Congratulations to comedian Hasan Minhaj, who just released one of the most hard-hitting interviews of Justin Trudeau’s prime ministership. On Sunday’s episode of his current affairs show on Netflix, Patriot Act, Mr. Minhaj aired a recent chat he had in the PM’s office, during which he and Mr. Trudeau discussed Quebec’s Bill 21, the arms deal with Saudi Arabia and Kawhi Leonard’s departure from the Toronto Raptors.
At 33, Mr. Minhaj is the clever, successful son of Indian Muslim immigrants, one with a global world view, cool sneakers and progressive politics. He’s just the sort of person whose votes the Liberals are courting in their neck-and-neck race with the Conservative Party of Canada this fall. Recent polls from Leger, Abacus and Angus Reid all show the Liberals with a lead over the Conservatives among the youngest cohort of voters, a group that turned out in unprecedented numbers to cast votes for Mr. Trudeau in 2015.
With young voters the least likely to get their news from legacy sources, it’s clear why Mr. Trudeau’s handlers made him available to Mr. Minhaj, although the show is as much about humour as it is information. Such risks are necessary this election cycle, and meeting youth where they are seems like a smart move.
Except that the PM seemed unprepared to spar with a graduate of the no-holds-barred Daily Show. Although the intro set him up as gregarious and charismatic, the incumbent Prime Minister came across as humourless and inflexible, as well as surprised at the sharpness of the host’s jabs.
Patriot Act’s research team did its homework, digging up a 2015 clip of Mr. Trudeau on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network pledging that “no means no” in regards to Indigenous consent on land use. That played before Mr. Minhaj asked for clarification on whether communities have veto power over resource projects, to which Mr. Trudeau replied strongly in the negative.
“'Consent isn’t a veto’ sounds like the worst Tinder bio I’ve ever read,” Mr. Minhaj said. That’s an easy millennial laugh, but also landed as a #MeToo-era hit on a PM whose self-declared feminism has been questioned, as some strong-willed women either leave or are kicked out of his caucus.
The Liberals must know voters who turned out for their Indigenous rights platform in 2015 are more than a little disappointed, as are those who expected more meaningful climate action. Maybe they’ve calculated that it’s impossible to convince climate-focused voters that buying the Trans Mountain pipeline is consistent with fulfilling Canada’s emissions-reduction promises.
Still, it was cringe-inducing to see Mr. Trudeau’s wooden delivery of a weak line about increased pipeline capacity not leading to increased production, which Mr. Minhaj had stats to refute. The Liberal Leader had best repeat that one in the mirror a few times, as he’ll be trotting it out again over the next few weeks.
He seemed equally thrown off by a dig at his failure to kill the $15-billion Saudi arms deal, which keeps Canada complicit in death and devastation in Yemen. That clearly got under the PM’s skin.
“I’m telling you, they watch the show,” the host said. Mr. Trudeau fired back, with a smirk, “I’m sure they’re keeping an eye on you.” They, of course, being the Saudi government – whose human-rights abuses, the United Nations has decided, include the murder of a dissident journalist.
Perhaps, Mr. Trudeau is one of the many Canadians having a hard time adjusting to the country’s tarnished global image. Our enviro-cred is seriously damaged; in 2019, it’s impossible, as Mr. Minhaj pointed out, to draw a Venn diagram in which addressing climate change and extracting a lot of oil overlap.
The warm-and-fuzzy multiculturalism thing is fraying, too; Mr. Minhaj caught his audience up on Quebec’s religious symbols ban and the federal government’s hard turn on migration. “None of you guys wanted to hear any of this,” he said, as he walked them through the SNC-Lavalin scandal during the episode, titled The Two Sides of Canada.
Maybe the opinion of an American comedian without a vote to cast this October isn’t especially important. And as the host also pointed out, the Conservative Party is “worse on almost every issue” that those with his values prioritize: Climate-driven voters in swing ridings already know their least-bad choice.
But Mr. Minhaj’s clear longing for Canada to live up to its formerly shiny image indicates that some still look to this country to fill a yawning gap in global leadership. Last time around, Mr. Trudeau told young voters he wanted that role. He seems surprised that they thought he meant it.
Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.