Opinion

This morning at Rideau Hall and in Kabul

Scott Gilmore: Trudeau went to Rideau Hall because he wants to be Prime Minister a little longer. If he wanted to really do something, he would have been in a crisis ops room.

This morning, as the Prime Minister made his way in his official car to Rideau Hall, to announce his decision to call a late-summer election, hoping to win a majority, Canadian diplomats, embassy employees and their families, and Canadian Forces soldiers made their way in armoured vehicles through the chaos of a collapsing regime to the Kabul airport, hoping to escape with their lives.

Those Canadian diplomats were in Kabul because the Prime Minister had chosen to keep them there. Those soldiers were there because the Prime Minister had sent them. And the 100 Gurkhas hired to protect the Embassy were reportedly left behind in the compound because the Prime Minister decided they were not worth evacuating, too.

For a normal person, these decisions would weigh heavily. For most of us, knowing that you are responsible for people who could die this morning because of decisions you either took or avoided, would focus the mind. We would be asking for minute-by-minute updates. We would be pushing our staff to move faster, work harder, to make sure those people and their families survived the day–made it out–made it home.

We would not be stepping up to a podium, with a crisp blue tie and a well-cut suit, to announce that we have decided this is the moment that Canadians should be going to the polls.

There are two types of people who come to Ottawa. Those who want to do something, and those who want to be something. The first group come here because they are compelled to try and make things better. They are driven to fix a problem they believe is so dire, that they need to quit their jobs and run for office with the slim hope that becoming a Member of Parliament will give them a chance to do something–to stop climate change, or bring water to remote reserves, or end the opioid crisis, or help the families who can’t feed their children.

The second group comes to Ottawa because they aspire to be someone. They were involved in student politics and loved the rush of speaking to a cheering crowd. They were successful in medicine, or law, or business, and wanted to move on to bigger and better things. Because they have a famous name or because know they are capable of so much more. They know they are smart, and patriotic, and simply bigger than everyone else. They know Canada needs them.

When those who want to do something arrive in Ottawa they are typically and quickly frustrated. Being elected does not mean you will form the government. Being in the government does not mean you will be elevated to Cabinet. Being in Cabinet does not mean you will be given a file that matters to you. And even in the one in a million chance those things all align, the “doers” discover that moving a Prime Minister, a bureaucracy, a country to do anything about anything can be all but impossible.

When those who want to be something arrive, they are less frustrated. They get special pins on their lapels so the guards at Parliament know to nod and smile. They get an office with a view of the Ottawa River. They get invitations and applause and a Wikipedia page. And, they can always live in hope that the next door will soon open—that the Prime Minister will spot their brilliance in the back benches and move them to Cabinet, which means a driver and an even better view. So they bide their time. They wait for the opportunities to present themselves. They run again and again, knowing that maybe they might one day be the ultimate “something”—the Prime Minister.

As a result, sadly, those who come to Ottawa to do something are often the first to leave Ottawa. Biding their time will accomplish nothing. While those who want to be something stay, for the sake of staying.

This morning, Justin Trudeau went to Rideau Hall because he wants to be something—Prime Minister for a little longer. If he wanted to do something, he would have been in a crisis ops room, watching for news that our diplomats had made it out alive. He would be on a northern reserve, trying to understand why they still don’t have drinkable water. He would be in British Columbia, helping whoever needs to be helped to fight the wildfires.

I want to ask two things from you. First, say a prayer for those in Kabul—the ones trying to leave and the ones being left behind. Second, when you cast your vote in this election, vote for the candidate you believe wants to do something. These people are more obvious than you think. They are often less polished, often more angry, always more naïve, and possibly running for a party you wouldn’t normally support. But they are the people we need in Ottawa. They are the people our diplomats needed this morning, the leaders our First Nations communities needed decades ago, the politicians this country will so desperately need in the troubled future ahead.

The “doers” are out there if you look, I promise you. But you won’t find them at Rideau Hall. Not this morning.