Chairman's Desk

Justin Trudeau must stop apologizing and learn to work with the Parliament he has

Enough is enough. After six years in office, the pattern has become painfully familiar.

First, the prime minister makes a decision so blatantly problematic that the term hubris does not begin to do it justice.

After some initial acrobatics from the PMO (in this case, claiming on his official itinerary that he was in Ottawa), Team Trudeau begins to push back and defend its fearless leader.

Then, evidence. The photos emerge, the flight path is discovered, the receipts are procured.

What follows is a few days’ pause, followed by the ritual Canadians have come to know and despise: the histrionic apology delivered from a well-lit podium. It is rehearsed. It is hard to watch. And it leaves us questioning the prime minister’s sincerity.

Lynne Groulx, chief executive of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, so perfectly spoke for all Canadians when she said after the latest apology, “We recognize that this moment of contrition comes after much public pressure, not necessarily because you have suddenly seen the light.”

Indeed, the prime minister has surely not seen the light. After a long, problematic history that began with the Aga Khan incident and begat three violations of the Ethics Act, Justin Trudeau has been given plenty of opportunity for learning. All of it squandered.

We often hear about the “death of shame,” the notion that our society has transformed such that shamelessness has skyrocketed to become the order of the day. That phenomenon is no doubt very real — look no further than Donald Trump. But with our own prime minister, the most concerning dynamic is the extent to which these wounds are self-inflicted. Avoidable. Sloppy.

It is not so much that Trudeau is willing to squirm through public shaming and endure a slap on the wrist from Mario Dion. The more disturbing thing is that he seems not to realize — or not to care — that his clearly unacceptable behaviour will be called out as such. Again, the man demonstrates hubris of mythic proportions.

Take the prime minister’s latest debacle. It was his own government’s decision to establish this National Day for Truth & Reconciliation on Sept. 30. After a year of painful reckoning with the unfinished work of Indigenous reconciliation, how could he not realize that all eyes would be on him that day? How could he not see the offence inherent in a vacation just hours from the haunted site of a residential school burial site?

It is hard to believe he did not realize this decision would end in deeply hurt feelings and an apology. Much more likely, it seems to me, is the tragic reality that he simply did not care.

After six years of apologies, Justin Trudeau knows he is only as accountable as he decides to be. And after having fought what increasingly appears to be his final election as Liberal leader, perhaps he has decided that his personal life, his own peace of mind, comes before the Trudeau brand.

If that is the case, it’s his voters who will ultimately be disappointed. This electorate did not give Trudeau a majority but rather a command to return to Parliament and work with opposition parties.

For years, the prime minister has threatened to call an election when he doesn’t get what he wants. With that card removed from Trudeau, it will take humility for him to return to the table, speak to his counterparts and deliver for our country. If this debacle is any indication, he may not have it in him.

But to me, the greatest tragedy is all the opportunity that has been wasted. For learning, for reconciliation, for meaningful amends to be made.

In my own world, last Thursday I was lucky enough to join an Indigenous friend — a teacher and mentor to many — for a quiet commemoration of that important morning. It was humbling and in so many ways, I learned so very much.

I only wish the prime minister could have made time for some humility of his own.

This article first appeared in the Toronto Star on October 10, 2021.

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