Trudeau spoke of Camelot but de­liv­ered Ot­tawa.

Cana­dian jour­nal­ist Jen Ger­son says his record is ac­tu­ally pretty spotty

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - Twit­ter: @JenGer­son

One has brown hair, the other a thinning com­bover. One is ef­fort­lessly bilin­gual, the other hor­ri­fies ed­i­tors of the Ox­ford English Dic­tionary. One calls him­self a fem­i­nist, the other boasts about grab­bing fe­male gen­i­tals. Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau makes for a tempt­ing con­trast with Pres­i­dent Trump. He seems like the pic­ture of serene and right­think­ing lib­eral-mind­ed­ness com­pared with all of the United States’ most car­toon­ishly boor­ish el­e­ments.

As a Cana­dian, I’m not sur­prised that the Amer­i­can news me­dia and the In­ter­net are sat­u­rated by swoon­ing pro­files of Trudeau. The Rolling Stone cover story “Why Can’t He Be Our Pres­i­dent?” was only the most re­cent ex­am­ple. Shortly af­ter Trudeau was elected, Vogue fawned over “The New Young Face of Cana­dian Pol­i­tics.” Busi­ness In­sider noted that he looks like a “Dis­ney prince.” Van­ity Fair seems to have a Trudeau ver­ti­cal. US Weekly: “Canada’s New Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau Is Su­per Hot.” He even in­spired the quin­tes­sen­tial Buz­zFeed piece: “Lit­er­ally Just 27 Re­ally Hot Pho­tos of Justin Trudeau.” A CNN headline sums up the trend: “Justin Trudeau, ‘the anti-Trump,’ shows U.S. Canada’s pro­gres­sive, di­verse face,” which was a par­tic­u­larly im­pres­sive take, con­sid­er­ing Trudeau is a white man and the son of a pre­vi­ous Cana­dian prime min­is­ter — mak­ing him pretty close to the em­bod­i­ment of a nascent hered­i­tary po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment in Canada. Please stop. Al­though Trudeau has proved to be a pow­er­ful public re­la­tions coup for my coun­try, the po­lit­i­cal erot­ica now stream­ing across the south­ern bor­der is em­bar­rass­ing, shal­low and largely misses the mark. Trudeau is not the blue-eyed lefty Je­sus, and the global af­fec­tion for him — and for the pro­gres­sive pol­i­tics that he and this coun­try seem to rep­re­sent — re­flects a puerile and dis­torted vi­sion of Canada and its po­lit­i­cal cul­ture. Worse, the un­crit­i­cal puffery that is pass­ing for po­lit­i­cal jour­nal­ism only makes it harder to hold the man to ac­count.

Canada is, in­deed, the land of pro­gres­sive ben­e­fits and left-lean­ing vic­to­ries. We take no small pride in our univer­sal health care, paid ma­ter­nity leave and strict gun con­trol. More con­tro­ver­sially, we are ex­pand­ing safe in­jec­tion sites for drug users and ac­cess to doc­tor-as­sisted sui­cide.

But all of the things that make Canada such a lib­eral ex­em­plar pre­date Trudeau by gen­er­a­tions. Many of them have their roots in a West­min­ster par­lia­men­tary sys­tem and po­lit­i­cal cul­ture that de­mand com­pro­mise and con­cil­i­a­tion and time, rather than benev­o­lent lead­er­ship. Fur­ther, they are far from per­fect, and they come with higher taxes and greater cur­tail­ment of per­sonal free­doms. There are no free lunches in Canada. (There aren’t even any food stamps.)

Take univer­sal health care, for ex­am­ple. The fight for the sys­tem Cana­di­ans have to­day be­gan in Saskatchewan in the 1960s; it was vir­u­lently op­posed by doc­tors’ groups at the time and ex­panded, over decades, to be­come a fed­eral pri­or­ity. Even now, the sys­tem is a mish­mash by prov­ince, and the strains are ev­i­dent in months- to year-long waits for low­pri­or­ity treat­ments such as back surg­eries and hip re­place­ments. Wealthy Cana­di­ans can, and do, travel to the United States to get these pro­ce­dures. And they pay for what they get lo­cally, too, in taxes: The na­tion spends an av­er­age of $5,000 per per­son on health care each year. As baby boomers age, the eco­nomic vi­a­bil­ity of univer­sal health care is ever more in ques­tion, lead­ing some prov­inces to ex­per­i­ment with pri­vate de­liv­ery of high-de­mand ser­vices such as cataract surgery.

On the flashier is­sues that have gar­nered Trudeau the international lime­light, his record is ac­tu­ally pretty spotty. Take Canada’s vaunted refugee pro­gram; Trudeau has made a great show of glad-hand­ing refugees at air­ports and tweet­ing en­cour­ag­ing bro­mides. Al­though these acts have sym­bolic value in a world where anti-Mus­lim rhetoric has grown in­creas­ingly vit­ri­olic, many mi­grants have not en­coun­tered the free-for-all Trudeau would sug­gest.

More than one-third of the 40,081 Syr­ian refugees who have been re­set­tled in Canada since Trudeau took of­fice have been pri­vately spon­sored, brought over by thou­sands of acts of pri­vate char­ity. And spon­sor­ing a refugee fam­ily isn’t cheap; spon­sors need to front the cost for a full year of in­come and re­set­tle­ment. Fur­ther, this pri­vate ef­fort was scaled back for 2017 be­cause of a back­log of ap­pli­ca­tions and ad­min­is­tra­tive hur­dles. Trudeau’s ex­panded gov­ern­ment-spon­sored refugee tar­gets — an­nounced at a piv­otal point in the last elec­tion cam­paign — also proved to be hasty, with the gov­ern­ment miss­ing its time­lines and hous­ing refugees in last-ditch ho­tels. At the nadir of this pro­gram, the gov­ern­ment fran­ti­cally up­graded mil­i­tary bar­racks to house the in­flux of peo­ple; ul­ti­mately, they were not used. This is not a model of tech­no­cratic com­pe­tence.

And Canada’s laud­able ef­forts de­mand a lit­tle per­spec­tive. Its tar­gets pale in com­par­i­son with those of Ger­many, which ac­cepted 890,000 in 2015, and other Euro­pean na­tions. (Al­though Ger­many’s suc­cess in re­set­tling those refugees re­mains de­bat­able.)

We may be tak­ing in more peo­ple than the United States, which set a goal of only 10,000 Syr­ian refugees dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. But 40,000 is hardly an ex­pan­sive tar­get for one of the least-pop­u­lous coun­tries rel­a­tive to land mass. In the 1970s, when Canada had many fewer peo­ple, it wel­comed about 60,000 Viet­namese refugees. The cur­rent global refugee cri­sis is now im­mea­sur­ably worse.

Cana­di­ans main­tain an un­crit­i­cal faith in international in­sti­tu­tions such as the United Na­tions, and one of our pre­vail­ing national mytholo­gies is that peace­keep­ing re­mains one of our great­est con­tri­bu­tions to the world. Cana­di­ans — un­like Amer­i­cans, ahem — are con­sid­ered “hon­est bro­kers” in international con­flicts. So the grad­ual de­cline in our peace­keep­ing ef­forts over the past sev­eral decades has been a blow to the national ego. Shortly af­ter he was elected, Trudeau nois­ily recom­mit­ted his coun­try to the United Na­tions and, in par­tic­u­lar, to its flawed peace­keep­ing pro­gram.

But our ac­tual com­mit­ments — in­clud­ing in­creased spend­ing, but only af­ter the next elec­tion — have proved to be largely sym­bolic. Ac­cord­ing to the lat­est data from the United Na­tions, Canada con­trib­utes 20 troops, 58 po­lice of­fi­cers and 10 mil­i­tary ex­perts to peace­keep­ing ef­forts, for a to­tal of 88 per­son­nel. This is some­what short of ear­lier Lib­eral pledges to com­mit 600 troops and 150 po­lice of­fi­cers to such ef­forts. Canada has about 68,000 ac­tive per­son­nel in the mil­i­tary. By com­par­i­son, the United States has about 1.3 mil­lion.

And Canada’s con­tin­ued fail­ure on First Na­tion is­sues war­rants a li­brary unto it­self. Trudeau promised an im­pos­si­ble-to-de­liver veto to in­dige­nous peo­ple over en­ergy projects. Al­though the prime min­is­ter de­serves credit for try­ing to in­volve First Na­tion com­mu­ni­ties and re­store the cred­i­bil­ity of national reg­u­la­tors in the face of vig­or­ous protests over pipe­line projects, that veto quickly fell to the way­side af­ter he ap­proved the con­tro­ver­sial Trans Moun­tain line be­tween Al­berta and Bri­tish Columbia.

He also estab­lished a com­mis­sion to ex­am­ine this coun­try’s his­tory of miss­ing and mur­dered in­dige­nous women — a com­mis­sion that now ap­pears to be col­laps­ing amid calls by First Na­tion peo­ple for mass res­ig­na­tions. Fam­i­lies of mur­dered women are com­plain­ing about a lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and the com­mis­sion seems to have ac­com­plished very lit­tle beyond the ex­pan­sion of a scle­rotic bu­reau­cracy. Mean­while, re­mote re­serves are no closer to en­joy­ing eco­nomic sus­tain­abil­ity, re­duced child poverty or im­proved drink­ing wa­ter than they were two years ago. Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with our First Na­tion peo­ple re­mains as fraught as ever.

The most sting­ing truth about Trudeau is that he hasn’t done much at all. He came to power as an avatar of youth­ful Cana­dian op­ti­mism and has squan­dered one of the most ex­tra­or­di­nary hon­ey­moon pe­ri­ods any politi­cian has had in re­cent mem­ory. The best that can be said of his ac­com­plish­ments is that he has tripled his promised deficits, de­ferred tax in­creases on the wealthy and al­most le­gal­ized mar­i­juana — al­though it will be up to the prov­inces to sort out that mess.

Trudeau promised Camelot and de­liv­ered, well, Ot­tawa.

Ot­tawa is okay. It’s bet­ter than some places and worse than oth­ers. Next to the swamp of Wash­ing­ton, the Rideau Canal is idyl­lic. But let’s not val­orize the man who hap­pens to pre­side over it dur­ing a time of national em­bar­rass­ment for the United States. Cana­di­ans have re­warded Trudeau with medi­ocre poll num­bers, with his ap­proval rat­ing typ­i­cally hov­er­ing be­tween 50 and 60 per­cent.

Yes, he’s the poster boy for Brand Canada, and a good one. Per­haps some­one who is charm­ing and af­fa­ble is pre­cisely what Canada needs as key al­liances and treaties such as NATO and NAFTA come un­der threat. But his real tal­ent lies not in gov­ern­ment but in show­man­ship. At least on that front, Trump and Trudeau have some­thing in com­mon.

Jen Ger­son is an Al­berta-based cor­re­spon­dent for the National Post.

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