This article first appeared on VICE Canada
Justin Trudeau is taking another cross-country trip to do town halls again. He did this last year and he’ll probably do it again next year. This is a thing the Canadian prime minister does now, I guess. Every January he’ll go around the country and lend the people his ears in little off-season campaign rallies. What’s going on in the House? Who cares! Justin Trudeau might come to your town and give you his talking points directly.
To be fair, the events in question don’t appear to be cynically stage-managed. Yesterday in Halifax, a woman straight-up asked the guy how it feels to be “the first prime minister ever found guilty of a federal crime.”
“Guilty of a federal crime” is a rather dramatic way of phrasing Trudeau’s recent knuckle-rapping from the federal ethics commissioner. His Christmas 2016 vacation to the Aga Khan’s private Caribbean island breached sections of the Conflict of Interest Act, which is distasteful but not actually criminal. The optics are terrible and the prime minister’s “apology” was uncomfortably awkward, but it is ultimately a non-issue in the scheme of things. It would probably never have registered if it wasn’t part of a long series of optically terrible non-issues from high-profile Liberals that make the party seem like a hobby club for obnoxious millionaires.
The prime minister laughed it off and let the woman continue on to tell him that he shouldn’t take bribes. He responded by stressing how getting busted by the ethics commissioner means that “the system works” and promised that he would make sure to clear all his family vacations in the future before fumbling the rhetorical football into the endzone with something about how he’s going to work hard for the people of this country. His answer was a little weird, but his answers to everything are a little weird.
The exchange was quintessentially Canadian, in that even his heckler was very polite when asked to clarify her inflammatory statement. Credit where it’s due to Justin Trudeau: if something like that happened to Stephen Harper in front of a live studio audience, he’d drop a smoke bomb and disappear.
At no point does the prime minister bother to clarify to this woman that he never “committed a crime.” I thought this strange at first, but on reflection the only thing the man could do is not even let the word “crime” pass his lips. Anyone already convinced he is a criminal is unable or unwilling to listen to an explanation, and I’m sure his handlers stressed how bad a short video clip of Canada’s PM ‘addressing his alleged crimes’ would be.
It’s obvious to the point of banality to observe that this stink about ethics and elitism is going to continue to dog the Trudeau and the Liberals as long as they keep running afoul of the ethics commissioner through ultimately benign (if offensively decadent) ignorance. It is, after all, one of the few partisan lines of attack where the Conservatives and the New Democrats can work together and still manage to sleep at night.
More interesting is the fact that the Aga Khan Affair has already been distorted into the spectre of a criminal prime minister and his cabinet of robber barons. (This would more closely describe the John A. Macdonald government(s).) The substance of the issue will fade from the memory of most voters—recall that time the Harper Tories were ‘the first ever to be found guilty’ of contempt of Parliament and then won a majority government anyway—but it will settle somewhere in the shadows of Canada’s right-wing social media.
Our crooked prime minister, the illegitimate son of Castro and secret convert to Islam who is bankrolling Big Khadr after getting sleeper-cell instructions from Joshua Boyle about how to establish a homosexual eco-caliphate on the Ottawa river. I can already hear the furious fantasies cobbled out of a hundred half-remembered headlines. A lie gets halfway around the world before truth has time to put on its pants, or however the saying goes.
In the long run, it probably won’t make too much of a difference; if Trudeau falls in 2019, it is unlikely to be connected to riding in the Aga Khan’s helicopter no matter how sensational the fanfiction gets. It’s just neat that the country’s political discourse is slowly filling with the same kind of hyper-partisan detritus that broke the rest of Anglo-America.
At least, if the confrontation caught on video is any indication, it’ll all be handled very politely.