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Between Castro And Pipelines, Trudeau Bungled Playing Both Sides

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Nov. 17, 2016. (Photo: JUAN MABROMATA/AFP/Getty Images)

"The hope of a new politics does not lie in formulating a left-wing reply to the right-it lies in rejecting conventional political categories." -- Christopher Lasch

Politics remains the art of managing hypocrisy.

Fidel Castro is dead, but his legacy is just as controversial as ever. Just ask Justin Trudeau.

The young prime minister gave the following statement, ending with:

"On behalf of all Canadians, Sophie and I offer our deepest condolences to the family, friends and many, many supporters of Mr. Castro. We join the people of Cuba today in mourning the loss of this remarkable leader."

It was all very generous, and it was as if Trudeau had no foresight in how the statement would be received. Either that or he didn't care. Or, perhaps, his statement intended to elicit the avalanche of criticism that followed.

That Castro is a polarizing figure is obvious, so why would Trudeau invite all of this controversy when he could have easily released an ambiguous statement that focused on the Cuban people instead?

Trudeau's strategists are very calculating. They have to be. To them, Castro's death provided an opportunity to flex their strategic muscles.

While Castro's death was obviously unexpected, I believe Trudeau and his advisers wanted the negative attention from Canadian conservatives, especially when you consider the special kind of hypocrisy it takes to hammer Trudeau for such a statement.

Most clear-thinking people were immediately reminded of how former prime minister Stephen Harper praised King Abdullah, the Saudi king who died in 2015. Harper called the late theocratic monarch a "strong proponent of peace in the Middle East."

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Abdullah Bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud (L) stands with Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen Harper (R) as he arrives at the G20 Summit in Toronto, June 26, 2010. (Photo: REUTERS/Jim Young)

This was a man whose government has been implicated in funding terror groups for decades, beheading and stoning women for crimes like "sorcery" and adultery, as well as a systemic and deliberate oppression of civilians, especially women, who are still not allowed to drive or leave the house without being fully covered from head to toe. They are what ISIS would look like if ISIS had an actual state of their own.

Now, imagine if Saudi Arabia had no oil, no friction with Iran -- and then imagine what the statement would have sounded like after Abdullah's passing. That's the crux of this hypocrisy -- that governments are slaves to their interests at the detriment of their principles. World leaders would rather coddle despotic regimes, claiming too much criticism would be disastrous for their citizens, when in reality nothing would likely change.

Saudi Arabia would not cancel a $15-billion weapons deal if the Harper government released a watered down statement that did not tell lies about Abdullah being a peacemaker. Nonetheless, the Canadian right took Trudeau to the woodshed, just as he anticipated that they would.

But he also wanted the left to defend him. Castro was a thumb in the eye of American imperialism, and cheering a revolutionary like him is one of the more rewarding facets of being a left-winger.

The polarizing effect was felt immediately as lefties and righties traded barbs on social media, with one side eviscerating the fallen dictator and the other canonizing him. And then it happened.

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Demonstrators protest the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline while Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives at HMCS Discovery in Vancouver, B.C., Canada Nov. 7, 2016. (Photo: REUTERS/Ben Nelms)

Justin -- the environmentalist, the champion of indigenous affairs, the pro-Castro liberal, the preeminent supporter of evidence-based policies -- went ahead and approved two major oil pipelines, flushing away his progressive bona fides in the process.

His tap dancing this week was off beat, and instead of ingratiating himself to both sides he polarized Canadians twice, resulting in ridicule from the right and protests from the left. Sure, conservatives support the idea of additional pipelines to get oil and gas to new markets, but Trudeau's brand is so weak among most conservatives -- and his statement on Castro only solidifies their impression of his ability to govern like an adult.

Instead of ingratiating himself to both sides he polarized Canadians twice, resulting in ridicule from the right and protests from the left.

The polarizing effect Trudeau has initiated will be hard to escape, and in a strange twist of intentional ironies, there are now protesters marching against an American oil pipeline project with Fidel Castro's face emblazoned on a few of their hoodies.

Trudeau miscalculated, weighing a eulogy that would fade within days against a policy that would impact generations to come.

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