There is a reality about politics. The least said on a contentious subject is usually the best option. It is a difficult endeavour for a leader to talk his or her way out of trouble. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should have known better with all those election-style town hall meetings last month.
There is something unique about political people who have tasted huge electoral success. Their egos inflate and they feel invincible. They believe the sound of their own voice is beautiful and that people can’t wait to hear it. They think they are so smart that they can literally roll up their sleeves, as Trudeau does, and convince people of the rightness of their ways.
Trudeau certainly falls into the category of political leaders who can’t put the success of their election campaigns aside when the pressures of governing mount. Their reflex is to go back to what worked for them – but campaign-mode governing is a formula for failure.
Trudeau hit the campaign-mode default switch last month because, after 14 months in office, the first serious cracks were showing. Not just any cracks. These were stunning credibility issues. Credibility gaps for Trudeau are like flashing neon warning lights because he won such a powerful resounding personal victory. It was all on him when things were good, so when things go bad, he wears it.
Defending wealthy Canadian business people paying the Liberal Party to meet prominent Chinese business people in Trudeau’s presence at a private fund raising event were not the values Trudeau put forward in the election campaign. Nowhere close. The amazing thing is how he thinks his beautiful voice can make people believe otherwise.
As for his controversial vacation choice: How about the timing? How could this self-professed man of the people and lover of Canada miss the launch of Canada’s 150th year anniversary celebration in the cold on Parliament Hill with thousands of Canadians? There he was, on video, in his warm snuggly office wearing a tie and pinstriped suit preaching hollow platitudes. Even his most ardent supporters had to swallow hard on that one.
It often happens in politics when you are riding a crest of popularity that you begin to think everyone else is dumb, or the people love you so much you can get away with almost anything. Either scenario can lead to political disaster.
Trudeau not being on Parliament Hill on New Year’s Eve when everyone expected him to be led to journalists asking all those pesky questions about where the Trudeau family and friends actually went on their holiday. When the Prime Minister’s Office responded with evasive answers, it was only a matter of time before the truth would be embarrassingly revealed.
Our prime minister is a lucky man to have the billionaire Aga Khan as a family friend. But, maybe, he should have remembered that, as long as he is prime minister, he can’t go to the Aga Khan’s private villa in the Bahamas because the Aga Khan runs a foundation that got close to $50 million last year from the Canadian government. Even by U.S. President Donald Trump’s standards, that is a “disaster” of a conflict of interest. No wonder Trudeau’s vacation destination was a secret.
Transparent Trudeau is now tarnished Trudeau, and there is a sadness that goes with it. It was nice to have a fresh start and the hope that this young, dynamic, new generational leader would be different. But the crassness of his misdeeds speaks for itself.
His fall from credibility grace led him to his January election-like appearances. Of course, he thought his looks, voice and brilliance would, like magic, re-establish his bona fides. Here is a man who thought he could talk his way out of any political problem, real or imagined.
There are times when, rather than talk, an apology needs to be said. Not many words are needed. Just a simple “I am sorry” with a promise to do better.
Instead of an apology, recklessly open-ended town hall meetings were Trudeau’s response to trouble, which led to him blurting out that the oil sands industry in Alberta is going to be phased out.
Add another monumental blunder to the list and call the last couple of months a turning point.