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Elbowgate, Canada’s Least-Favorite Political Snafu, Just Won’t Die

So-called 'Elbowgate' continues to plague the Trudeau government, even after a litany of apologies and efforts to cool down the situation.

by Justin Ling
May 23 2016, 3:20pm

Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld

A wayward elbow, which last week connected with the chest of an opposition member of Canada's Parliament, has already derailed a crucial piece of government legislation, forced the neophyte Trudeau administration to walk back a "draconian" procedural manoeuvre, and hurt the prime minister's personal polling numbers. And it, unfortunately, appears far from over.

As VICE News reported last week after the strange jostling broke out, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had physically intervened, with an accompanying bark to "get the fuck out of the way," to break up a delay tactic organized by opposition members of Parliament to protest the government's move to shut down debate on legislation that would legalize physician-assisted suicide.

Since then, Trudeau's actions — and the exact trajectory of his elbow — have been picked apart by armchair sleuths on social media, his motivations have been opined on by national columnists, and the manufactured scandal that has followed has been the ridicule of a litany of international media outlets, with Last Week Tonight host John Oliver being the most recent to join the fray.

But the life of the story, which has picked up the moniker 'Elbowgate', has stretched on, even after Trudeau apologized no fewer than a half-dozen times and volunteered to end some procedural brinksmanship with his opposition colleagues.

Opinion polling firm Abacus Data has even researched attitudes about the tempest.

The poll found that the country was following along with the coverage to some degree — 40 percent said they followed it very or somewhat closely, 40 percent said they'd heard about it, and 20 percent had no idea about the story.

Overall the poll showed that, while columnists may have speculated that the event could be a watershed moment for the still-fresh-faced leader, the public isn't too concerned. Seven out of ten who answered the poll said the whole affair doesn't affect their impression of the prime minister.

The only major shift, seemingly, in the prime minister's credibility after the incident was on the metric of whether he "handles stress well." Three-quarters of the Canadians who were polled thought so, but that marks a nine-point drop over previous research.

It's not just Trudeau that's facing the backlash, however. NDP member of Parliament Ruth-Ellen Brosseau, the legislator who caught the prime minister's elbow, told the Canadian Press last week that she's been the target of a wave of harassment and hate since the incident.

Related: Justin Trudeau Apologizes to Female Legislator After Bizarre Parliamentary Altercation Breaks Out

"My office has received countless phone calls ... saying it is my fault, I should be ashamed, I should resign, I should apologize, it is my fault,'' Brosseau told Canadian Press reporter Kristy Kirkup.

Collateral damage from the dust-up may be Trudeau's assisted-dying legislation.

On June 6, a court order striking down Canada's criminal prohibitions on physician-assisted suicide takes effect. Without a new law on the books, doctor-assisted suicide will become de facto unregulated in much of the country.

Trudeau's legislation, C-14, may not pass the House of Commons until the middle of next week, thanks in no small part to political jockeying that came as a result of Elbowgate. That legislation has faced stiff criticism from all sides, and its passage is far from a done deal.

In an attempt to get that legislation passed with as little protest from the opposition as possible, Trudeau's Liberal government introduced new rules — known as motion six — that would have forbidden a litany of opposition tactics designed to interfere with government legislation. Peter Julian, house leader for the third-place New Democratic Party, called that attempt "draconian."

A political horse-trade, however, saw the opposition and government come to a deal on the matter — the opposition would drop ongoing debate about the prime minister's elbow, and the government would withdraw motion six.