The past two weeks have not been kind to Justin Trudeau’s image. He decked his family out in colourful costumes, dragged them halfway across India, and wound up with the worst press of any Canadian PM on any foreign trip that anyone can remember. Canada-India relations are now in possibly their worst shape ever.
After that, he came home to introduce his relentlessly female-friendly budget (the one that made 358 references to “gender”). The best that can be said is that nobody minded it too much. Few of the females I know seemed particularly grateful for the extra-special treatment. Like the Indians, they just felt condescended to. “I’m sick of gender politics,” one friend groused to me. “What matters is that we can’t get anything in Asia right. ”
But pandering is what Mr. Trudeau does best. He wants to be more feminist than the feminists and more Bollywood than Shah Rukh Khan. The trouble is that he’s trying way too hard. So he just comes off as opportunistic and condescending.
Both the India trip and the budget − both of which should be routine affairs – have exposed the worst defects of Mr. Trudeau and his team. They are all politics and no policy; all play-acting and no substance. Just last year the international media were styling Mr. Trudeau as “the free world’s best hope,” as Rolling Stone breathlessly put it. Now, he’s Mr. Dressup. The scornful headlines from the global media were nothing short of epic. “Trudeau’s India trip is a total disaster – and he has only himself to blame,” went one headline in The Washington Post.
The usual response from the Prime Minister’s Office toward anyone who dares to criticize Mr. Trudeau – dismiss it as an example of partisan politics – won’t work this time. Senior figures in the foreign affairs world are openly dismayed by the policy vacuum at the top. David Mulroney, Canada’s former ambassador to China, wrote in The Globe that the India debacle ought to “prompt a review, if not a complete rethinking of a Canadian foreign policy that appears to be seriously off the rails.”
We have some hard lessons to learn. The India trip exposed Mr. Trudeau and his team as shallow, fundamentally unserious, and seriously incompetent. The budget document was far less harmful; it merely checked off all the usual social-justice boxes. In addition to a new paternity leave, it included more money for female entrepreneurs, $23-million for new multiculturalism programs and a national anti-racism plan, $214-million to remove racial barriers, promote gender equality, and combat homophobia and transphobia, and other funding for “racialized and immigrant women.”
What’s interesting here is not the amounts of money, which are relatively small, but the world view, which comes straight from a gender-studies course. Women as a gender need special help because they are automatically oppressed, and “racialized” women need even more special help. Instead of being individuals with different preferences, goals, beliefs, and interests, all Canadians are defined by our inherent traits of gender, ethnicity, class, race and sexual orientation, and are arranged in a sort of hierarchy of oppression. This appears to be the intellectual framework of Mr. Trudeau’s brain trust.
The Liberals have a long and robust tradition of pandering to ethnic voters. Now they have divided everyone but white men into minority groups. It’s all about identity politics now. The fight for a colour- and gender-blind society has been replaced by a vision that sees nothing but.
But people – even women – may be getting tired of it. Maybe people – even women –have higher priorities than being pandered to. A startling new Ipsos poll, taken shortly after Mr. Trudeau’s disastrous India trip, found that the Liberals would get only 33 per cent of the vote if an election were held today − versus 38 per cent for the Conservatives. The Liberal strategy has been to drive a gender wedge between women and the Conservatives. But now they and the Conservatives are tied among women. Meanwhile, the gender gap among male voters has reached a startling 9 percentage points in favour of the Conservatives.
One opinion poll doesn’t mean much on its own. But somehow I doubt that the magic incantation of the word “gender” is enough to win the hearts of middle-class women. Women, after all, want what men want: leadership in tough times, a steady hand and seriousness of purpose at the top, someone who will not make a complete hash of things that should be relatively easy to pull off. Because if he screws up something simple, what happens when the going gets rough?