Having been a teacher, Justin Trudeau knows that when a student has little to say they take twice as long to say it, hoping verbosity will cover their lack of substance.
Politicians are the same. And so it is for Trudeau’s government, which, short of significant legislative successes, has been speaking at considerable length this week about its views, values and plans.
We’ve had the prime minister and his environment minister up on climate change, the global affairs minister up to talk Canada’s role in the world, the defence minister reviewing defence plans, and the justice minister announcing plans to clean up the Criminal Code.
With so much talk, you can be sure nothing has actually happened in Ottawa. A quick check of the Parliamentary register confirms as much.
We’re now into month twenty of Liberal majority government and, to date, there have been only 19 bills passed, despite closure being invoked 23 times. This is Parliamentary peanuts, even if a few more sneak into the basket of Royal Assent before the House breaks for the summer.
And so, the endless blah blah from the government.
Why are the Liberals doing this? There are two — possibly complementary — reasons: Liberal MPs need something to say on the summer BBQ circuit; and the decks are being cleared for the Parliamentary enema called prorogation.
Coming back to a clean slate — and maybe even a rebuilt Cabinet (gender-balanced™ surely) — would give the Liberals a chance to recapture the imagination of Canadians. We’re only two years out from the next election; it won’t be long until voters start looking at what Trudeau has actually accomplished with his government’s time in office.
The “what it all means” speechifying also gives the Parliamentary pundits something to chew on before they embark on their own vacations. Hacks live for this stuff in a way normal Canadians beavering away at their jobs don’t.
Which isn’t to say some of it hasn’t been interesting. How the world copes post-Trump withdrawal from the Paris agreement on climate change is a huge question. Fortunately, the rest of the world, and the vast majority of businesses too, have decided the answer is to keep calm and carry on.
The broader question of global leadership is also worth a good chin wag. The world needs to agree to a plan to cope while the United States is temporarily held hostage by the vulgar tweeting toddler with skin so thin it’s amazing he’s not a pestilent puddle under the Oval Office desk. The stakes are high: Canada will undoubtedly bear the brunt of Trump’s ignorance, insolence and insouciance, sitting as we do right on top of him, dominating him with our virtue and universally loved leader. This week’s bromance revival between Trudeau and Barack Obama in Montreal was but the cherry on top.
(And, while we’re at it, yes, Canada should spend more on its armed forces, too. )
But here’s the thing: All of the jaw-jaw won’t matter without an engaged United States on board when the time comes to fight the war-war, whether that’s on trade, peace and security or, to a lesser extent, climate. The world won’t be as the West wishes it without an engaged United States of America. There isn’t a speech that can fix the current mess to our south, or the time for a new global architecture to be built from scratch, Bretton Woods-style.
The Trudeau government knows this, which is why it’s doing the critically important work of reaching out to sub-national U.S. governments and maintaining strong relationships in Congress. This is what, if anything, will shield us from the worst of Trump; our relationship needs to be kept alive until the cancer is rooted out. And it’s also important that Trudeau move in lock-step with leaders such as Angela Merkel, who lives in an even more complicated and dangerous neighbourhood that Canada without the American umbrella. The upcoming G20 in Germany is sure to be a riot, what with Trump likely to be suffering from fresh tales of Russian woe.
(You see how the Liberal gambit works? I could talk about this all day.)
Returning home, this week’s speeches buy time but they don’t obviate the need for answers. The Liberals will undoubtedly work on solutions, but they will not be as solid as those of the last 70 years.
A smart move/cunning ploy would be for Liberals to socialize the Trump problem and publicly draft in the Conservatives to suggest answers. Here, the Liberals could draw on existing Conservative networks, both in Congress and outside. For example, Stephen Harper met this week with former U.S. president George W. Bush, and Rona Ambrose is set to take up a role in Washington, D.C., with the Wilson Center.
This isn’t the time for classroom tricks. Canadians will be grading on deeds, not words.