal wealth.

“The problem is, Justin Trudeau will never know what middle-class means,” said Mulcair. “He just doesn’t understand the real challenges that families are facing. Never has. Never will.”

… At a news conference after his speech, Mulcair was asked if he was saying that Trudeau did not understand the middle class because he has never been part of it. “There’s no question that you get to know the stories [of the middle class] by meeting people across Canada — connecting with them at a kitchen table.

“But it’s also something that is, of course, something that you have lived or haven’t lived. And if you’ve got no connection to it other than a line in a speech that somebody else has written for you, well then of course it’s going to sound hollow.”

This isn’t quite a new line of attack against Mr. Trudeau—the Conservatives have been testing it out for the last several weeks.

Kevin Sorenson, February 24. “Unlike the Liberal leader, who has no idea what it is like to be in the middle class, our government has cut taxes 160 times for ordinary Canadians…”

Blake Richards, March 31. “Unfortunately, the Liberal leader has no idea what it is like to be middle class.”

Kevin Sorenson, March 31. “He has no idea what it costs and what it is like to be in the middle class.”

Phil McColeman. April 1. ” Unfortunately, the Liberal leader has no idea what it is like to be middle class. Middle-class families do not live spoiled lifestyles while collecting thousands in speaking fees on the backs of charities.”

Kevin Sorenson, April 3. “Mr. Speaker, the Liberal leader has no idea what it is like to be in the middle class.”

(Stephen Harper has also mused of Mr. Trudeau’s “disconnection from the realities of the Canadian middle class.”)

So what do we make of this? Or, put another way, how far do we want to take this? At the very least it would seem fair to demand that everyone participating in this debate table their tax returns. If one’s personal income history is relevant to how much one can be trusted to craft policy that would be of benefit to the middle class, let’s see some financial data, gents.

For that matter, we might settle on a strict income range to identify the middle class and then we might ascertain whether MPs qualify as middle class. (MPs currently make $163,700 per year. Cabinet ministers and the leader of the opposition earn an additional $78,300. The Prime Minister gets an additional $163,700. Justin Trudeau, as the leader of a recognized party, receives an extra $55,600.) Or perhaps we should peg MP salaries to the median income so as to ensure that they know what it is like to be in the middle class. Of course, that wouldn’t account for spousal salaries, inheritances, stock portfolios, real estate holdings and the like. So perhaps we could tax those things differently for MPs. Or perhaps we could means-test MP salaries.

Or perhaps that would be silly.

Stockwell Day suggests that to attack the luck of Mr. Trudeau’s birth is to become a socialist, which is probably not a word that any Conservative MP wants to be associated with. (Here is Blake Richards, a month before questioning Mr. Trudeau’s middle-class status, accusing the Liberals of promoting “class warfare.”)

Of course, all of this possibly becomes secondary once Mr. Trudeau has a set of policy proposals to his name. At that point, his relative affluence might become moot: his ability to assist the middle class judged more directly by what can be said about what he says he would do.

This is obviously, in a way, not much more complicated than Mr. Trudeau’s opponents trying to build an idea of him as a spoiled rich kid who doesn’t understand how the world works. But, if Mr. Trudeau’s wealth is to be an issue, even if only in the meantime, it’s difficult to see how that doesn’t necessitate everybody having to detail their economic circumstances and history so we can have a proper debate.

Beyond that, we might get into a fun discussion about whether a politician can properly represent his or her constituents if he or she does not share the same socio-economic characteristics of the majority. In the case of income, it’s perhaps enjoyable to mock and resent rich people, but I’m not sure I’d ban them from holding positions of political leadership.