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David Johnston, special rapporteur on foreign interference, and his counsel Sheila Block, arrive to a press conference about his findings and recommendations in Ottawa on May 23.BLAIR GABLE/Reuters

Most of us have lived one of those moments when someone says something that sounds bonkers to your own ears, but people all around you are nodding sagely and taking it in stride. Inevitably, your inside voice starts asking, “Is it just me? Is anyone else hearing this?”

In movies and TV shows, they might edit in a record scratch sound effect to punctuate the ridiculous statement and make it clear that no, it’s not just you – it’s that guy. Real life, unfortunately, doesn’t come with emotionally helpful audio cues.

This week, former governor-general David Johnston was asked about his relationship with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and whether he was the right person to examine foreign interference in Canada.

Mr. Johnston laid out his history with Mr. Trudeau. When his children were small, his family had a condo at the foot of Mont Tremblant, the ski hill an hour-and-a-half from Montreal, he said, and he knew Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who had a “country home” about 50 kilometres away.

“On I think five occasions over several years, he and his three sons came and parked their car at our parking lot outside our condo and we skied,” Mr. Johnston said. Once, the elder Trudeau had to return to Montreal early, so Mr. Johnston drove the three boys to their mother’s country home a short distance away.

Mr. Johnston – by all accounts a man of sterling character who has devoted himself to public service, and who is now being mowed down by the credibility bus for his troubles – was trying to make the point that they had at best a glancing, past-tense relationship.

This will do absolutely nothing to quiet the schoolyard chants from the Conservative Leader that Mr. Johnston is Mr. Trudeau’s “ski buddy” and “cottage neighbour,” because Pierre Poilievre has never laid eyes on a poker hand he didn’t want to overplay.

But there’s something else in Mr. Johnston’s explanation that might stop you short. It seems to take for granted that ski chalets, friendships with former and future prime ministers – relationships chill enough for “Hey, can I leave my car at your place in Tremblant?” no less – and everything else that goes along with this story are common, unremarkable occurrences for ordinary people. And of course they’re not.

I mean, as a manifestation of Laurentian elites, this one is a tad on the nose.

That’s not in itself a problem. People live different sorts of lives, everyone knows that. And the point isn’t to impugn Mr. Johnston’s integrity or character. In fact, class obliviousness isn’t about Mr. Johnston at all, or about Liberal adjacency, so no one who is inclined to guzzle delicious partisan Schadenfreude should get too excited here.

This is about what starts to seem so normal that you don’t see it any more or realize that it’s wildly abnormal for most of the people listening to you – especially if you’re a public figure working on behalf of those people. It’s about who should be asking themselves the question, “Is it just me?”

The Liberals, to be fair, have produced some howlers. Bill Morneau, the former finance minister, managed to more or less lose a French villa between his couch cushions when he failed to properly disclose the vacation property due to “administrative confusion.” Mr. Trudeau has explained a family vacation that ran afoul of ethics rules as simply being a visit to the private Bahamian island of a close family friend.

On the Conservative side, this weird blindness has lately taken the form of claiming humble origins as a competitive sport, which is just as tone-deaf as oblivious privilege, with bonus points for being hypocritical, too.

Andrew Scheer, the former Conservative leader, sharpened the contrasts between Mr. Trudeau’s rarefied upbringing and his more average one by stressing – then stretching – the modesty of his family’s means and his prepolitics career as an insurance broker, which turned out not to particularly exist.

And Mr. Poilievre incessantly bangs the drum of anti-elitism and respect for “common people” without ever acknowledging that he’s been pulling down a six-figure salary on the public dime since he was 24, and qualified for a guaranteed pension at the decrepit age of 31.

This isn’t a particularly Canadian phenomenon, either. Last month, ProPublica broke an explosive story about the extravagant hospitality to which U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas had been treated by billionaire Republican donor Harlan Crow: Indonesian island-hopping by private yacht, visits to Mr. Crow’s private resorts and flights on his private jet.

In response, Justice Thomas said Harlan and Kathy Crow are “among our dearest friends” and added, “As friends do, we have joined them on a number of family trips during the more than quarter century we have known them.”

As friends do.

These moments tend to come off like you asked someone how they got to work that day and they casually say they rode in on a brontosaurus named Steve, and he’s parked right out front. And then when you stare at them with your mouth open, they wrinkle their nose and say, “What?” because they’re confused about where your brontosaurus is.

Being a winner at the game of life is not something to apologize for. It doesn’t make people inherently entitled or corrupt, or less capable or worthy. It would be no fairer to nail someone to the wall purely for their privilege than it would be to dismiss a person pushing a broom for a living or lacking a wardrobe of tailored suits – and of course, no one would ever do that.

But over the last year or two, it’s become very obvious that there is, seething just under the surface in this country, a combustible, pressurized vein of certainty that some people count while others don’t. Plenty of Canadians believe – some with good reason, and others without – that the people running the show fundamentally aren’t like them, don’t understand them and maybe can’t even see them.

The notions that life isn’t fair, that people with one type of good fortune tend to attract more of it, and that people get used to their own reality and become a little dumb about everyone else’s are so obvious and universal that you might as well complain about water running downhill.

But staying alive to that reality – and where you fall within it – matters a whole lot more if the elite job you occupy is politics, where you explicitly work for the people who are listening to you talk and wondering who deserves the record scratch sound effect: you or them?

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