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Politics Trudeau glosses over shortcomings at his own peril

There was gloriously sunny weather on that day in November, 2015, when Justin Trudeau walked to Rideau Hall to be sworn in as Prime Minister. On Wednesday, when he went again to launch his campaign for a second term, there were intermittent clouds. Yet the Liberal Leader gazed at his own record with pure sunshine.

Every once in a while, there’s a suggestion around Ottawa that Mr. Trudeau might do, if not a mea culpa, then a bit of a nod to the feeling that he hasn’t lived up to all the expectations. You know: A we’re-not-perfect acknowledgment that some things could have been done better, so that the Liberal Leader, and potential Liberal voters, can move on to the things still to be done.

But Mr. Trudeau didn’t do that Wednesday. Not on the SNC-Lavalin affair, not when asked about young people who might feel he fell short on his promise to do politics differently, and not in general. He launched his bid for a second term without addressing the shortfalls of the first.

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Instead, he harked back to the election of 2015, when, as he told it, Canadians were anxiously languishing with a flat economy and stalled job market “thanks to a Conservative government that believed cuts and austerity were the answer to everything.” Then Canadians chose a new “team” willing to “invest in people” and things got better. Unemployment is down. Job creation is up.

Agree or not, that’s a fairly clear political message. Mr. Trudeau went on to highlight a record that’s more substantial than a lot of people will remember: the introduction of the Canada Child Benefit, credited for lifting significant numbers of children out of poverty; expansion of the Canada Pension Plan; the renegotiation, under threat, of NAFTA; the introduction of climate-change policies.

Then he told the country that they can keep on with that, or go back to Stephen Harper’s era.

No mention of Mr. Trudeau’s bumps in his own tenure since 2015. Full speed ahead. The Liberal slogan, after all, is “Choose forward.”

But elsewhere, his opponents were making disappointment the issue.

In fact, Mr. Trudeau was the first incumbent prime minister in recent memory who didn’t get first crack among party leaders at framing the launch of an election. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer stepped off his campaign plane on the tarmac in Ottawa to speak to reporters before Mr. Trudeau even visited the Governor-General.

Mr. Scheer wanted to tee off on The Globe and Mail’s report that the RCMP is looking into whether there was obstruction of justice in the SNC-Lavalin affair but can’t interview some people involved because the government won’t waive cabinet confidentiality. And he did, arguing that Mr. Trudeau must have done something really bad if he is hiding it from the police.

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“He’s going to lie about it today, and he’s going to continue to lie about it,” Mr. Scheer said.

Beyond the SNC-Lavalin affair, Mr. Trudeau’s opponents were talking about Mr. Trudeau as not living up to the 2015 billing. In London, Ont., NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told supporters that Mr. Trudeau “isn’t who he pretended to be.” When Mr. Scheer reached Trois-Rivières at lunchtime, he used pretty much the same words.

Mr. Trudeau’s opponents clearly think there’s a weakness there. The Liberal Leader doesn’t think he has to address it.

He was asked by a reporter how he plans to regain the trust of millennials who feel he didn’t live up to his promise to do politics differently. He answered that millennials “have seen the transformation of our country over the last four years.” His responses to questions about the SNC-Lavalin affair were terse and more or less unresponsive. A reporter asked to know where he, Justin Trudeau, thinks he personally went wrong in the SNC-Lavalin business. He only had words for what he did right.

“My job as prime minister is to be there to stand up and defend Canadian jobs,” he said.

Admittedly, electioneering politicians typically deflect questions about mistakes. The thing is, the Liberal Leader’s opponents think they’ve got an issue here: the feeling among many voters that Mr. Trudeau of 2019 isn’t quite the leader they expected him to be in 2015. But Mr. Trudeau was in no mood to talk about that as he started his run for another term.

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