Noam Chomsky once said that "propaganda is to a democracy what a bludgeon is to a totalitarian state."
Watching Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over the past months has been an exercise in political theatre, and a testament to Chomsky's observation above about democracy. It also puts an interesting spin on former Prime Minister Stephen Harper's rather drear, pre-election assessment of Mr. Trudeau:
"He isn't ready."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on during a press conference at the Villa Madama in Rome on May 30, 2017. (Photo: Andrews Solaro/AFP/Getty Images)
While Liberals bristled (and still do) at Chairman Harper's suggestion, it wasn't one noted only by the right, but also by real-life liberals who've actually read their copy of On Liberty and, for that very reason, could never be part of the federal Liberal Party.
For Harper, he saw Trudeau as a politician lacking experience, and one who'd likely lead Canada down some ganja-toking, hippy-induced, left-wing reinvention of the Liberal Party, handing out tax freebies and free child care at the expense big corporations (laughter ensues).
Justin's emerging governing style is made obvious in his predilection for teaching high-school drama.
At first I was open to the suggestion that Justin was treated a bit abruptly by Harper's rather pissy tone. But then came the test of Trudeau's mettle, first demonstrated in the Canadian leaders' debates. Just like a mixed martial arts bout that can't be predicted, it was quickly and abundantly evident Mulcair could rag-doll him, practically at will.
Not that any of it mattered to the bobble-heads over at the CBC's The National.
The typically flaccid, neutered and generally banal analysis from the CBC's "At Issue Panel" made it clear that Justin should be crowned for the mere fact that he was still standing (albeit wobbly), having not ended up in the predicted fetal position during the debates.
So I started to think about Justin a little more closely. Considering who his father was, the exposure to greatness throughout Junior's upbringing -- it was everything a child with politics in his blood could dream of.
Justin Trudeau, then Liberal leader, takes a selfie during a campaign stop in Napanee, Ont. October 12, 2015. (Photo: Chris Wattie/Reuters/TPX Images of the Day)
The problem was that the pre-election record only listed real-life mundane parliamentary accomplishments, including a boxing match with a senator. Of notable concern, politics wasn't even his first choice.
Yet we all missed the most important quality of Justin's emerging governing style, now his most obvious attribute, is made obvious in his initial predilection for teaching high-school drama.
It all made sense. While there were few reasons to think Justin had the political stature for being PM, Canadians are suckers for love stories, especially since it was coupled to the Canadian cultural disdain for overachievers. The rise to stardom seemed pre-ordained. So what better story was there for Canadians than having their own doll-faced He-Man, whose dad was also a flamboyant PM?
Shortly after the federal election, however, I thought I might have to write up an apology to the newly minted PM. A fresh-faced appointed cabinet, and with a needed tweak to the portfolio that concerned me the most, the "Minister of the Environment AND Climate Change."
Harper, in a very real sense, was very right and very wrong.
Woo! Not a bad start!
But patience is as important to political commentary as the facts. The facts, after all, can't be rushed as they play out in real time. I thought it best to wait a bit.
Waiting was a good decision because the apology would've been followed by a hasty retraction of the apology. Why? Because figuring out Justin takes a bit of a twist.
Harper, in a very real sense, was very right and very wrong.
True, Trudeau wasn't ready to govern as a progressive, transparent, truthful and thoughtful PM. But Trudeau certainly has demonstrated -- exactly because of his aforementioned dabbling in drama, now transported to the stage of politics -- that he's a textbook example of political theatre, carefully managing public opinion and duping the bewildered citizenry -- not only in Canada, but around the world.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau smiles after signing Paris Accord. (Photo: Andy Katz/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Take the minister of the environment and climate change. While pretending to take the Climate Summit in Paris very seriously, within months Trudeau has Minister Catherine McKenna herself standing straight-faced behind him for the announcement. Namely, exploiting the Alberta tarsands -- stuffing bitumen into pipelines -- ripping up the earth to get them out to B.C. -- onto tankers that'll add up to 400 per year -- to be burned overseas, is in accord with "the science." After all, he later opined with a barely perceptible smirk, "No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and leave them there."
The script: how to get away with doing exactly the opposite of what common sense and the facts dictate. In this case, saying you understand climate change while you stick your middle finger in its face.
Still dubious about the PM's modus operandi?
Now there's the tarsands equivalency of First Nations issues: Justin boastfully announces he'll ask the Vatican for a full apology for the residential school scandal.
On the one hand, of course there can never be enough done for reparations. But reflect on the facts more soberly: Mr. Trudeau asks for the apology while, at the same time, breaking his own promises with First Nations -- as decided by an internal report card from the Privy Council Office.
But worse -- abundantly worse -- is the complete absence in the collective Canadian mindset of any inkling of a much greater wrong. Where, when, ever -- has the Canadian government apologized for the most heinous of outstanding crimes against First Nations -- the original act of genocide in the colonial evisceration of North American First Nations?
We haven't come close to it being even a glimmer of awareness in the Canadian collective, so an apology from our own PM Trudeau isn't even a hope at this point. Much easier for Justin to see the fuzzy and warm optics standing up to the Pope, albeit with selfies to follow. Canadians will love it.
The theatrics continue.
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