The top five humblebrags from Justin Trudeau’s United Nations speech

The prime minister endorsed a treaty he hasn't implemented, touted his domestic economic policy, and called Canada's a "work in progress."
Justin Ling
Montreal, CA
September 21, 2017, 3:40pm

Taking the podium just days after President Donald Trump used the dais to pump economic nationalism and threaten North Korea with oblivion, the Canadian prime minister delivered a self-effacing tribute to his own government’s legacy.

The bulk of Justin Trudeau’s speech targeted Canada’s legacy on Indigenous rights, and his government’s efforts to fix it; Ottawa’s plans to offset its contributions to climate change; and his economic policy — including one current thorny issue that is causing political headaches at home.


As a former foreign policy advisor to the prime minister put it on Twitter: “U.N. speeches come in different shapes and sizes. Trudeau clearly decided to speak mainly to a domestic audience about mainly domestic issues.”

Below are the top five humblebrags from Trudeau’s speech in New York.

“Canada remains a work in progress.”

In keeping with Trudeau’s constant global public relations push to sell Canada as a bashful middle power, Trudeau wasted little time before getting to the lofty rhetoric that he has often brought out on the world stage.

Trudeau told the assembled world leaders “I want to tell you our story” because Canada’s approach, which “values human dignity” and “emphasizes fairness and real opportunity for everyone” ought to be a value not just for Canada, but for the rest of the world.

Pundits in Canada met that language with eyerolls, but Trudeau’s proclamation that Canada isn’t done evolving nevertheless made headlines within minutes.

While many have been quick to criticize Trudeau’s globe-trotting PR campaign as puffery, the prime minister has used his international clout to make inroads with a variety of international powers, to varying degrees of success.

Read more: Trudeau is lobbying Washington to save Canada’s biggest trade deal from Trump.

“The good news is that Canadians get it. They see the inequities. They’re fed up with the excuses.”

Trudeau didn’t waste time before getting to the core of his speech: Indigenous issues. He filled in the assembled dignitaries that First Nations children “struggle to get a good education,” face systemic racism, and intergenerational violence caused by the trauma of the federal government forcibly relocating Indigenous children to residential schools.

He called the objective of reconciliation: “Not an aspiration. That’s a way forward.”


When Trudeau promised “good news” (the “good” is underlined in Trudeau’s copy of the speech, sent to VICE News) he did not bring up the fact that his government is currently fighting a legal challenge that has repeatedly found Ottawa at fault for under-funding First Nations education and healthcare.

The federal government, in June, issued an appeal to that ruling.

Read more: How much progress has Trudeau actually made on Truth and Reconciliation promises to Indigenous people?

“We are now a full supporter of the Declaration, without qualification.”

Trudeau was referring to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a document that the prime minister’s predecessor had consistently refused to endorse.

Trudeau, for his part, campaigned to “immediately adopt” the declaration “and ensure every new policy and law would meet with its principles.”

While he may have become a “supporter” of the document, he certainly didn’t adopt it. Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould called the declaration “unworkable” in 2016. (Adopting and implementing that document was also among the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, who also got a shout-out in the prime minister’s speech.)

Read more: Canadians Need to Face Uncomfortable Truths About How We Treat Indigenous People

“We have been working hard…to correct past injustices.”

Trudeau, in pumping up his work with Indigenous leaders, goes into his first example: Bringing clean drinking water to all First Nations communities.

“So far, more than two dozen long-term drinking water advisories in Indigenous communities have been eliminated, and we have a plan to bring to an end those that remain,” he told the audience.


VICE News has just wrapped up a week-long effort to check Trudeau’s progress on that file, and the results were far from a clear victory.

A fact-check found that, while two dozen drinking water advisories may have been solved, others have come online since then. It also found that there are dozens more communities that are on short-term advisories that are recurring, or face different times or water insecurity, like upstream industrial contamination.

Read more: Canada’s Indigenous water crisis isn’t improving, despite promises from Trudeau

“We don’t just grow our economies – we live up to our values.”

In a flurry of talking points, Trudeau closed out his speech by recapping his economic agenda: Signing a free-trade agreement with Europe, hiking taxes on the richest to cut them for the middle class, and providing more benefits for parents with children.

He also took the opportunity to take a thinly-veiled jab at his opposition back home, who are campaigning against his effort to close tax loopholes that allow the richest Canadians to use private corporations to minimize their tax burden — not exactly a pressing international issue.

“That’s not fair, and we’re going to fix it,” he said.

Read more: The rich are set to go to war over Trudeau’s tax changes