A wise mind once observed that politicians don't rise to power because of some strength, and then fall from power because of some weakness. The same quality accounts for both rise and fall, he said.
We may be witnessing proof of that maxim in Justin Trudeau's disastrous Indian excursion, capped by the discovery that the government had invited a man convicted of the attempted assassination of an Indian cabinet minister to a dinner reception.
The Prime Minister's cosmopolitan upbringing equipped him to step confidently onto the world stage immediately after his victory in the 2015 federal election. Donald Trump's election the following year turned Mr. Trudeau into something of an icon, a young, charismatic guardian of the Western alliance and progressive values under threat from an America gone rogue.
"Why can't he be our president?" Rolling Stone asking plaintively last August in a cover story on Canada's 23rd prime minister, at the height of Trudeaumania 2.0.
Then came the subcontinental surprise.
Canada has good reason to cultivate ties with India, which is about to overtake China as the world's most populous country. A Canada-India free-trade agreement would have none of the complications of its Chinese equivalent, since India is a democratic fellow member of the Commonwealth and doesn't seek to expand its global reach through state-owned enterprises.
The huge Indo-Canadian diaspora – 1.4 million people, representing 4 per cent of our country's population – further binds the two countries and opens fresh opportunities for tighter trading and cultural ties.
Unfortunately, as former prime minister Stephen Harper discovered to his sorrow almost a decade ago, most of the potential exists only in theory. The Indians are understandably indifferent to a small, cold country on the northern fringe of the Western hemisphere that has neither the ability nor the desire to influence events in South Asia.
Although less rigidly protectionist than in the past, India remains a largely closed economy that sees little need to open itself further to foreign investment, which is why years of Canadian effort to forge a stronger trading relationship have had little result.
And then the Trudeau family arrived, apparently tone-deaf to all these realities, and proceeded to make a spectacle of themselves.
The threadbare itinerary during the eight-day visit created the impression that the excursion was more taxpayer-funded family vacation than serious business, which was regrettable optics in the wake of the controversy over the family's Christmas 2016 visit to the Aga Khan's island in the Bahamas.
The Trudeaus' decision to wear Indian rather than Western garb during much of the trip raised eyebrows in the local press. Outlook India dubbed their gear "too Indian even for an Indian."
By midpoint in the trip, the international press had taken notice, the BBC lampooning the outfits as "more in tune with what a bridegroom would wear in a Bollywood film," while CNBC quoted an observer who described the visit as a "slow-moving train wreck," in part because there was so little serious engagement with Indian officials.
And then came the discovery of the unfortunate invitations.
Indian political leaders are chronically suspicious of what they see as Canada's soft attitude toward Sikh separatism and the violence sometimes associated with it. A key goal of this visit was to reassure those leaders that the Canadian government emphatically does not support separatist sentiments or extremist actions.
Why, then, was Jaspal Atwal present at an event earlier this week attended by the Trudeaus and other members of the Canadian delegation? Why was he invited to Thursday's dinner reception? Mr. Atwal's rap sheet includes, among other things, a conviction for the attempted assassination of an Indian cabinet minister in British Columbia in 1986.
When the CBC broke the story and published a photo of Mr. Atwal standing beside Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, all hell broke loose. The dinner invitation was rescinded, and Mr. Trudeau admitted to reporters that "the individual in question never should have received an invitation."
But how did this unwelcome guest clear diplomatic and security screens? How could the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi, Global Affairs in Ottawa and the RCMP have messed up so badly?
"Lucy, you got some 'splainin' to do."
Mr. Trudeau's love of the international spotlight, which served the government well in the past, has now turned against him, making him appear facile and foolish during his long Indian sojourn.
Liberal strategists no doubt hoped that the photos from the India trip would remain in circulation for years. And they will – in Conservative attack ads.
What a mess.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says B.C. MP Randeep Sarai is taking 'full responsibility' for inviting Jaspal Atwal to receptions in Delhi, India. Atwal was convicted of trying to assassinate an Indian cabinet minister in 1986.
The Canadian Press