Rex Murphy: Liberal A Team works diligently to seem obnoxious, evasive, out of touch
(Tony Lam's Comments: Rex is one of the best. Reprinted without permission. This is so good that it garners its own page. This is brilliant. BRILLIANT. Any questions please email and I will remove.)
In ancient days, the Brits had a television show called That Was The Week That Was. It was a confected catalogue of absurdities, mischiefs and embarrassments delivered with all that sarcasm and parody could provide. It was impossible not to think of that show this week, as the Liberal A Team of the prime minister and his (now) battered finance minister explored with the utmost diligence how to make themselves, at various times, appear flat-footed, obnoxious, condescending, evasive, and infinitely out of touch with how people of normal means and ordinary lives think and feel.
As the tumult of horrors unfolded I thought yet again of the early days of this “transparent” administration, and their summons of the Deliverology mage from out of the dark labyrinths of British politics. In a just world, Trudeau would be demanding a rebate from that tony consultant. For on what single major issue have they delivered?
The question is worth reiterating: Is there a single significant policy that Trudeau made central to his party and government that has not been a tangle of confusion, inept communication, reversal, or abandonment? Electoral reform: a messy bust. First-past-the-post. Gone with the wind that produced the promise. The inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women: over the months that it has stumbled along, the inquiry has shed its members, been dismissed by those it was meant to serve, and has had the bitterly ironic result of making relations between aboriginals and government worse than before it started.
The great promise of social license? A quick trip to Alberta and a five-minute conversation with anyone working (or, more commonly, who used to work) in the oil industry will tell you how empty that promise has proved to be. Social license turns out to be one of those tag phrases the prime minister is so fond of, that he throws around as if they were magicians’ wands.
And then we come to this week, and the “tax fairness” reforms. This week was meant to unravel all the trouble that has been brought down upon by this government by the original tax reform package that Morneau introduced.
Starting with a press conference in Stouffville — as all have noted, well out of the House of Commons and question period — the prime minister took the reins. With astonishing condescension, the country’s premier male feminist intercepted a question from a female journalist that was directed at Morneau. He told her she now had the chance to “direct it to the prime minister.” From sunny days to the Sun King of 24 Sussex Drive. Simultaneously, he flicked Morneau to the back of the room — a flare of arrogant imperiousness that hardly consorts with the image of Trudeau as the sensitive, warm, overflowing basket of charm that his handlers have crafted for him with such industry.
Poor Morneau was, for the next few days, sent into exile from question period, while the prime minister and a few of his hapless front benchers tried to rescue the total botch of tax reform, and, of far more consequence, attempted to provide some sort of defence for the embroiled Minister of Finance. Question period became a factory of non-sequiturs, illogicalities, and some of the most ham-handed, amateur-hour evasions and denials to ever disgrace the pages of Hansard.
I think it is dawning on some that our celebrity prime minister is great at first nights, foreign conferences, concerts, We Days, Women in Power summits, and American morning TV shows. As a master of ceremonies or the guest celebrity of the day, he’s a winner.
But in question period, he is on alien ground. In question period, he should own an honorary spot on the opposition benches.
If there was a low point this week (and it is difficult to select just one out of its spate of mumbles and jumbles), it would have to be when the prime minister made the beautiful malapropism of twice referring to Mary Dawson as the “Conflict of Ethics Commissioner.”
This is more than a hint that the prime minister doesn’t really understand the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. Commissioner Mary Dawson is NOT the first or last authority on the ethics of the House or its members. They are. The House is. And the prime minister as government leader is, or should be, the first guardian and watchdog over the behaviour of his ministers and members. Mary Dawson is just a source of prudent backup. The attempts of the prime minister and finance minister to outsource their ethical standards to a parliamentary office, to position Dawson as somehow responsible for the deep pit they have so zealously excavated for themselves, is an outrage.
This week is, I think, a turning point. The shallowness of the government was on extended display. Trudeau may have learned that leadership goes beyond chanting pale tag-lines as if they were voodoo spells of oratory. Endless muttering of “diversity is our strength” and “growing the middle class” is not, after all, the whole of governing.