Justin Trudeau’s ill-considered trip to Tofino on the very first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation does more than remind us, yet again, of his sense of entitlement and his chronically poor judgment. It tells us that he may not be Prime Minister that much longer.
A futile election, a lack of fresh initiatives and a disjointed economy all point to Mr. Trudeau’s departure before the next election. The latest family vacation embarrassment might hasten the move.
The Liberal Leader should not be surprised that Indigenous leaders across the country reacted with “shock and dismay,” as the Native Women’s Association of Canada put it, to his decision to start a brief vacation on a day of commemoration and reflection that his own government created.
In political terms, the timing is especially unfortunate for Mr. Trudeau, because it reminds Liberal supporters of something they must already have been wondering: whether it is time to change horses.
This is, after all, a political leader who is repeatedly unwilling to let public perception, or even the law for that matter, get in the way of his will: the trip to the private island in the Bahamas that violated the Conflict of Interest Act; his unsavoury efforts to secure a plea bargain for SNC-Lavalin, which violated the Conflict of Interest Act; the sole-source contract for WE Charity that almost brought down his government.
While the Prime Minister typically brazens through his misjudgments, this time Mr. Trudeau apologized. No doubt he was genuinely sorry. But also, he must have realized he was starting to run out of political lives.
He declared that the Sept. 20 election was the most important since the Second World War (it wasn’t); that Parliament had become dysfunctional (it hadn’t); and that he needed a fresh mandate (the mandate was still fresh). The result: a carbon copy of the last minority Parliament. Sept. 20 will forever be known as the waste-of-time election.
Nor did the Liberals put forward a governing agenda, other than to continue implementing the old agenda that was so rudely interrupted by Mr. Trudeau’s decision to have Parliament dissolved.
The government will continue efforts to reduce carbon emissions through taxation and other means; it will complete agreements for a national $10-a-day child-care plan with the provinces; it will continue efforts to bring clean drinking water to reserves; it will reintroduce legislation to regulate streaming services and the internet and to ban conversion therapy on children – legislation that would have been law by Christmas had the Liberals just kept governing.
The few new initiatives contained in their platform – such as a commitment to construct 100,000 affordable housing units and hire 50,000 long-term care givers – could easily have been incorporated into the next federal budget.
This is not to shortchange Mr. Trudeau’s accomplishments, which are impressive: serious action on climate change; action on improving the lives and rights of Indigenous peoples; a national child-care plan; protecting lives and the economy during the worst crisis to hit the world since the second great war (Canada’s mortality rate during the pandemic has been below that of most developed countries).
But he is an unpopular leader, and the Tofino incident will only make him more unpopular. His party’s share of the popular vote has diminished with each election. (Not that long ago, I would have told you it is virtually impossible for a political party to form government with only 32.6 per cent of the popular vote, which is what the Liberals took last month.) His government appears to have run out of ideas. And economic concerns appear to be rising once again. Mr. Trudeau – “the budget will balance itself,” “I don’t think about monetary policy” – isn’t very much interested in the economy.
There is plenty of time for the Liberal Leader to push through any bit of last-minute legacy building and then to announce his departure in a way that leaves the party plenty of time to choose a new leader and prepare for an election.
After that, he can take all the vacations he wants and no one will say a thing.
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