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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives for a cabinet meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

There was a moment on Monday at the beginning of Justin Trudeau’s unusual interview on TSN’s NHL trade-deadline day coverage where you could see his alarm.

After a quick intro, host James Duthie segued immediately to a question – “You know, I’ve been lobbying for years …”

The Prime Minister’s mouth gaped, his eyes hardened and for just an instant, you could read his thoughts: “Why have I wandered out into the open like this? Why doesn’t anybody screen these questions? And why have I suddenly started putting my faith in the grubby members of the media?”

Of course, this was preamble to a bit of fun. Mr. Duthie asked about making deadline day a national holiday. Mr. Trudeau laughed mechanically. The relief was palpable.

Mr. Trudeau said something silly about lost productivity (at which point, I put a finger to my temple and tried to telepathically will Mr. Duthie to say, “On that point, you know I’ve been lobbying for years for pipelines …”).

The earnest head nodding switched on, the eyes softened. Mr. Trudeau was grooving now. Getting the message out there. About hockey.

There are many things Canadians would like to see asked of the Prime Minister at the moment. So, Question No. 2: What’s a tougher negotiation – NAFTA or trading Mark Stone of the Ottawa Senators?

I’m sure a half-dozen, possibly as many as 10, of our fellow citizens were hanging on the response to that one. The answer: Both. They’re both hard.

Even on this safe ground, Mr. Trudeau began stumbling into verbal traps of his own devising: “One of the challenges on any big negotiation is that everyone’s got an opinion … and you have to listen to people and take advice …”

Everyone? Advice? You have to listen to?

The backup beeper in Mr. Trudeau’s mind kicked off – “ … Ultimately, you have to make your own decision as the decision-maker …”

Then he wrapped it up with this bit of nonsense: “I’m sure all the trades will be good today.”

(If he brought that same ‘Everyone’s a winner!’ ethos to the North American free-trade agreement, I look forward to retiring to a tree fort overhanging the city dump.)

We get what’s happening here. The Prime Minister is in trouble. His bona fides as a normal, relatable guy are in doubt. He needs to assure people that he is the sort of guy who would walk into your local drinking establishment and order a Bud, not some kombucha-tinted, oak-casked, pumpkin pale ale. And especially not out of season.

What’s the solution to that problem? Tawkin’ hawkey with the boys. Just a regular, trustworthy, non-extrajudicial-influencing hockey-talking guy who likes his pucks and loves his Habs.

If Mr. Trudeau regularly made himself available like this for tougher questioning, the TSN interview might have turned out the way the PMO had hoped – as something cute.

But he does not, and certainly hasn’t during the Jody Wilson-Raybould/SNC-Lavalin mess. Which made Monday’s appearance a transparent farce.

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The more Mr. Trudeau pandered (“… we’ve got four great teams headed to playoffs, at least, from Canada …) and fantasized (“… I’m going to keep my fingers crossed that [the Canadiens] get to the finals …"), the more it occurred to you that when it comes to hockey, Mr. Trudeau is no Stephen Harper. He’s just barely a Wilfrid Laurier, and Laurier ran things before there was an NHL.

If Samuel Johnson were a contemporary figure, he’d have reconsidered his stand on patriotism and last refuges. If you are a political figure in need of shelter among the plebes, sports is where you hide now.

It usually backfires. If you’re at the game, people wonder who paid for your ticket. If you glom onto a winner, people will judge you as a front-runner. And if you are going to attempt to be sporty in view of cameras, God help you if you look goofy while doing so.

From Robert Stanfield appearing to catch a football with his crotch to Stockwell Day pulling up on a jet ski like some hillbilly James Bond, there is no more effective vehicle for political comedy than sports. And yet our pols return to it again and again.

Mr. Harper wrote a hockey book while in office. I suppose he thought that made him appear accessible. You know what it actually made him look like? Someone with too much spare time on his hands. Which is not the optimal impression to create when you have a day job.

Perhaps Mr. Harper should’ve taken a sabbatical to think big thoughts about Canada’s Grand Tradition. In the end, Canada gave him one.

Aside from a bit of yoga and the tiresome ritual of performative jogging (just like every other jogger alive), Mr. Trudeau had largely avoided this trap.

But as the media cordon closes in, he could not avoid heading for the safe harbour of hockey. Then he could not avoid speaking in a gentle, lecturing tone to five of the highest-profile hockey commentators in the country.

Near the end of the interview, one of the panel rose from his seat and walked blithely in front of the camera trained on Mr. Duthie.

“And Jeff O’Neill walks right in front of the shot as we’re interviewing the Prime Minister,” Mr. Duthie said, deadpan.

In that moment, we were all Mr. O’Neill.

Mr. Duthie tried to throw Mr. Trudeau a life preserver at the end: “Get back to the more important things of running the nation.”

Mr. Trudeau slapped it away: “Oh no, this is an important day and I’m glad to be part of it.”

I suppose every day is important when you’re running a corporation with 37 million employees, many of whom are in a lather about the job you’re doing.

But the Prime Minister only wants to show up to the company picnic, and, once there, talk about nothing but the sack races.

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