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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talks to media outside the Basilica of Sainte-Anne de Beaupré, east of Quebec City, during the papal visit of Pope Francis, on July 28.Bernard Brault/The Canadian Press

Of all the things we begrudge politicians, taking personal vacation time with their families has to be the pettiest.

No politician is really immune: George W. Bush was often criticized for his frequent trips away from the White House when he was U.S. president, including a five-week getaway to his Texas ranch in 2005. Ontario Premier Doug Ford was chastised for taking a trip up to his Muskoka cottage back in February, right as convoy protesters had descended on Ottawa. And now Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is being attacked for jetting off to Costa Rica for two weeks, which some see as particularly out-of-touch at a time when Canadians are being squeezed by inflation and health-care troubles at home.

There are certainly worse times for political leaders to take vacations: when Ontario advised against travel due to COVID-19 and the finance minister nevertheless decided to fly out to St. Barts, for instance, or when Texas was in the midst of a devastating winter storm and Senator Ted Cruz chose to hop on a plane to Cancun, or when Mr. Trudeau opted to mark Canada’s first Truth and Reconciliation Day with a personal vacation on a beach in Tofino, B.C. But there is never really a good time for a politician (especially the top politician) to take some leisure time; there is always conflict happening abroad or at home, and unless we take the unreasonable position that politicians should never take time off while they are in office, it is inevitable that the Prime Minister’s vacation will overlap with any number of crises – economic, social or political.

It’s a cheap and easy way to land a political punch, though, and partisans usually jump on it when given the opportunity (only to forget their outrage when it’s their guy sipping mai tais on a beach or flying out to New York for a long weekend to catch a Yankees game). But it’s a silly habit we should all endeavour to break: politicians are people, and we cannot expect people to function at optimal levels if they are denied opportunities to spend leisure time with their families. What’s more, if we want decent, smart and thoughtful people to consider lending themselves to public office, the job can’t be inordinately thankless (to the extent that that isn’t already the case). After all, why would someone who ostensibly could earn much more in the private sector choose to run for public office with all its stresses, knowing also that their every move will be scrutinized, every expense pored over, all sorts of details of their private life often exposed – and on top of it all, lambasted for taking the occasional vacation?

Perhaps some would argue that two weeks is too long for the Prime Minister to be away from his desk. But Mr. Trudeau has been gallivanting across Canada for the last couple of weeks, anyway: meeting the Pope, smiling with fishermen in PEI, playing with kids at a summer camp in B.C. So a couple weeks on the beach isn’t exactly a major departure from some of Mr. Trudeau’s other 2022 summer activities.

Others might insist that while there is never a good time for personal travel for a politician, this particular time – under these economic conditions – is particularly tone-deaf for a Prime Minister who purports to be all about the welfare of the middle class. Though if now is the wrong time for Mr. Trudeau to travel, it’s difficult to imagine when the right time might have been. Last month, when the premiers were meeting in Victoria and people were camping out outside passport offices? Back in June, when inflation was at 8.1 per cent and airports were in crisis? Maybe February or March, when the fighting in Ukraine had just begun? Or sometime in the future, when inflation starts declining, which might not be before Parliament resumes in September?

There are many serious issues for which this Prime Minister deserves criticism: his government’s apparent abandonment of Ukrainian embassy employees ahead of Russia’s invasion in February; its continuing abandonment of Afghans who worked for the Canadian government; its enduring and expensive fidelity to COVID-19 theatre; the lack of clarity surrounding allegations of political interference in the RCMP probe following the 2020 Nova Scotia massacre; the federal government’s failure, months later, to publicly provide persuasive evidence justifying its invocation of the Emergencies Act during the trucker convoy crisis; and Mr. Trudeau’s capitulation in returning natural gas turbines to Germany despite Russian sanctions. (This is a non-exhaustive list, sourced only from the last few months.)

Begrudge Mr. Trudeau and his government all of that, and more. But let the Prime Minister have some time away. If nothing else, maybe he’ll get to experience an ArriveCan glitch firsthand on his way back.

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