I come not to bury Justin Trudeau but to praise him. Sort of.
Just about everything I believed about him before his 2015 election triumph was largely wrong. I deeply underestimated the man; I did him wrong. Was I blinded by simple partisanship, or has he grown so much so fast since last October 19?
I simply refused to take the man seriously as a potential prime minister. I thought the Conservatives had a winning put-down in their assertion that Justin Trudeau was "just not ready" to be Prime Minister.
I tried to be fair, honest I did. But...there was his dreary book, Common Ground. If there was any real substance, or any insights, I missed them. To my mind, the book gave ammunition to the many who said that if his last name weren't Trudeau, he'd never have dreamed of running for leader.
Leader? He seemed much more like a big gawky kid most of the time. Subjective impressions matter greatly in politics, and I had rarely heard him speak where he didn't sound as if he had just stumbled out of the local Toastmasters Kids' Club, or perhaps a university debating society. His voice trembled just enough to give away his nervousness, and he often seemed uncomfortable with his material, lacking in confidence and authority. Gravitas was the overworked but accurate word, and he just didn't seem to have much of it.
I had to admit there were exceptions, times when he came through in pretty impressive style. Lucky for the Liberals, the leaders' debates during the elections were among those times. The Harperites badly outsmarted themselves by mocking him so effectively they lowered expectations to almost nothing. As one of their most offensive smart alecks arrogantly sneered, "I think that if he comes on stage with his pants on, he will probably exceed expectations." Trudeau wore pants, won the evening, and rarely looked back.
Of course, it was lucky for him that the NDP campaign unaccountably surrendered the entire centre-left of the political spectrum. But he had the smarts, and the moxy, to move sharply into that vacuum. Before we knew it, his gorgeous hair, once the object of derision, was a thing of beauty to all kinds of millennials. He seemed 100 per cent comfortable in his own skin. He became a hottie. Selfies with J.T. became a precious prize. New Democrats joined others in falling all over themselves for Justin.
He made a series of audacious promises and statements, demonstrating how different he was from the run-of-the-mill political pack. The country ate it up. Gorgeous and full of substance! Who'd ever have guessed? Promises, commitments, vows poured forth. Expectations soared sky high, this time of the Liberals' own making.
As PM, he continued to impress. He repeatedly flew around the world, but instead of embarrassing Canada as a lightweight (as I fully anticipated), he turned into an international celebrity. Social media loved him. Obama loved him. Everyone loved him. Canada loved him. Still does, in fact, as all polls continue to show. Exactly one year after the election, the latest poll reports that two-thirds of Canadians approve of his government.
So two things were happening simultaneously. He was operating way above the expectations of those who thought him "just not ready." But at the same time, in quintessential Liberal fashion through the ages, the PM, afloat on hubris, was proving too smart by half. He wasn't just exceeding picayune expectations. He had systematically created enormous new ones, through an absurd 214 promises during the election campaign. No government could ever fulfill all these promises, or even remember them all. Certainly this one hasn't, and can't.
In an earlier column, I indicated the negative attitudes toward the government already espoused by so much of the media. After all, they're the ones who've witnessed his (and his ministers') news conferences degenerating into tedious, rote Liberal spin sessions. Since then, the criticisms have sharpened. Even Liberal spinners, usually adept at justifying the most egregious government betrayals, found it impossible last week to rationalize the PM's abrupt 100 percent about-turn on electoral reform (he naturally reversed himself the following day after a barrage of furious criticism).
But make no mistake. This was only one of Mr. Trudeau's flock of chickens coming home to roost. After all, while the world has been delighted to welcome Canada back, ISIS may have dissolved by the time our few "peacemakers" ever hit the ground.
With acting on only a few solemn commitments, the government turned to "public consultations." It appears more than 120 of these creatures have been arranged. This may make some sense as a way to test public opinion and kill time. But someday, all these consultations must end and dozens of reports and millions of recommendations issued. It will be impossible to act on most of them, for lack of time if no other reason.
Day by day, the government will disappoint an accumulating number of Canadians. Mr. Trudeau's charisma will wear off. His hair will grow whiter and thinner. And the millennials will move on.
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Image: PMO/Adam Scotti
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