Politicians pander. They do it for a living, and it shouldn’t take a cynic to realize as much. It is a very rare Ottawa beast who doesn’t have to do as much to get re-elected. I can think of exactly one; his name is Irwin Cotler, and he was an accomplished human rights advocate and free-speech champion well before and long after he darkened Parliament’s door. I’m sure there are others, but in modern-day politics the general rule is that most of those cooling their heels in the House of Commons have spent their lives as politicians, or spent their lives trying to become politicians. Career politicians spend their lives trying to be liked, and there is one very effective way of doing so: placate, please and pander to whoever happens to be sitting in front of you.
Which brings us to the Justin Trudeau impolitic remark of the week.
As Sun News reporter David Akin has noted, Trudeau made some disparaging remarks about Albertans during an interview with Patrick Lagacé from Les Franc Tireurs, a rather good public affairs show here in Quebec. Here are Trudeau’s offending bits:
Canada isn’t doing well right now because it’s Albertans who control our community and socio-democratic agenda. It doesn’t work.
Lagacé then asks, “Is Canada better served when there are more Quebecers in power than more Albertans?”
I am Liberal, therefore of course I think that the answer is yes. Certainly, when we look at the great Prime Ministers of the 20th century, the only ones that have held up are MPs from Quebec. We have a role. This country, Canada, is ours.
In order to see just how panderous this sentiment, let’s tease out the context in which Trudeau made his statements.
He is being interviewed on a French television station not exactly known for its federalist leanings. The interview is a coming out of sorts for young Trudeau, who until then had been disparaged by Quebec’s softy-sovereignist opinionmakers and television hosts.
He’s exactly the kind of politician soft nationalists and sovereignists alike despise: French, yet draped in the Maple Leaf. How to counteract this stubborn sentiment? Why, trash Alberta, of course!
In Quebec, with a few exceptions, heaping scorn on Wild Rose Country is akin to a handshake: it’s just something you do, and then quickly forget. Not coincidentally, you’ll notice that not one Quebec media type picked up on his bon mots at the time, me included.
It took two years and Sun News to inexplicably slap an ‘EXCLUSIVE’ on the whole mess for anyone outside the province to notice. Frankly, it was a lot more fun to watch him fall down some stairs on purpose.
Trudeau pandered to the exact same group earlier this year when he mused favourably (and in French, no coincidence there) about Quebec separation, in the event that Stephen Harper continued to drag poor Canada back to the Middle Ages.
I always say that if ever I believed Canada was really Stephen Harper’s Canada — that we were heading against abortion, against gay marriage, that we were going backwards 10,000 different ways — maybe I would think about wanting to make Quebec a country.
Ah, but watch what happens when Trudeau is put in front of a multicultural A Mari Usque Ad Mare crowd like the one that turned out to hear him announce his Liberal leadership bid in October. The Alberta-bashing crypto-sovereignist disappears, replaced by the bright-eyed, yay-Canada cheerleader we all know and, well, whatever…
The key to Canadian unity is the shared sense of purpose so hard to define but so deeply felt. The sense that we are all in this together. That when Albertans do well, it creates opportunities for Quebecers. That when Quebecers create and innovate, it echoes across the country and around the world. That whether you’re in St. Boniface or St. John’s, Mississauga or Surrey, we have common struggles and common dreams.
My entire campaign has been about bringing people together, about not pitting region against region and about being a strong representative and a voice that says the same thing in Chicoutimi as we say in downtown Calgary as I’ll say in Toronto as I’ll say in B.C.
Practically every time he opens his mouth, Trudeau is saying something somebody wants to hear. It’s what politicians do all the time. His sin isn’t inconsistency, or even anti-Alberta sentiment; it’s that he thought he could use the country’s language divide to get away with it.