That's a serious charge and one well worth investigating.
Mr. Trudeau has a B.A. and a B.Ed. and worked for a nine years as a teacher. The Conservatives for some reason think that isn't much and especially like to point out he was a 'drama' teacher though that was only one area he taught. In addition to teaching drama, Mr. Trudeau also acted professionally (maybe his success as a professional artist galls the wannabe rock star in Mr. Harper).
In addition to these credentials, Mr. Trudeau studied engineering and began (but didn't finish) an M.A. in environmental geography. He served as chairman of the Board of Katimavik, running a multi-million dollar organization with roughly 900 employees at its peak. And, of course, he grew up in 24 Sussex Drive, travelled broadly in Canada and internationally and learned politics at his father's knee.
He was 37 when, in 2008, he was elected an MP. Five years later he became leader of his party.
Well, not exactly an overwhelming resume but not meagre either.
Let's consider the alternative.
Stephen Harper, born and raised in Toronto before moving to Alberta at age 17, has a M.A. in Economics from the University of Calgary, as we are frequently reminded. An M.A. does not an 'economist' make — especially since he never worked in the field. Indeed, an M.A. as a terminal degree doesn't quite make you anything. I should know, I have one myself.
Mr. Harper has worked in the private sector. He spent a brief time working for Imperial Oil, first as a mail clerk and then as a computer technician. In 1987 (age 28), he became policy chief for the fledgling Reform Party. At age 30, having lost the 1988 election as a Reform candidate, he moved to Ottawa to be the policy advisor to the first Reform MP, Deb Grey. There he stayed, until the election of 1993 when he was elected for the first time to the House of Commons at the age of 34. Four years later, after a policy dispute with leader, Preston Manning, Harper sort of left politics to become head of the National Citizens' Coalition, a right-wing lobby group. This was certainly his biggest job (though how big is uncertain — the NCC is highly secretive about their membership or staffing; their stated budget of $2.8 million would suggest a staff of 25-35) prior to his return to Parliament as leader of the new Conservative party in a by-election in 2002. He was now Leader of the Opposition. To this point in his life, he had never ventured outside Canada or the United States. Less than 4 years later he became Prime Minister.
Well, not exactly an overwhelming resume either — but apparently enough for the Conservative party.
But what about bench strength. Liberal bench strength is hard to judge — we have no idea who will ultimately get elected or join Cabinet if Trudeau forms a government. The current caucus includes both long-time political members (that is those who spent more time on Parliament Hill than off) but also a fair smattering of people with strong and varied non-political resumes.
The same thing can be said for the Harper cabinet.
The picture is slightly different when we look at the front bench — those half a dozen Ministers who seem to be the most significant in the current government and who will be leading candidates to replace him when he goes.
John Baird (Minister of Foreign Affairs) has played a prominent role in all Harper governments, holding major Cabinet posts and often being a primary government spokesman in the House of Commons.
John Baird was elected as an MPP in Ontario in 1995 at the age of 26. Prior to that he worked as a political staffer at Queen's Park. He was a Minister in the Mike Harris government before transitioning to federal politics. While I personally don't denigrate the job of politician (I'll blog about that some other time), there are those who might say: He never had a real job.
Jason Kenny (Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister for Multiculturalism), a highly successful political operative who has wooed many new Canadians to the Conservative banner, actually started his political career working for the Saskatchewan Liberal party as executive assistant to Ralph Goodale. That apparently didn't suit him and at age 21 he started working for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, becoming its President a year later. The CTF is another secretive right wing lobby group with an indeterminate base of support. Officially it only has five members. Mr. Kenney studied philosophy at a Jesuit university in California but did not finish his degree. He was elected as a Reform MP in 1997 at age 29 and has been in Ottawa ever since. Sorry: He never had a real job.
Tony Clement (Treasury Board) has a law degree and actually practiced law for four years, though he seemed more occupied with organizing for the Progressive Conservative party in Ontario (he became party president in 1990 at age 29). Two years later, after an unsuccessful run for Toronto City Council, he became a senior advisor to PC leader and Premier Mike Harris. Elected as an MPP in 1995 at age 34, he served in Cabinet in a number of portfolios. He was defeated in 2003 and spent almost three years out of politics (if you don't count his unsuccessful bid to become the leader of the united Conservative party) working as a lawyer and small business person. In 2006 he was elected as part of the first Harper government. Okay: He did have a real job but didn't seem to take it very seriously.
Similar things can be said about the career of Peter McKay (Minister of Defence). He spent six years as a lawyer, including working as a crown prosecutor in Nova Scotia, before being elected to the House of Commons at age 32, taking over the seat previously held by his father and Mulroney Cabinet Minister, Elmer McKay.
Rob Nicholson (Justice) has been in the House of Commons longer than any of them — elected at age 32 in 1984, after working for a few years as a lawyer. He did return to the field of law after his defeat in the elector slaughter of 1993 but was back for more in 1997.
Both of them did have real jobs — though the job they had was exactly what is traditionally thought of as 'prep school for politics.'
Not all of the prominent Ministers in the Harper government are quite this callow. The late Jim Flaherty, didn't enter politics until age 46 after more than 20 years as a successful lawyer and partner in a significant firm.
His successor, Joe Oliver, had a solid if not spectacular career as an investment banker (though he spent part of that as a lobbyist for investment bankers) before entering politics in his sixties. I'm not terribly impressed with Mr. Oliver (having seen him perform in committee) but he certainly had a significant life outside politics.
There are others who have had solid to spectacular careers away from Ottawa — Lisa Raitt, Chris Alexander and to a lesser extent, Rona Ambrose — but none of them are front line players (yet).
On the other hand, we have James Moore (Industry). While by all accounts a bright guy (he too has an MA — obtained in 2011 while in office), Mr. Moore may have the least experience of them all. He spent a couple of years after university as a political staffer for the Reform party and as a radio talk show host, before being elected at age 24 in 2000. He's been in Ottawa ever since. Once again: never had a real job.
Paul Martin, son of a long serving politician, did not himself seek public office until he was 45 after a long and successful career as a businessman. He also had a law degree.
Jean Chretien was a lawyer who was first elected to the House of Commons at the age of 29. He served there (occupying almost every senior Cabinet position) until 1986 after losing the Liberal leadership to John Turner (and government to Brian Mulroney). He left Ottawa if not politics and spent 4 years in the private sector as a lawyer and member of a number of corporate boards. Chretien's career was a significantly richer than Harper's (who has never held a Cabinet post except PM) but was still mostly political.
Brian Mulroney was politically active from his University days as a supporter of John Diefenbaker and later opponent of Joe Clark. Still, he had a long career as a lawyer and a business executive before becoming an MP in 1983 at age 44 (in the seat now held by Peter McKay). Oddly enough, long before he had tested the waters with the electorate he ran for leadership of the PC party — in a contest eventually won by Joe Clark.
Prime Ministers before this group had private careers ranging from thin (Clark) to extensive (Trudeau).
In conclusion, is Justin Trudeau too inexperienced to become Prime Minister? He certainly has a resume as good as or better than the current one did when he took office. Will he be a good PM? Only the electorate and time can answer that question.