With the forces now being applied to politics pushing populations further apart, leaders face a choice: be a bridge builder or a ditch digger.
For his part, Justin Trudeau is happily toting a spade.
That’s right. Mr. Sunny Ways, the brightest symbol of global liberalism, is a divider, not a uniter, to put it in terms Trudeau wouldn’t understand, so unfamiliar is he with the cannon of the centre-right.
To be sure, Trudeau certainly speaks like a bridge builder — indeed, he does little else — and he probably even thinks he’s a builder, but the record is one of ditch and division.
Pick an issue, almost any issue, and Trudeau and his virtue-tweeting conscripts are digging a trench between the government position and that of the opposition. Not satisfied with stopping there, Trudeau takes the mud from their efforts and flings it at his opponents.
That’s how adversaries of Terri-Lynne McClintic’s transfer to a healing lodge to serve the remainder of her sentence for the savage murder of Tori Stafford became “ambulance-chasing politicians.”
It’s how supporters of ending “birth tourism” became proponents of a “deeply wrong and disturbing idea,” even though most advanced Western democracies put similar limits around their citizenship.
It’s also how Ontario minister Lisa MacLeod became “not Canadian” for asking the feds to stump for the cost of housing migrants making illegal crossings into Canada, and how opponents of the Trudeau carbon tax are a “piece of s—” or “climate-change denier,” depending on the mood of the day.
Given that the government has now reversed itself on healing lodges, is studying birth tourism now that figures show it to be a bigger problem than advertised, and received an Auditor General’s report showing their rose-coloured version of the border crossers is actually an expensive shade of grey, you would think humility would be in order. Sadly, this government is too wedded to the culture war to ever change.
Say what you will about Donald Trump, but at least he doesn’t pretend the spade in his hand is anything but an instrument of division. He doesn’t cloak his partisan habits in froofy language. Trump cares about his people and his people only.
Three years in, we can say Trudeau similarly cares only about his people, the crowd who share his belief in the post-national Canada. And if you don’t like it, then you, my friend, are the problem. Sure, Trudeau the leader might say, “Canadians who voted Conservative are not our enemies; they’re our neighbours,” but Trudeau the neighbour then slaps up a row of perfectly manicured hedges to block them from view.
Sure, Trudeau the leader might say, “Canadians who voted Conservative are not our enemies; they’re our neighbours,” but Trudeau the neighbour then slaps up a row of perfectly manicured hedges to block them from view.
Now, it’s fine for the prime minister to think he’s on the right side of history. All leaders do, and Trudeau might even be. But it’s not OK for leaders to treat people on the other side of the argument as lepers or luddites. Trudeau’s “positive” liberalism scours barnacles off the hull, where a “negative” liberalism would leave them in place if they weren’t affecting the direction of travel.
If all of this sounds like nothing more than whinging about “politics,” it is. A little bit, anyway. But the stakes are now higher, and the last thing we need is any politician ignoring a 30-40 per cent chunk of the electorate.
Yes, Stephen Harper was certainly a fan of sharp elbows and the partisan rough and tumble, but he was operating in a more hostile environment. Harper had to charge hard because he was pushing on closed doors. He was broadly supported on the economy, but on files such as criminal justice reform, trying to eliminate the duplicative reviews on oil pipeline projects, and on re-orienting a public service used to years of activist government, every step was a struggle, one documented in detail by a skeptical press not imbued with the Harper worldview.
More to the point, Harper was eventually shown the door for being too nasty for too long. The Trudeau corrective was supposed to be a more inclusive politics. It hasn’t come to pass.
Trudeau is also blind to his nastier habits because he exists in an online echo chamber. Trudeau’s advantage is that his chamber also extends into the real world, where the bureaucracy and press tend to favour his policy solutions. His denigration of opponents is noted, but rarely dwelled on or congealed into a counter-narrative.
The challenge this presents for Andrew Scheer is two-fold: Trudeau can win — and win easily — playing only to his crowd; and the Trudeau approach encourages Conservatives to do the same. But die-hard conservatives are about 10 points short of a win, and probably more with Maxime Bernier lurking to the hard right.
If Trudeau isn’t going to be a bridge builder, then Andrew Scheer needs to be. Too bad it looks like he, too, has a shovel in hand.
Andrew MacDougall is a London-based communications consultant and ex-director of communications to former prime minister Stephen Harper.
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