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Don't Let Canada's 150th Birthday Distract From The Real Issues

01/10/2017 03:43 EST | Updated 01/10/2017 03:49 EST

ottawa fireworks

Spectators watch fireworks on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Dec. 6, 2012. (Photo: Chris Wattie/Reuters)

In case you haven't noticed, every day of 2017 is July 1.

This year is Canada's 150th birthday, and Justin Trudeau does not want you to forget it. Actually, he's counting on you to never, ever forget.

It's no secret that this government relies heavily on Trudeau's personal brand. It is also becoming ever more obvious that the key in harnessing his personal brand is to utilize a strategy of perpetual campaigning. In the past year, photo ops have been plentiful, helping the government with their messaging as well as providing cover when their policy work has waned.

Trudeau's team is taking our national pride and smothering us with it.

To his detractors this strategy has spotlighted their predisposition that Trudeau rests most of his laurels on image instead of ideas. And to his supporters he is simply using his friendly persona to help propel his vision for a more inclusive, more measured Canada.

But this time Canada is having a super special birthday, and Trudeau's team is taking our national pride and smothering us with it.

All governments do this, by the way. Hell, Stephen Harper was musing about our sesquicentennial back in 2015, just in case he won the election. His critics, and many of them were Liberal voters, rightly pointed out the cheapness of forcing Canadians into a position of patriotism, all because our birthday was a nice round number.

trudeau selfie

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (L) poses for a selfie for a delegate during the L20/B20 meeting at the Group of 20 (G20) summit in the Mediterranean resort city of Antalya, Turkey, Nov. 15, 2015. (Photo: Ercin Top/Reuters/Pool)

It reeked of political opportunism, partly because it was trotted out during the climax of the Senate scandal, and partly because it was just so premature. But underneath both those truths was another, more glaring reality: the sesquicentennial was going to be used to distract us from more pressing national issues.

Instead of focusing on the economy, or health care initiatives, or explanations for ongoing scandals, we were about to be inundated with Canadiana. Harper lost the election, but he passed the sesquicentennial baton to a new prime minister all too willing to use the celebration as part of his arsenal of image, branding and photo ops.

So where does patriotism cross the line into self aggrandizement? According to Stephane Dion in 2015 when he was the heritage critic for the third-place Liberal Party, it was when the Harper government earmarked $12 million in ad buys for events that did not exist yet.

Dion was concerned that the government was wasting taxpayer monies on cheap political publicity. He was right, too, but this is 2017 and the Liberals are now in power. So far there has been no explanation as to why it was necessary to spend $2.5 million on a New Year's party branded as the #Canada150 kick-off event.

trudeau firework

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (C) and his son Xavier watch fireworks on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada Dec. 2, 2015. (Photo: Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Add to that the 18 other New Year's events sponsored by the Trudeau government,with a tally of $5 million in spending for an event that is still technically six months away. The total cost of our country's year-long birthday celebrations will reportedly top half a billion dollars.

The money is essential to the spectacle. All we ever hear these days is how the future is unpredictable, how there is impending doom about to materialize south of the border, and that deficits will be conventional wisdom for decades to come.

And while Trudeau is doing his best trying to explain to Canadians that much of the expense is actually infrastructure spending, the partisan veneer slathered onto the line items goes far beyond what we expected from a government who promised to run the country openly and transparently.

As for the media, they have a real choice in front of them: cover the sesquicentennial sparsely and focus on the issues that impact actual people, or dance to the choreography written by the PMO like a public relations firm.

The sesquicentennial is the shiny object that will be flashed in front of an electorate ravaged by an acute case of collective ADD.

If Trudeau cuts a sesquicentennial ribbon, 30 seconds of on-air coverage will suffice. For those of us who will thumb through actual newspapers, the back of the Life section will do. Online media should make us hunt for sesquicentennial stories buried underneath the various news items that matter to us.

By now it should not be controversial to point out the compulsion of the Trudeau government -- celebrity-level publicity. The sesquicentennial is the shiny object that will be flashed in front of an electorate ravaged by an acute case of collective ADD any time a crisis hits or a scandal is uncovered. Issues that should already be at the forefront -- things like mass surveillance, or indigenous poverty, or the buildup of our troops near Russia -- all of these should push coverage to the back pages until the summer.

We were told this would be a new era of leadership, a transparent government more concerned with actual people than power and ideology. It would be a shame to know that after a century and a half our nation settles for bells and whistles when we should be hearing the alarm.

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