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People who live on a constant diet of Canadian political news, such as newspaper editorialists, have noticed that a certain word is on the lips of Liberal government cabinet members, and on those of others in Ottawa with the power to change things, an awful lot these days. It’s unacceptable.

No, we mean that the word is “unacceptable.” Not that its use is unacceptable, although we may be getting there.

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that an act of vandalism committed at an Islamic centre was “alarming, abhorrent, and [emphasis ours] unacceptable,” as if to make sure that no one thought that an alarming and abhorrent act of racism might be acceptable.

In December, he said that allegations of rape and harassment at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service were “unacceptable.” In November, he said racists attacks on a Jewish community centre were “deplorable and unacceptable.”

In October, he said the murderous attack by Hamas terrorists that killed some 1,200 people was “completely unacceptable,” and that a subsequent Israeli bombing of a hospital in Gaza was “absolutely unacceptable.” (Israel and the United States have said a misfired Palestinian rocket caused the blast, and a Human Rights Watch investigation said the explosion resulted from an apparent rocket-propelled munition that is often used by Palestinian armed groups.)

In September, he said that allegations that India was behind the assassination of a Canadian citizen in British Columbia was an “unacceptable violation of our sovereignty,” allowing for the possibility of an acceptable violation of our sovereignty.

In August, he said it was “unacceptable” that refugees seeking asylum in Canada were sleeping in the streets of Toronto. In July, he declared the decision by a union representing port workers in British Columbia to reject a mediated settlement to be “unacceptable.”

Most famously, Mr. Trudeau in 2022 said the truckers who blockaded Ottawa held views that were “unacceptable,” an unguarded comment he undoubtedly wishes he could take back, or at least ought to.

It’s not just the Prime Minister. Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly said last week that Israel’s announced intention to extend its military offensive to the city of Rafah, where more than a million Gazans are trapped, was “unacceptable.”

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said last July that the inability of some people in Nova Scotia to receive flooding alerts on their cellphones was “unacceptable.” The head of the Canadian Border Services Agency, Erin O’Gorman, said last week the failure of government oversight that led to the agency spending well over $60-million on a single smartphone app was, you know, “unacceptable.”

Terrorist attacks, war tactics that put civilians in harm’s way, acts of racism, extra-national assassinations, allegations of sexual assault, gross government incompetence, a lack of housing, diverging political views, union tactics and poor cellular service – these are all “unacceptable” in Ottawa.

They are also things that no one would ever presume to be anything but unacceptable. It’s like using your government account to tweet out, “It is unacceptable that my hair is on fire,” thereby announcing that you are on what you believe everyone would agree is the right side of the issue, without making a commitment to address your flaming scalp.

Not that nothing ever gets done. The federal government went on to provide Toronto with funding to address its refugee housing crisis, for instance.

But too often it’s just bloodless outrage, designed for a political era that has raised messaging on social media to a high art, while reducing the content of that messaging to a base set of empty words and tropes.

Everyone does it. It’s not confined to the Liberal government. Their “that’s unacceptable” is Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre’s “bring home common sense” – simplistic sloganeering that leaves people less informed than they were before they read the words.

But with the Trudeau government rapidly running out of steam, and Canadians worried about the cost of housing and food, and about the state of the world, telling them that unacceptable things are unacceptable comes across more as posturing than as helpful; as a bit of easy moralizing to replace real action.

If you find something unacceptable and you are in government, you had better be prepared to do something about it. Failure to take useful action on an issue you have identified would be … well, you know.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article was missing context regarding the Oct. 17 explosion at the al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza. Israel and the United States say the explosion was the result of a misfiring Palestinian rocket, not a bombing by Israeli forces. Separately, Human Rights Watch said its preliminary investigation showed the blast resulted from an apparent rocket-propelled munition that is often used by Palestinian armed groups. This version has been updated.

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