Trudeau is no Superman, and neither is Canada
If Justin Trudeau ought not to have dressed as Superman for Halloween, it is only because he wore the costume a little too well.
When he pulled up his blue hosiery that morning, he may not have regarded the man in the mirror quite as an extraterrestrial hero, but throughout his tenure as prime minister he has made few attempts to dissuade people from believing he was born to save the world. And inevitably, people get annoyed.
This is a government that is forever ripping open its shirt to show off superpowers it conspicuously lacks. Canada, likewise, has no superpowers and is no superpower.
Unfortunately, our country’s ordinariness is no secret to the world.
There’s no hiding the evidence of Trudeau’s regular-person status and Canada’s middle power position:
Diplomacy: When Trudeau visited Global Affairs Canada after becoming prime minister, staff welcomed him as good citizens would any superhero: with adulation. At the time, they looked unprofessional. Now they look foolish. Stephen Harper may have sabotaged the diplomatic corps through what international affairs specialist Daniel Livermore calls “gross incompetence and neglect,” but as he notes, this government fails to rescue it from unfilled vacancies and a lack of training opportunities.
Foreign aid: In 2016, Canada fell to 15th in the ranking of industrialized countries’ generosity and Liberals blamed needy countries for not having the kind of cultures that could be trusted with assistance. Some foreign aid experts wonder if Trudeau is merely Harper in disguise. For giving less than its fair share, Canada looks miserly. For giving less than its fair share while championing multilateralist and feminist values, Canada looks ridiculous.
Human rights: The government allowed the sale of weapons to a human rights abuser, possibly breaking international law in the process, while rhapsodizing about the importance of human rights and international law. Promotion of liberal democracy: Perhaps you believe Trudeau should have given the president of the United States a dressing-down for his various displays of sexual predation, Klan solidarity and inept despotism; perhaps not. Less disputable is that by making a public spectacle of working with President Donald Trump’s daughter, Trudeau has done his part to legitimize America’s transition into a nepo-kleptocracy.
Trade: Though it’s conceivable that the government could negotiate more effectively on NAFTA, it cannot ultimately be faulted for failing to convince a lunatic to be rational. It may, however, be faulted for sacrificing an opportunity with Trump to more strongly affirm the values it readily champions when this does not come at a cost, in return for what may very well amount to absolutely nothing.
Defence: The government didn’t increase the defence budget soon enough to avoid being scolded by Barack Obama, but did increase it just in time to appear to be chastened by a scolding from Trump. Trump may or may not have influenced the government’s decision, but the government looks weaker for not having made the decision either sooner or not at all.
The problem for Trudeau, and for Canada, is not that the government has an appalling foreign policy; it is that the government’s rhetoric about Canada’s potential place in the world can’t always mask its inability to bring it there. If Canada is to accomplish a fraction of what it has suggested it will deliver, it must make greater political sacrifices, and do so at the right moments.
Until then, Canada remains the Clark Kent of the world — if Clark Kent suffered from delusions that he could bend steel with his bare hands.