Rideau Hall in Ottawa, residence of the Governor General of Canada. Image credit: Ross Dunn/Flickr

If I were Justin Trudeau, I’d welcome the Julie Payette scandal. Why? He knows he’s going to screw up again because he always does. It’s his nature.

Someone from crisis-management firm Navigator wrote an article titled “How Trudeau can recover from the governor-general scandal.” But why would he want to? It’s benign compared to COVID or Jody Wilson-Raybould. Go with it. Among inevitable screw-ups, it’s a godsend, so embrace it. Nobody really cares except monarchists, republicans and columnists. Point made?

I don’t think this is about “celebrity fixation” — this month’s complimentary media analysis. Justin’s always known celebs. They’re more fixated on him. His dad was Canada’s most famous person. Castro and Jimmy Carter attended the funeral where Justin gave the eulogy. But he does love a party vibe. He’s as social as Pierre wasn’t. There’s nothing celebby about the Kielburgers, but they threw huge arena events. Justin was like a deer caught in their spotlights.

Still, if you’re into it and want a candidate for the next GG, trust me — I’ve got this. One of the perks is the guy could do it part-time, which may be what it’s worth. It’s how he’s already handling the rest of his life. He juggles roles.

I speak of Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. There you go, already nailed the Quebec piece. He’s a member of the Super Bowl champ Kansas City Chiefs, was Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year, and he won the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s best athlete. Those never go to offensive linemen, though sometimes defensive ones qualify. He says with pride that he may not be the fastest, but he blocks Aaron Donald, and not everyone could. It’s called teamwork.

He’s also a grad of McGill medical school and last spring, during COVID’s rise, chose to work part-time at a long-term-care home near Montreal as an orderly (he hasn’t finished his residency). When training camp was delayed, he thought hard and decided to take the year off, partly so as not to potentially spread the virus but also since it made sense morally and lifewise. He was “part of a movement. Thousands of medical people in Quebec went back.”

In a stunning interview on CBC’s The Current this week, Matt Galloway asked Duvernay-Tardif, more or less, to talk about how humble he is. He painstakingly turned it around till it was an ode to nurses he works with, who do things daily that he could never do, “and nobody is there to pat them on the back or give them an opportunity to talk on the radio like we’re doing. They’re doing it because they really care. So I feel like being humble is the least I can do.”

How has it changed his plans? He was going to specialize in emergency medicine but now thinks about public health, though he worries his “media exposure” might undermine the “critical” thing, patient trust. “So do I want to stop that and focus on medicine or use that to promote a greater message to a greater audience. That’s sort of my dilemma right now.”

His coach, Andy Reid, who’s always seemed like a mensch, supported these choices and, guess what — Reid’s own mother went to McGill’s med school!

Duvernay-Tardif’s sense of duty seems less about doing the right thing, as it is elsewhere — rather, it’s rooted in a sense of community solidarity in Quebec. Sport, he says, is “almost a connective tissue in our society” and, though he chose not to play, football should continue because “it has the power to bring people together.”

Graeme Gibson, the late writer, and I talked in his last days of how we were from cohorts that avoided world wars. But we never mentioned pandemics. The First World War poet Wilfred Owen, in his “Anthem for Doomed Youth,” wrote about numberless deaths that went almost unmarked: “Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds/And each slow dusk a drawing down of blinds.”

Duvernay-Tardif has this sense of missing ceremony about deaths in LTCs (“what matters is comfort and dignity”) that falls to him and others, in the absence of family and loved ones. Perhaps he could spare a few moments to gracefully fill the duties of our head of state, in these subsequent brutal times.

Rick Salutin writes about current affairs and politics. This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Image credit: Ross Dunn/Flickr


Rick Salutin

Rick Salutin is a Canadian novelist, playwright and critic. He is a strong advocate of left wing causes and writes a regular column in the Toronto Star.