PM more words than action
Within the literati there’s a quite famous exchange between two of the last century’s prominent American novelists. Scott Fitzgerald is reported as offering Ernest Hemingway the following proposition: “Ernest, the rich are very different from you and me.” To which Hemingway retorted: “Yes, Scott, they deviously take advantage of various tax loopholes, and thereby increase the burdens on middle class Canadians. Tax ‘em more, I say.”
And there, almost to the comma, in Hemingway’s prescient comment you have a nearly exact premonition of the position Justin Trudeau is taking at this very time. “Amazing,” you might think, but it’s just one of the many illustrations of how the study of literature and politics converge. ( Just as an aside, the works of P.G. Wodehouse will offer the studious inquirer a nearly perfect overlay to the politics of Newfoundland and Labrador, right up to the present day. Wodehouse’s masterpiece is impressively revelatory on federal-provincial relations in the turbulent administration of Premier Brian Peckford. Somewhere in the compendious and collected works of our own great critical sage, Northrop Frye, you will find reflections that bear on this very subject — literature as political prophecy. Literature has many faces. But perhaps I digress.)
We see from the above that Mr. Trudeau takes a very dim view of the rich, notwithstanding his own enrolment in that shifty cohort. He sees the need to take them down a tax peg or two.
Except, of course, f or the rare occasions when he chooses to dine with Eastern billionaires and solicit their support for the good of his party. Or when he deems it therapeutic to vacation on a private Caribbean island owned by the illustrious Aga Khan. Or summits with rock stars and Hollywood royalty. Who’s to say but that he undertakes such distasteful ( to him) connections under the prudential axiom of “Know your enemy.”
Nor should we account this an hypocrisy. For it is becoming more and more clear that there is no discrepancy between what Mr. Trudeau says on any given topic, and what he actually chooses to do — or not do, as the case may be. This is because with Mr. Trudeau the intention, and the intention alone, is the term that counts.
There is no one more gifted in modern Canadian politics in the art of saying the right thing, of finding the most accommodating and winsome language on almost any topic, than our prime minister. He declares very well. And when he declares himself on any issue, that’s frequently the end of it. The doing, which we normally expect to occur after the declaring, the act which normally flows from a statement of intention, these are yokes for other people.
His is a government built on the statement of good intentions. Canadians have become very familiar with some of his most famous and fulsome predications:
“Diversity is our strength,” tops the list. It’s almost a personal incantation.
But there are others, almost equally embraced:
“No relationship is more important to our government and to Canada than the one with Indigenous peoples.”
“This election will be the last under first-past-the-post.”
“The world needs more Canada.”
“The rich must pay their fair share.”
Call these the Trudeau Five. Each houses a worthy sentiment, in simple language, conveying a sense of urgent, moral commitment. In lesser politicians, these plain, declarative statements would almost certainly imply a determination to link them to policies, to actions, to give flesh to their sentiments. But in a government of good intentions, this is not necessarily the case.
Take, “This election will be the last under first- pastthe-post.” Where is that now? Why, in the crowded scrapyard of brilliant rhetorical flashes; statements of intention that gave warmth to a campaign, but which chilled in government.
Who was more declarative on the need for an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women than Mr. Trudeau in opposition? And where is that sensitive, heart-aching matter now? In a great slough of imperfect administration, distrusted by those it sought to heal, and mired in red tape and grievous disappointment over its proceedings. Nonetheless, it would be unkind to say that the inquiry’s early failure should throw a shadow on the declaration of intention that begat it.
Internationally, Mr. Trudeau early and often declared that Canada could and should act as an example to the world, especially in its famous peacekeeping missions. That too stalled, and nearly two years in, remains an empty, open file. If — as another of his patented formulations has it — the world needs more Canada, well, the world is just going to have to wait for it.
As I say, there is no modern prime minister who has a more ready basket of soft thoughts and sweet words on almost any progressive concern, or who so impressively marshals the tone of sympathetic sincerity when declaring himself on the topics of the day, than Mr. Trudeau. If government were the business of declaring good intentions, and if declaring good intentions were not so damnably tied up with the need to act on them, this government would be perfect.
The same goes for his thoughts on the rich. We know from what he says what Mr. Trudeau thinks of them: they are a dark and devious bunch of free-riders. But tax policy or no tax policy, hard words or no hard words, he will stay friends with them when it is needful. When there are funds to raise, and a party to support, the calumnies heaped on them will evaporate, the dinners will recur, and their company will be sought as eagerly as before.
But no mind, whatever the subject, the prime minister’s heart is in the right place. He has many bright phrases and the Air Miles to prove it.