MacDougall: Trudeau’s partisan pitch revealing for all the things he didn’t say

MacDougall: Trudeau’s partisan pitch revealing for all the things he didn’t say
April 27, 2018 editorial-team
In Report

Leave it to the former drama teacher to “give the people what they want.”

Justin Trudeau’s address to the Liberal convention followed the old showbiz maxim to the letter, with the prime minister digging up Stephen Harper’s political corpse and beating it with great affection. “It may be Andrew Scheer’s smile,” Trudeau scoffed. “But it’s still Stephen Harper’s party.”

The crowd loved it, but it was an oddly conservative speech for a Liberal leader. It was a yarn focused on the past, one whose omissions — Jagmeet Singh and the NDP, any hint of an agenda until the next election — were more telling than its inclusions. The resurrection of a favourite bogeyman also betrayed a lack of confidence. Nevertheless, it did the trick.

That the prime minister’s speech was cynical and wholly off brand with his mantra of “positive politics” didn’t matter. Trudeau knew the faithful would welcome his partisanship, and that the invited press would carry his rhetorical water.

“’Fear and division’: Trudeau rips Conservatives,” the CBC reported. “Justin Trudeau goes on the attack,” wrote The Canadian Press. It was stenography toasted by the PMO during the next day’s media review. That Trudeau rhetorically aped the methods of the movement he claims to have stopped was an irony that went largely unobserved. “Bereft of new ideas, Trudeau attacks old foe,” no one wrote. “Trudeau ignores first-term policy misfires,” observed no wag to another.

I know, I know. No one expects a party leader to list their faults while blowing their own horn. And the press do love a punch up. But that doesn’t mean we have to fall for it. Trudeau putting his party on war footing in a majority Parliament 18 months out from the next writ while blasting his opposition is surely the … partisan? …thing to do. At least Stephen Harper had a tenuous minority to defend in his first term in office. I know we’re supposed to gloss over this, but Trudeau promised to do politics differently. Plus ca #realchange, plus c’est pareil.

Where to start with the incongruencies in the prime minister’s approach?

Trudeau began by saluting Suzanne Cowan, the incoming Liberal Party president, before boasting of the “most open political movement in town.” What Trudeau failed to mention is that Cowan, a longtime Trudeau insider, ran unopposed for the position. Nor, by the way, did Trudeau thank outgoing president Anna Gainey, the wife of longtime friend Tom Pitfield, the pair whose vacation habits include joining the prime minister on the Aga Khan’s private island.

Trudeau then applauded himself for not following the Conservatives “into the gutter” in the 2015 election before leading a quick roll call of his government’s policy accomplishments (less child poverty, more doctor-assisted suicide, new payroll and carbon taxes). These rays of sunshine, however, barely had time to hit the back of the room before Trudeau dragged out the memory of young Alan Kurdi for a highly selective replay of the Syrian immigration debate.

“I’m sure you remember young Alan,” Trudeau intoned. “You will recall his corpse that washed up on a Turkish beach,” he added, as if any human of any political affiliation could ever forget that nightmare. Not content with thanking a dead toddler for swinging the election in his favour, Trudeau then noted that the 50,000 Syrians now settled in Canada “would still be fleeing persecution if the Conservatives had their way.” Christ on a bike. It takes an awful lot of hard work to see the hope in those words.

It’s telling that Syria was the longest riff in Trudeau’s speech. Again, more for what it ignored. The 50,000 figure elides the millions more who remain displaced while Syria burns. It ignores the migrant-led terror attacks in Europe. It’s great that Canada put a band-aid on a festering sore, but the problem hasn’t exactly gone away, nor will it, even should Trudeau grab the empty Holy Grail that is a temporary seat on the UN Security Council.

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