If Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been hearing a flapping sound recently, it would be from a flock of chickens coming home to roost.
With little more than a year remaining before facing the electorate, Trudeau has transformed what was anticipated to be a political “cake walk,” providing him with a second mandate into a serious political contest.
In the process, Trudeau is demonstrating charisma’s limits. Long-deferred limits now have appeared to plague the prime minister.
The Man Who Fell to Earth
No one ever confused Trudeau with a scintillating intellectual. In contrast to his father, whose intelligence was undoubted—despite how he chose to employ it—Justin Trudeau was early dismissed as “Margaret’s child,” i.e., longer on charm than intellect.
But for years, Trudeau needed nothing beyond personalized charisma that entranced Canadians, rescued the Liberal Party from semi-oblivion third-party status, and then drove them to majority victory in 2015. Canadians had tired of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cranky competence, and the NDP’s “angry Tom” Mulcair was an inadequate replacement for “Smiling Jack” Layton, whose death eliminated the NDP’s greatest asset.
Trudeau was handsome and athletic, with a beautiful wife, picture-perfect children, and hair that most politicians would die/dye for.
For a remarkably long period, charisma sufficed. Trudeau’s soap bubble floated nationally and internationally. He was featured on magazine covers, acclaimed at international conferences, and probably took more “selfies” than any politician. Predictions the “honeymoon” would quickly end were simply wrong.
But slowly, there were signs of wear. One of the first was an unannounced 2017 Christmas vacation on the private island of billionaire philanthropist Aga Kahn. Trudeau huffed that the Aga Kahn was an old family friend, and conflict of interest didn’t apply. Trudeau skated, but many Canadians presumably wished for a comparably cushy winter getaway.
Promises, Promises, Promises—Not Kept
Every victorious party has over-promised to a credulous electorate. The challenge becomes which promises can be kept at the least price and which can be ignored without infuriating defining numbers of voters.
So, Trudeau faced the self-commitment to reduce middle-class taxes, quickly balance the federal budget, change the electoral system to end “first-past-the-post” victories, reconcile Native Canadians/Indians, and square the circles of competing environmentalists and pipeline advocates. Not done.
And even some “kept” promises had less-than-stellar results. A cabinet with 50 percent women found some neophytes over their heads, e.g., the minister responsible for creating an acceptable new electoral system (while rejecting a national referendum on any proposed alternative).
And the much-bruited-about commitment to U.N. Peacekeeping Operations (somewhere in Africa) continues to hang fire regarding specificities.
And imminent national marijuana legalization is struggling with access, pricing, and transborder challenges with the United States, where marijuana use remains largely illegal.
Moreover, the apparent refusal to purchase F-35s, the allied fighter-of-the-future, until another full review likely will last until hell freezes over; the temporizing projected purchase of surplus obsolescent aircraft is an “interim” (likely permanent) basis.
Bloom off the Rose
In March, Trudeau jetted off to India for a trip confused in objectives and bureaucratic organization. Ultimately, it left Trudeau looking ridiculous as a “Mr. Dressup,” repeatedly displaying himself in Indian costumes, and garnering international smirks in the process.
His Own ‘Bimbo Eruption’
In July, “groping” a female reporter at a British Columbian festival in August 2000 re-emerged in media (shades of Brett Kavanaugh, except the Trudeau abuse story is accurate.). Trudeau clumsily made his way through layers of apology, but such was blatant hypocrisy, compared with his expulsion of Liberal MPs facing unproved abuse charges.
Mangling Relations With US
Liberal preference is to have the worst possible relations with the U.S. government that won’t prompt retaliation. However, in the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, Trudeau blatantly failed. By claiming immediately after the G-7 summit that U.S. tariffs were “insulting” and Canada wouldn’t be “pushed around,” Trudeau infuriated President Donald Trump, who sidelined Canada during summer negotiations, ostensibly successful with Mexico. Result: Canada is gravely disadvantaged in efforts to secure favorable NAFTA terms.
Disrespecting the Saudis
On Aug. 3, the Canadian ambassador wrote on Twitter, “We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release … [a number of] peaceful activists.” Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland reinforced the point. No Canadian citizens were involved. Saudis took umbrage and, inter alia, expelled Canada’s ambassador; recalled their ambassador; froze new trade; and began dumping Canadian assets. Ottawa’s claim to be a “moral superpower” is proving disingenuous and costly.
Pipeline Becomes More Problematic
In August, a federal court quashed existing review of the Kinder–Morgan pipeline to British Columbia, requiring more consultation with affected aboriginals. Likely delays may prove fatal and, at least, challenge Trudeau’s commitment to both energy production and environmentalism.
Has First Rat Left the Ship?
On Sept. 17, Liberal member of Parliament Leona Alleslev crossed the floor to join the Conservatives. Her departure speech eviscerated Liberal defense and foreign policy.
Indeed a Tough Summer
But not necessarily fatal. The NDP is struggling with an over-his-head leader projecting being more a leader for Sikh-Canadians than Canadians outside Toronto. And Tories have shot themselves in the foot with Max Bernier’s acrimonious departure, and plan to create a new party (echoes of Lucien Bouchard [Bloc Quebecois] and Preston Manning [Reform]) that may drain deciding votes in some constituencies.
David T. Jones is a retired U.S. State Department senior foreign-service career officer, who has published several hundred books, articles, columns, and reviews on U.S.–Canadian bilateral issues and general foreign policy. During a career that spanned more than 30 years, he concentrated on politico-military issues, serving as an adviser for two Army chiefs of staff. Among his books is “Alternative North Americas: What Canada and the United States Can Learn from Each Other.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.