For certain right-minded members of the global media elite, Justin Trudeau’s 2015 election ranked up there with Barack Obama’s 2008 rise to the U.S. presidency as a victory for all that is good and pure in the world.
The optimism was warranted, to a point. Both leaders were elected on messages of domestic reconciliation and global multilateralism. Each promised a fresh new approach to addressing tired old problems. And each brought generational change to countries that thrive on newness.
Any thinking person would have understood, however, that both leaders had been untested before reaching the pinnacle of power; that their powers of attraction would be insufficient in and of themselves to tackle the seemingly intractable social, economic and environmental challenges their countries faced in the 21st century.
Mr. Obama managed admirably well. Depending on your perspective, you can quibble with some of his policy choices and overcautious style. But he got his country through the Great Recession and beyond it without messing it up any more than it had been.
Mr. Obama was not responsible for the populist revolt that made Donald Trump his successor; decades of globalization and deindustrialization were. Had Democrats picked a less divisive candidate than Hillary Clinton, they might have even won in 2016.
But they didn’t. And since Mr. Trump’s election, the same global media elite that had placed its hopes in Mr. Obama has turned to fetishizing Mr. Trudeau. On a certain level, you can understand the desire of some liberal commentators to latch on to the one progressive leader whose country has not been beset by the ethnic nationalism and populist backlashes that have poisoned Western politics of late.
Almost any Canadian who has travelled abroad in the past few years probably has witnessed occasions where a local has gushed about our Prime Minister, all while bemoaning their own country’s sclerotic, reactionary or vacuous leadership.
Still, the unvarnished praise heaped on Mr. Trudeau by people you’d expect to think critically has been strangely Pollyannaish. In a Feb. 6 New York Times op-ed, columnist Nicholas Kristof went so far as to suggest that Canada, under Mr. Trudeau, had emerged “as a moral leader of the free world.” Nothing less.
Mr. Kristof’s column ran just one day before The Globe and Mail published allegations that Mr. Trudeau and his staff had put pressure on former attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould to overturn a decision by Canada’s top prosecutor to take SNC-Lavalin to court on fraud and corruption charges.
Ever since, Mr. Trudeau’s global fan club has had a hard time processing the news.
“Looked at from south of the Canadian border, the entire matter may seem trivial alongside any of the many accusations levied at President Trump, or of the pressures routinely applied by politicians on behalf of powerful companies,” The New York Times said in an editorial this week.
The allegations facing Mr. Trudeau are no more “trivial” than those Mr. Trump has faced about attempting to exert pressure on his former attorney-general Jeff Sessions to thwart special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into potential collusion between Trump campaign officials and agents of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Both revolve around potential political interference in a judicial matter. If you exclude Mr. Trump’s tweets, there is more evidence to support the allegations levelled against Mr. Trudeau.
It is absurd to suggest – as Times columnist Bret Stephens did last week, presumably in jest, but maybe not – that Mr. Trudeau “may be more corrupt” than Mr. Trump. Our Prime Minister may not be Mr. Clean, but he is still a clean politician by most standards.
Still, what Mr. Trudeau’s somewhat perplexed foreign admirers need to understand is that he was never the great moral hope they built him up to be. The Canadian foreign policy Mr. Kristof raved about has always been a chimera, a series of inspirational quotes backed up by little in the way of concrete action. For all of Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland’s tweeting about human rights in Saudi Arabia, which may have actually done far more harm than good, Canada has still not cancelled its contract to sell light armoured vehicles to the Saudis. And our foreign-aid budget has shrunk to a shameful 0.26 per cent of gross domestic product since Mr. Trudeau’s election, down from 0.31 per cent under Stephen Harper, whom many considered an ogre.
Yes, the Trudeau government accepted tens of thousands of Syrian refugees. But they were handpicked among those who had settled in cities in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. It was a safe and modest humanitarian exercise. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, by contrast, has welcomed more than a million migrants to her country since 2015.
No, Mr. Trudeau is no Donald Trump. But he’s clearly no Angela Merkel, either.