Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s effort to portray himself as just another average Canadian, possessed of an ordinary everyday outlook and bedrock Canadian values, was never very convincing. Great effort has been devoted to it by his handlers — the selfies, the photo bombs, the corny family photos — all carefully staged to look absolutely unstaged and typical.
My personal favourite remains the video released soon after he became Liberal leader, dressed in T-shirt and cargo shorts, outside a suburban home, thanking supporters for reaching a fundraising goal. See: the guy wants to be prime minister, but he spends his weekends just like the rest of us: bumming around in casual duds, mowing the lawn, firing up the barbie for a few burgers while cracking a beer or two.
Of course, that was before the trip to the Aga Khan’s private island, the visit to India dressed like an extra in a Bollywood romance, and the odd reaction to revelations he’d been accused of groping a young reporter at an event years ago. The prime minister’s initial response to such embarrassments led one to wonder just how acutely he was attuned to Canadian sensibilities. In each case, after further consideration, an updated response was deemed appropriate. As far as the groping claim went, Trudeau concluded — after “reflecting very carefully” — that different people can experience a situation in different ways. No kidding.
The latest puzzling example of the Trudeau crowd’s inability to perceive the obvious followed news that Terri-Lynne McClintic, jailed for the brutal killing of eight-year-old Tori Stafford, had been transferred to a Saskatchewan healing lodge. Reaction was swift and negative. Tori Stafford’s murder was of a particularly horrific nature, and the thought that McClintic would be given kid-glove treatment struck millions of Canadians as flat-out wrong.
When Conservatives in Ottawa sought to question the decision, however, they got the back of the Liberal hand. Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale — who after half a lifetime in Ottawa should know better — claimed there was little he could do, and it was all a matter to be left to the bureaucrats. Trudeau went further, mocking opposition members as “ambulance-chasing politicians.”
Neither response went over well. As anger grew, Tori’s grandmother remarked: “It seems like if enough people are outraged, the decision will get reversed and (McClintic) will be put back in a prison where she should be.”
Enough people were, and on Wednesday Goodale was back, revealing that he had found a way to influence the decision after all. New rules would be introduced. Prisoners wouldn’t be eligible for healing lodges until they were being readied for release. And the rules would apply to past cases, i.e. McClintic, as well as future ones. As for how such an egregious situation could have happened, Goodale suggested it was all a matter of poor communications.
“These are decisions that are not taken lightly or capriciously. They are based on evidence and sound principles, and there needs to be a higher level of understanding of that.”
Fair enough. But how divorced from public sentiment do you have to be not to realize that offering favoured treatment to a vicious child-killer won’t go down well with the general public? Even with Tori Stafford’s parents sharing the agony the situation caused them, Trudeau somehow concluded it was a good moment to take pot shots at the opposition, treating personal tragedy as a chance for political one-upmanship.
The Liberals have been in power for three years, yet, if anything, their grasp of public sentiment seems to be slipping. While still new in office the prime minister thought that a round of town hall meetings would not only be enough to bring around Canadians to his plans for a new electoral system, but to convince them to adopt the one specific system that was his personal preference. That didn’t work out. Neither did his conviction that promising a national carbon plan would win him the “social licence” from environmental hardliners to green-light a pipeline proposal for Alberta. Apart from underestimating activist zeal, a more judicious politician might have hesitated to embrace the whole notion of social licence in the first place, recognizing that granting a veto to whoever shouts the loudest is never the best or most efficient means of getting things done.
Those might be written off as rookie mistakes — though big ones. But the revelation that Ottawa spent $23 million buying 631 brand-new cars for this year’s Group of Seven summit, and is now trying to flog them at steep discounts, is the sort of boneheaded extravagance that even determined wastrels can grasp. First, why would six visiting leaders need 431 vehicles for “motorcade” purposes? Even with the bloated entourages that are typical of such events, that averages almost 72 vehicles per leader (Trudeau presumably already had his personal fleet on hand). Perhaps presidents and prime ministers require top-level security, but does every aide, flack and coffee-fetcher justify a Suburban of their own?
That such profligacy would go undetected or unremarked reflects particularly poorly on a government that is entering an election year having abandoned its pledge to balance the budget, and instead expects a deficit in the $20 billion range this year alone. The same Liberals, when in opposition, harshly attacked the Harper government for bundling too many initiatives into giant omnibus bills, decrying the tactic as a means to avoid scrutiny and an abuse of power. If elected, they pledged, “we will change the House of Commons Standing Orders to bring an end to this undemocratic practice.”
But that was 2015. Today Finance Minister Bill Morneau is busy defending his 854-page budget bill as just another day at the office, despite being rebuked by the House of Commons Speaker for the second year in a row. Sure it’s long, but any suggestion it’s too big is “absurd,” Morneau says. This is the same minister who so badly misjudged public reaction to his effort to reform small business taxes that the measure had to be radically scaled back amid a national outcry.
Trudeau’s Liberals are nothing if not devoted to their image, sponsoring hundreds of public “consultations” to try and get a grip on how Canadians think. It’s always good to talk to voters, to get an idea which way the wind’s blowing. But this government seems particularly baffled when it comes to understanding the people it’s meant to represent.
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