PM more words than ac­tion

National Post (Latest Edition) - - LETTERS - rex mur­phy

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.


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