A few clouds in­vade Justin Trudeau’s sunny skies

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - Thomas Walkom ap­pears in Torstar news­pa­pers.

Af­ter 20 months as prime min­is­ter, Justin Trudeau isn’t quite as sunny as he used to be. He re­mains un­fail­ingly po­lite. At an Ot­tawa news con­fer­ence to mark the end of Par­lia­ment’s spring sit­ting, he thanked re­porters — as he of­ten does — for what he called their con­tri­bu­tion to democ­racy.

At the end, he kissed the press gallery pres­i­dent on both cheeks.

But from time to time dur­ing the 45-minute news con­fer­ence, par­tic­u­larly when ex­plain­ing his fail­ures, he al­lowed a sober and some­times bit­ter edge to creep in.

Prime min­is­te­rial news con­fer­ences are not al­ways about news. A skil­ful politi­cian can an­swer re­porters’ ques­tions at length with­out say­ing any­thing even re­motely news­wor­thy. But they can hint at the govern­ment leader’s mood. And this one did.

First, Trudeau seems con­fi­dent about his con­tro­ver­sial de­ci­sion to run fis­cal deficits. He brushed aside a ques­tion ask­ing when he might bal­ance the bud­get, say­ing only that Cana­di­ans had elected his Lib­er­als to make in­vest­ments in the econ­omy. He chose not to dis­cuss his cam­paign pledge to bring Ot­tawa’s books back into bal­ance by 2019 and, in ef­fect, blamed the Con­ser­va­tive govern­ment for leav­ing him with a big short­fall.

He said he was not par­tic­u­larly con­cerned with brief up­ward and down­ward blips in eco­nomic in­di­ca­tors such as the un­em­ploy­ment rate, but was fo­cused on the long term.

Trans­la­tion: Po­lit­i­cally, things are go­ing fine on the eco­nomic front. Un­less that changes, there is no need to al­ter course.

Sec­ond, the prime min­is­ter seems sobered by the dif­fi­culty of im­ple­ment­ing his am­bi­tious Indige­nous agenda. Asked why the Lib­er­als were re­fus­ing to com­ply with a 2016 Canadian Hu­man Rights Tri­bunal rul­ing that Ot­tawa spend more on First Na­tion child wel­fare pro­grams, Trudeau went into a long riff on the dan­gers of pa­ter­nal­ism.

“In the his­tory of Canada, there have been oc­cur­rences when gov­ern­ments have tried to … put for­ward so­lu­tions to the Indige­nous com­mu­nity that may have been well-mean­ing but ended up dis­as­trous,” he said.

His aim, he said, was to meet im­me­di­ate needs, such as ac­cess to potable drink­ing wa­ter, and at the same time help Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties de­velop the ca­pac­ity to run their own af­fairs free of in­ter­fer­ence from Ot­tawa. That, he said, will take a long time.

“It took hun­dreds of years to get here,” he said. “It’s go­ing to take many, many gen­er­a­tions to end this le­gacy.”

Third, he blamed the op­po­si­tion par­ties for his own mis­steps. He was forced to aban­don his elec­toral re­form plans, he said, be­cause they wouldn’t go along with his idea of in­sti­tut­ing a ranked bal­lot, in which vot­ers list not only their first, but sub­se­quent choices. In fact, the Lib­eral govern­ment never pre­sented the Com­mons with any spe­cific plan for elec­toral re­form, ranked bal­lot or oth­er­wise.

Trudeau also blamed the op­po­si­tion Con­ser­va­tives for the trou­ble he has ex­pe­ri­enced get­ting leg­is­la­tion through the Se­nate. In fact, the Se­nate’s un­usu­ally ob­streper­ous be­hav­iour stems from Trudeau’s de­ci­sion to en­cour­age non­par­ti­san­ship in the upper cham­ber. Had he con­tin­ued the prac­tice of ap­point­ing par­ti­san Lib­er­als com­mit­ted firmly to his govern­ment, he would have no Se­nate prob­lems.

Fourth, Trudeau’s love affair with United Na­tions peace­keep­ing ap­pears to have flagged.

Be­fore be­com­ing prime min­is­ter, he talked of end­ing Canada’s com­bat mis­sion in Iraq and re­turn­ing to UN peace­keep­ing.

To­day, Canadian Spe­cial Forces are fight­ing in Iraq, where they shoot and kill en­emy sol­diers. But the govern­ment re­fuses to call this com­bat. Last Tues­day, Trudeau stuck by the fiction that Canadian troops in­volved in com­bat are not in­volved in com­bat.

Mean­while, a de­ci­sion on where to send Canadian peace­keep­ers has been post­poned in­def­i­nitely.

He also said that Canada would com­mit troops only to a UN peace­keep­ing mis­sion that has “a chance of suc­cess.”

That’s not a fool­ish cri­te­rion (al­though it does rule out most places where the UN wants to com­mit peace­keep­ers). But it sug­gests that the prime min­is­ter, while still chip­per, is not as sun­nily op­ti­mistic as he used to be.

THOMAS WALKOM

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