About a week ago, I asked “is Justin Trudeau really so inept that he cannot be prepared for three or four or five debates ~ one every week? is that too much to ask of the would-be leaders of a G7 country? Is foreign policy too hard for Prime Minister Trudeau? Is he afraid that Paul Wells might ask a hard question? Andrew Scheer, Jagmeet Singh and even Elizabeth May seem up for the task. What is Justin Trudeau afraid of? Himself?“
“Justin Trudeau will only debate if it helps his chances. What else would you expect?” is the headline over one of John Ibbitson’s columns in the Globe and Mail from a couple of days ago.
Mr Ibbitson explains that Justin Trudeau is just following Stephen Harper’s example. In 2015 the Conservative Party knew Canadians were tired of Stephen Harper and his team; “he was losing and needed to change the dynamic of the race, in which polls showed two-thirds of voters believed it was time for a change of government,” John Ibitson says. “Mr. Harper calculated that his best hope lay in debating Mr. Trudeau early and often, reinforcing the Tory mantra that the Liberal Leader was “just not ready.” NDP leader Tom Mulcair, who had mopped the House of Commons floor with Mr. Harper during the Senate expenses scandal, saw the debates as a forum for showing he was the safest agent of change. Both believed that Mr. Trudeau would flail. Both were wrong.” Both Messers Harper and Mulcair thought that they could easily best Justin Trudeau in any debate but that wasn’t so. Mr Trudeau was well briefed, well prepared and comfortable. He is still comfortable on a platform, in the full glare of the lights and cameras, in a small debate or in a ‘town hall,’ so long as he is fully briefed.
But now the tables are turned. Despite many people having some serious reservations about both Andrew Scheer and Jagmeet Singh, only Justin Trudeau has a record to defend. Only Justin Trudeau has broken parliament’s ethics rule … twice. Only Justin Trudeau tried to interfere in the criminal justice system and then fired two exemplary female cabinet minister because they called him on it. Only Justin Trudeau put 70 years of warm Indo-Canadian relations into the diplomatic deep-freeze because of his desire to play partisan diaspora politics in Toronto.
John Ibbitson says that “Boycotting every debate would make Mr. Trudeau appear fearful. Attending all five on offer might give Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer or NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh the kind of opportunity from which Mr. Trudeau profited in 2015 … [so] … he has agreed to attend the two official debates, one in English and one in French, plus a second French-language debate, hosted by TVA. But the party says he will not be attending a debate on foreign policy proposed by the Munk centre, or one proposed by Maclean’s magazine and Citytv … [but] … Agreeing to debate twice in French but only once in English is an odd call. The Liberal team must believe that exposing Mr. Singh to the spotlight in Quebec will further weaken the NDP’s already fading hopes in that province. The risk for the Grits is that Mr. Singh could outperform expectations, pulling a Justin Trudeau on Justin Trudeau. Besides, the Bloc Québécois and the Conservatives are also in the hunt for some of the 14 NDP seats up for grabs … [however] … Under pressure, Mr. Trudeau may yet conclude that he must agree to a second English-language debate. (If so, let’s hope he chooses the offer from Munk. Foreign-policy issues, especially around China, loom unusually large in this contest.)“
John Ibbitson concludes that whatever the Liberals decide it will be only because it is for Justin Trudeau’s political advantage … and he says that’s all we should really expect. I agree with that.
I think that Team Trudeau is afraid of the Munk Debate because it might focus on some of Prime Minister Trudeau’s biggest weaknesses … not just the India debacle, but the situation with China and the prime minister’s “admiration” for its “dictatorship,” too. In fact, Justin Trudeau’s foreign policy record is largely one of failure … he may be a global celebrity and the darling of the Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone sorts of media, but he really hasn’t accomplished anything much. Canada certainly isn’t “back,” is it?
But I also think that this reflects Justin Trudeau’s basic disdain for both the electoral process and, indeed, for democracy, itself. The purpose of debates is or should be, anyway, to help us, Canadians, decide, for ourselves which party leader espouses policies that we think might be best for Canada. Justin Trudeau only wants us to receive information that has been filtered by the Liberal Party’s campaign machine. He doesn’t want us to hear how he answers Elizabeth May on the issue of the environment or Jagmeet Singh on the issue of pipelines or Andrew Scheer on deficits. That wouldn’t help his campaign and, therefore, Canadians ought not to be surprised that will not debate the other leaders. It is all part of Justin Trudeau’s style … and he’s all style, no substance.