- Gone are the days of blustering, of perfect hair and kissing babies, broad shoulders, playful pirouettes and chilling orations: the heavyweights in Canada's political arena are now geeks.
Square and introverted, this breed of politician in Canada is intellectual and ideological.
In contrast to the bombastic Kleins, Harrises, Mulroneys, Martins, Turners, Trudeaus, and Chrétiens of yore, these modern politicos are not known for their personal presence, panache or personality. Their lack of charisma leaves the masses free to listen to what they have to say, as opposed to how they say it.
Stéphane Dion's win at the federal Liberal leadership convention last week -- in which he squared off with fellow geek Michael Ignatieff -- sealed the trend.
It was academic geek vs. academic geek for the Liberal party leadership, for the first time in Canadian history (the bespectacled Dion was a political science professor at the Université de Montreal. Ignatieff is a former Harvard prof).
"We've had enough of prima donnas," says Doreen Barrie, political scientist at the University of Calgary. And they're tired of the showmanship that comes with it.
Creatures of persuasion and grace belonged to the first wave of TV politics, says Akaash Maharaj, a former national policy chairman of the Liberal party and current Senior Resident at the University of Toronto's Massey College. Politics made a huge shift at the beginning of the TV age, in the '60s. How a politician presented himself often became more important than what he presented.
"Mulroney and Trudeau came to the fore as the mass media was just coming in to its own," he says. "They were well-placed at that juncture of history."
But it's the charismatic politician that may be the aberration, he adds. "Some of the most effective politicians [in Canadian history] would not last five seconds on the modern interview circuit."
In contrast to the bombastic Kleins, Harrises, Mulroneys, Martins, Turners, Trudeaus and Chrétiens of yore, these modern politicos are not known for their personal presence, panache or personality. Their lack of charisma leaves the masses free to listen to what they have to say, as opposed to how they say it.
Vaunted prime ministers like Wilfrid Laurier and John A. Macdonald were often awkward, gangly, and had faces "meant for radio," he says.
We see through the spin. We've become savvier voters. The new generation of politicians are "undeniably the antithesis of the glib politician," Maharaj says.
"They reflect a growing skepticism about traditional politicians and the existing political process." Larger-than-life political figures like Trudeau, Mulroney, Chrétien, Martin, and even Ignatieff tend to be polarizing, he says. In the wake of advertising scandals and deepening distrust of government, Canada is looking for a unifying figure.
Therefore, voters prefer the candidate who is liked by most people to the one who is loved and hated in turns.
"It's a new kind of populism," says David Taras, political analyst at the University of Calgary. His colleague Barrie says it's more akin to a coup d'état.
In both the Alberta and federal Liberal races, the "frontrunners were almost anointed by the party," Barrie says. The winners were seen as a grassroots "rebellion."
"The members wanted to get control of the parties."
Perhaps those compromising choices are a better fit for a country whose longest-serving prime minister, Mackenzie King, was known for never doing anything by halves, that could be done by quarters.
"It's become fashionable to be an ordinary guy," she says.
The province that distinctly bucks the trend is Quebec, where the Parti Québecois leader André Boisclair, a hard-partying, openly gay man, has a good shot at becoming premier in the next election there.
Nevertheless, with Quebec Premier Jean Charest still in charge, it seems we are a country of voters choosing smart men over pretty ones. (Though pretty women still seem to be all the rage.)
The question remains, will it make any difference?