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Gerald Caplan
Gerald Caplan

Gerald Caplan

The public’s love affair with Trudeau is undiminished – less so, the media Add to ...

Gerald Caplan is an Africa scholar, a former NDP national director and a regular panelist on CBC’s Power & Politics.

As October ushers in the first anniversary of the Trudeau government, a clear pattern has emerged. The public’s love affair with Justin Trudeau remains undiminished, intense and glowing. But the media’s attitude toward the Prime Minister and his government has palpably turned sour and frustrated.

According to recent polls, as of August Liberal popularity stood at 48 per cent, with the Conservatives way behind at 29 per cent and the NDP trailing badly with 13 per cent. The Prime Minister’s personal popularity remains sky-high, especially when he’s pitted against no one leading the other two main parties.

Not that long ago, much of Canadian media shared the enthusiasm for Mr. Trudeau and his impressive-looking new team. But serious disappointment has set in. This is true not only for the commentariat, but among reporters whose job it is to report the news, not judge the newsmakers. You can just about feel the change of heart of many reporters by their stories documenting the failure of the government to deliver on its promises. They’re fed up.

Many in the media, as I read them, no longer have faith that Mr. Trudeau will ever deliver on the seemingly endless extravagant commitments that he made throughout the election campaign and since. These include his most important and indeed heartfelt commitments, such as those to indigenous groups, those aimed at climate change, electoral reform, national security (Bill C-51), banning arms for Saudi Arabia, among many, many others.

Take a column this past weekend by the scrupulously non-partisan Susan Delacourt. Like so many of her peers, Ms. Delacourt did not at all appreciate Stephen Harper’s open contempt for the press gallery. So for most reporters, Mr. Trudeau’s openness and accessibility was a breath of fresh air. Now his shtick has turned to hot air.

Mr. Trudeau’s press conference last week, Delacourt wrote in last Saturday’s Star, “was a remarkably answer-free encounter with the parliamentary press gallery, in which one had the sense the Prime Minister was trying to prove that he could smile and speak for 20 minutes without saying anything.” She offers this warning to the PM: Voters can “take only so many platitudes and winding, wordy detours around hard truths.” Harsh stuff.

Or take the article last Friday by The Globe and Mail’s Campbell Clark, sharply berating the PM personally. As the headline says, “Hiding behind rules, Trudeau shrugs off responsibility for staff’s moving costs.” (I wonder if the headline writer deliberately used the word “shrug”, one of Papa Trudeau’s most infuriating gestures). The story of course, was the extraordinary impropriety of Mr. Trudeau’s two senior advisers charging the government for more than $200,000 in moving expenses from Toronto to Ottawa, and the PM’s equally egregious decision to approve that request.

I had thought the gravest indiscretion was that of the advisers, whose job is precisely to keep their boss out of trouble, yet helped get him deeply into it while making themselves the story of the week.

But Mr. Clark goes after the PM himself, and with a vengeance. The PM, he stresses, had “total discretion” in approving the reimbursement. Mr. Trudeau says he was just following the rules. Mr. Clark will have none of it. Mr. Trudeau “could have rewritten the rules. He decided to offer the maximum under those rules.” Anyway, Mr. Clark writes, “the sums weren’t paid out because of the rules. They were paid out because the PM said it was okay. It’s all particularly damaging because it involves the PM’s most senior aides, who are also his closest friends.”

This too is very tough stuff, and we can be sure that every subsequent news story and Opposition statement about the government’s lavish sense of entitlement will now include moving-gate, on top of limo-gate, photo-gate and all the other gates sure to materialize.

Similarly, Tony Burman, former head of CBC News, ridicules Mr. Trudeau’s speech at the UN last week (to a hall two-thirds empty, it was not often enough noted). Mr. Trudeau was peddling his usual “We’re Canadian and we’re here to help” rhetoric. Mr. Burman comments acidly: “If only life were that easy.” And a Globe cartoon shows Mr. Trudeau as all sizzle, no steak.

But it’s not only the media. Only days ago Toronto Mayor John Tory declared that “I’m disappointed that the new government in Ottawa…[hasn’t] stepped forward with more.” He was talking about affordable housing, but it could’ve been any number of other municipal politicians and other subjects.

These scornful and disappointed observations seem to me to encapsulate much of the reaction these days to Mr. Trudeau’s endless sunny days. Nothing is as easy as Mr. Trudeau always implies, from pipelines to reconciliation with our indigenous peoples. Yet he must produce something, indeed many things, in the next few months, or he’ll be a laughingstock. But of course he risks being a laughingstock if he fails to live up to his own hype. This is a man who increases expectations every time he speaks, who can’t seem to distinguish between aspiration and reality, and he’s doing himself no favours.

Right now, unlike the media, the public is still giving him the benefit of the doubt. But public opinion is notoriously fickle and fast-changing. The Liberals should wallow in anniversary number one. They may not have the chance again.

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