Columns

Why Justin Trudeau Does Not Deserve to Lead Canada

AP Photo/Aaron Favila

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been a preening, spendthrift, and fundamentally unserious leader throughout his time in office. Recently, however, his calculated vilification of the unvaccinated and his divisive stoking of fear and rage reveal a profound malice that threatens us all.

For most of his political career, the Bollywood-jiving, “Because it’s 2015” feminist was too busy burnishing his progressive image to worry about such dull political matters as ethical conduct (two ethics violations and a major charity scandal); energy policy (plans to “phase out” the western petroleum industry); or the federal debt (with highest debt to GDP ratio in Canadian history). Trudeau has never shown much interest in those who do not qualify for, or desire, the largesse-with-strings his government has doled out to academics, journalists, Quebec francophones, feminist organizations, labor unions, and a multitude of other special interest groups.

But his inadequacy might not have been deadly if his “sunny ways” mask had not slipped so decisively in recent weeks. True, some observers were alarmed when, even before being elected PM, he expressed admiration for Communist China’s ability to “turn their economy around on a dime,” but the statement seemed to express less a dictatorial yearning than a youthfully idealistic zeal (Trudeau has always seemed younger than his actual age, an advantage he has assiduously cultivated). When he paraded his family around India in traditional dress, hands clasped in the Hindu Namaste tradition, the burlesque performance was written off as forgivable over-enthusiasm, and drew attention away from the presence at Liberal events of a convicted Sikh terrorist. Even multitudinous gaffes don’t necessarily signal a politician’s end—at least, not immediately—if their purveyor can maintain public good will.

Recently, though, Trudeau hasn’t even tried to seem to care for all Canadians, and his expressed contempt (or worse) for the minority who object to his policy of mandated Covid injections has at last revealed his true bullying, authoritarian nature. During the election campaign, Trudeau has been unabashedly coercive, threatening “consequences” for federal workers who choose not to be injected and characterizing opponents as rabidly unhinged. After a campaign stop in London, Ontario, where he faced one of many angry crowds, Trudeau described the protesters as “a mob” who were “practically foaming at the mouth.” On other occasions, he referred to the “far right, anti-vaxx fringe” and said, with almost laughable predictability, that they were “lashing out with racist, misogynistic attacks.” 

Rather than expressing empathy for the many business owners, parents, university students, and ordinary citizens pushed to despair by tone-deaf Covid policies, he has evoked a stark moral polarity in which he and the nation’s saviors occupy one side—the altruistic high ground—while gravel-throwing, irresponsible malcontents hulk on the other. He has frequently conjured the image of valiant healthcare workers being spat upon and menaced as they “save the lives of people who themselves chose not to get vaccinated.” Details that would make the picture more complex—the significant number of healthcare workers who face firing because they refuse the injection; the double-vaccinated or even triple-vaccinated who are still getting sick and dying; the evidence that vaccinated persons are just as likely as unvaccinated to spread the virus; and the edict forbidding medical practitioners from speaking against government Covid policies—are neatly erased from his sanctimonious portrayal. 

Related: Justin Trudeau’s Not-So-Excellent Campaign Adventure

Even worse, Trudeau is now appealing directly to Canadians’ worst fears and scapegoating tendencies. Recently, he contrasted his air-travel vaccine mandate with Conservative leader Erin O’Toole’s emphasis on testing, stating that “O’Toole has basically said that any of those anti-vaxxers who are protesting could be sitting across the aisle from your 12-year-old on a flight south in a few months. But they’d have gotten tested. That’s not good enough.” 

The logical incoherence of Trudeau’s position would be laughable in a sane era. Is Trudeau not aware of how few cases of Covid transmission occurred on airplanes in the many months prior to the vaccines (so few, despite the lack of distancing, that air travel doesn’t even warrant its own category in Canadian government reporting on viral outbreaks)? But logic is no longer in play in a country gripped by irrational fear. Trudeau’s scenario encourages every already-terrified mother to regard an unvaccinated person as not only a mouth-foaming “anti-vaxxer” extremist but also as a potential murderer of her child (despite the fact that fewer children have died from Covid since the start of the pandemic than die in a regular flu season in Canada). 

The appeal to raw hatred could not be much more evident. In Trudeau’s words, his opponents are not just wrong, “they are putting at risk their own kids, and they are putting at risk our kids as well.” It is small wonder that, according to the Angus Reid Institute, a near-majority of Canadians “don’t think unvaccinated individuals should have the same priority for medical treatment if they become sick with COVID-19.” Such a bigoted and cruelly vindictive mindset would normally be cause for concern in a civilized country, but in Canada today, it is being enthusiastically promoted by the country’s own leadership. 

It is hard to believe that Trudeau the angry demagogue is the same person who, after the Boston bombings in 2013, which killed 3 people, blew off the limbs of 17, and injured hundreds of others, said in an interview with CBC’s Peter Mansbridge that the two men who perpetrated the atrocity clearly felt “completely excluded” from their society. The last thing Canada should do, he stressed, was make people like them feel even more excluded by pointing fingers at members of identifiable groups and cultivating a culture of fear and mistrust. It was quite the performance. 

Let’s take a moment for comparison. The men who made the Boston Marathon bombs had carefully planned as much death and dismemberment as possible, targeting people who had done them no harm to advance a remote political agenda. In contrast, those refusing injection do not wish to harm anyone; most simply prefer to make their own choice about when and if they take what they believe, with abundant evidence, to be an inadequately tested substance whose safety and efficacy are far from assured. At the present time, there are about 6 million of them in the country, an ever-shrinking but still significant minority for whom Trudeau’s expressions of disgust are unsettling, to say the least. 

Targeting one’s political opponents as evil-doers who pose an imminent threat to the lives of children is clearly not an appeal to unity or calm; in fact, it is just steps away from incitement to violence. The Trudeau government has not only deliberately hidden from Canadians the minimal threat posed by Covid-19 to the general population, especially to the young and healthy, but has persistently targeted the unvaccinated as killers who should be, at the least, segregated and punished for their refusal. A leader who expresses such detestation for his own people—and encourages frightened followers to participate in their dehumanization—should not be trusted with the reins of government.