BY: JAMES DIFIORE
Depending on where your political beliefs fall, the first 6 months of Justin Trudeau’s leadership has either been testament to positive politics or a buffet of cringe worthy sentimentality. Unsurprisingly, Trudeau has continued to show a remarkable gift for retail politics and connecting with people on a human level, but that kind of charm eventually wears thin, and so far Trudeau has not shown Canadians what they will see once he turns off his celebrity sparkle.
The answer to what should come next is obvious; the mountain of carefully crafted policy implementations we were promised during the campaign. But even more precarious than campaign promises are the items that seem to contradict the very essence of the Trudeau brand. That image, which encapsulates progressivisms -from international humanitarian work to domestic social policies – has been quietly eroding since the new year began through a series of decisions that have contradicted his personal brand.
The most glaring contradiction thus far is clearly the decision to honour the 15 billion dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia. At the recent federal NDP convention in Edmonton, NDP stalwart Stephen Lewis said, “What kind of feminism is it that sells weapons to a government steeped in misogyny?” It was the perfect question for a young prime minister who has skated virtually unchallenged since his election victory, and one Canadians should demand he answer sooner than later. The most valuable facet of having a brand like Trudeau’s is the built-in flexibility to change course when the people demand it. After all, isn’t that what being a down to earth leader is all about? Furthermore, if Trudeau remains a loyal servant to his brand, then he should level with Canadians regarding its special relationship with the Saudi kingdom.
Instead of throw away lines like “We don’t want to break a contract”, perhaps it is time for Trudeau to explain exactly why we are beholden to a regime as nasty as theirs. Typical ambiguous responses have been flying out of the office of Foreign Affairs over the past month, including “Saudi Arabia is a strategic ally in the region” and “Our two nations have various economic ties.” But Trudeau has given himself little choice but to remain loyal to transparency, and that would have to include an explanation of the exact dynamics between Canada and a country that beheads atheists and dissidents more often than ISIL. A flowery speech and a boilerplate response from Stephane Dion aren’t good enough. Canadians, as Trudeau often repeated during the campaign, deserve better than that.
But it gets worse.
It turns out the deal the Liberals could not get out of that was initiated by the Conservatives wasn’t exactly accurate. Global Affairs Canada has released documents that confirm Stephane Dion signed off on the export permits just last week, without a formal announcement from the Trudeau government. The document pays lip service the Saudi Arabia’s abhorrent human rights record by stating “the reported high number of executions, suppression of political opposition, the application of corporal punishment, suppression of freedom of expression, arbitrary arrest, ill-treatment of detainees, limitations of freedom of religion, discrimination against women and the mistreatment of migrant workers” – but ignores these atrocities and justifies the sale by citing previous arms sales to the Saudi kingdom since the early 90s. Worse, like a successful drug dealer justifying the sale of crack to a 12 year old, the government is implying that if Canada doesn’t sell arms to a barbaric, theocratic regime, somebody else will.
In other words, Trudeau is supporting the status quo, which is essentially continuing the fine work of Stephen Harper. There is no way around that point, and even Trudeau’s sparkly eyes can’t sell this to Canadians who are cognizant of the greater implications of this deal.
Which means the honeymoon, which began with so much hope, is now over, coming to an end in the hot sands of a Saudi desert. Trudeau still has qualities he can use to build a more progressive country, but if he continues to provide counterweights that so drastically contrast his sunny image, the honeymoon ending may be the least of his concerns.