05.24.2016 12:00 AM

In this week’s Hill Times: sorry, it was a stupid thing to do

On the night in question, I was at an event in Toronto honouring Senator Murray Sinclair. As it was getting underway, I received a text message from one of the Members of Parliament who had been at the very centre of it all.

“He should not have been out of his seat,” the text said. “That was a big error on his part.”

The “error” was an actual physical confrontation on the floor of the House of Commons, just like the ones they have in the Taiwanese Parliament. The “he” was the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau.

Until former Justice Sinclair spoke, everyone in the room stared at their devices, periodically shaking their heads in wonder. Ten observations, from afar:

1. The law: When the Prime Minister intentionally grabbed and yanked the Conservative whip – much like Donald Trump’s campaign manager recently did to a reporter – it met the Criminal Code definition of assault. When he elbowed an NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau, it didn’t. The elbow in Brosseau’s chest likely met the civil definition of assault, however. If she had later experienced bruising, things could have gotten quite complicated for the Liberal leader. Either way, if the physical stuff had happened off the Hill – in someone else’s workplace, for instance – charges, lawsuits and firings would have been the almost inevitable result.

2. The Internet: Live by social media, die by it. The Prime Minister has assiduously cultivated attention online, and especially internationally. When he took leave of his senses last Wednesday night, his actions became front-page news around the world. You cannot seek attention and then, having gotten it, complain that it is too critical. Many Liberal partisans are still doing just that, and they sound like the Conservative partisans they replaced. They sound pathetic.

3. The optics: The boxing photo ops are over. So, too, the earnest claims to being a feminist. The moment a man applies force in a way that it hurts a woman – inadvertent or not – it changes both, and the man can’t really claim to being much of a feminist anymore. If the country learned anything from the Ghomeshi trial, it is that.

4. The Liberals: This appalling episode has revealed the Liberal House Leader to possess a genial authoritarian streak. It has shown that the Liberal whip is in fully over his head, and wholly incapable of controlling his troops. It does not reflect well on the Speaker, either, because it is now apparent he does not oversee the Commons very well. And the Prime Minister? Well, what was once youthful and fresh now looks too-young and arrogant. In a matter of minutes, he did undid his good reputation with all but the most rabid Liberal partisan.

5. The NDP: As is their wont, they overplayed their hand, calling the elbow to Brosseau a deliberate criminal assault when any of the lawyers in their caucus could have told them it was not. Mulcair looked like the enraged father who was defending a daughter who had been manhandled, however, and it was an understandable response. Trudeau’s return to the scene of the alleged crime – to confront Mulcair, apparently, and toss around a few “F” bombs – wasn’t understandable at all. It was another huge lapse in judgment.

6. The Conservatives: If they’re smart, they will keep their cool, and stay above the (literal) fray. Referring the matter to committee was a shrewd move – it will ensure the controversy will be kept alive for weeks. Stephen Harper being in the House when it all happened? It’s a safe bet that he was smiling, somewhere, on Wednesday night.

7. The cause: Some Liberals will claim there was a need to invoke closure, and radically change the rules of the House, to ensure the right-to-die legislation met the Supreme Court’s deadline. That is spurious and false. One, a matter of conscience should never, ever be rushed. Two, Canadian physicians were given sufficient guidelines in the high court’s ruling, and are applying them. Three, the Bill was always going to be amended and delayed in the Senate. What, therefore, was the damn rush?

8. The footage: It is going to be replayed over and over. It is going to figure in the next election campaign. It is going to be as ubiquitous as the Zapruder footage. When you watch it, you cannot help but lose respect for any number of participants. It is bad.

9. The precedent: I worked for Jean Chretien back in February 1996, on the frosty day of the now-famous Shawinigan Handshake. That incident, and this one, are not analogous. Chretien faced a threat; Trudeau did not. Chretien was not the instigator of the confrontation; Trudeau was. Chretien used force with a man; Trudeau used force in a way that hurt a woman. The Shawinigan Handshake became a positive for Chretien. For Trudeau, this never will.

10. The contrast: Sitting there, listening to the extraordinarily thoughtful, kind, mature and reserved words of Senator Sinclair, I was struck by something else. I turned to my wife, a Liberal and a feminist, and said: “Senator Sinclair sounds like a Prime Minister. Tonight, the Prime Minister doesn’t look like a Prime Minister.”

Something changed rather dramatically, last Wednesday night. Per Buffalo Springfield, something happened, here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.

This much is true, however: for Justin Trudeau, none of it was good.

 

54 Comments

  1. Jean A Paterson says:

    With respect, although I agree that the PM should not have left his seat, I disagree that the kerfuffle resembled Taiwanese government brawls, with their wild punches and furniture tossing. I also did not see evidence that MP Brown had his arm “yanked”. And lastly, as a person who has lived with a chest somewhat similar to that of Ruth-Ellen, I would be very surprised if a passing elbow bump should cause a bruise. Indeed, the pain expressed later was likely highly influenced by the tension of the moment, as neurophysiology has shown. Trudeau returned to the scene to apologize to Ruth Ellen, but she had left. Mulcair revealed that he has not recovered from his defeat at the polls, by his purple-faced howling. It was an ugly scene.
    In case you think I have rabies, as in a “rabid partisan”, no. I do agree that the PM’s impulsive act of impatience was very unfortunate, and that both the Whip and the Speaker should do a better job. There is a real likelihood that this has harmed the “brand” a lot. Alas.

  2. Steve T says:

    The situation exposed the NDP for what they are: a bunch of passive-aggressive whiners. They deliberately block someone from moving (isn’t that some form of physical intimidation?), and then set up the greatest soccer-fall-esque acting scene in Parliamentary history, when the PM had enough of their antics.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if they had planned to bait a reaction. It reminds me of the alleged “non-violent” protests when a group blocks passage to somewhere people want to get, and then cry fowl when those people (or the police) physically move them aside. To me, non-violent protest means holding a sign and chanting a slogan. It doesn’t mean physically intimidating people.

    • G. McRae says:

      Trudeau must be a lightweight to fall into such trap. The whole thing could have been avoided if Trudeau just continued to play act the role of a PM instead of showing his true bully colours.

    • Maps Onburt says:

      They blocked proceedings for all of 30 seconds before PM Trudeau lept out of his chair and charged through shouting get the F out of my way. If that’s all one has to do to infuriate the PM, I fear for my country.

  3. Kev says:

    Even the Ottawa bubble isn’t as inside the bubble as this.

    Soundboard your apolitical friends in Moncton and Moose Jaw about this “scandal”. You will hear an earful about the NDP. And nothing about the PM.

    • Warren says:

      Victim blamer.

      • Peter says:

        Not really. It’s very natural to react negatively when “victims” overstate their victimhood and start playing their violins in the streets. Many NDPers seem incapable of reacting to incidents like this without going off on grandiose ideological tangents about gender biases, power imbalances, etc. I’m surprised none of them have blamed capitalism or neoliberalism yet. I guess it’s just no fun settling for a boorish display of arrogance in which someone was inadvertently elbowed.

  4. kev says:

    I was the “victim” of more aggressive – and deliberate – assaults taking transit to work than REB was.

    But it’s not REB who is the target of the anger. It’s the NDP members who tried to make this into something any way comparable to real abuse, real crime, and real violence against women.

    That was, and is, offensive and clueless beyond belief.

    Go ask your friends outside the bubble.

    • davie says:

      I agree that the Liberals , the media, and Liberal supporters have done a great job of blaming all this on the NDP, especially by belittling the female NDP MP.

      • kev says:

        No one is blaming REB for being *accidentally elbowed* by the PM.

        Lots are blaming her for embellishment and her caucus mates for the disgusting attempt to conflate this with real crime and violence.

        And it’s not Liberals who are doing so. It’s nonpartisan people *and former NDP sympathisers.*

        Again, people need to get out of the bubble and realize how non-bubble Canadians are reacting.

      • bluegreenblogger says:

        kind of a dense comment. You just have to watch the video to know who is full of what.

  5. Joe says:

    I must admit I am mystified as to why people are trying to blame the NDP for Trudeau’s reaction. I’m not here to defend the NDP but to be honest it was Trudeau’s reaction that was inappropriate not the NDP playing silly bugger by not letting the conservative whip get to his chair. Trudeau’s reaction and his rabid supporters who try to blame the NDP remind me of those who defend rapists by saying “the woman dressed provocatively”.

  6. Yukon Cornelius says:

    I think people are missing the fundamental point. This really isn’t about the elbow, it’s about everything leading up to and surrounding the incident. The Prime Minister should never have left his seat, and he certainly shouldn’t have physically taken hold of the Conservative house leader to ‘guide’ him to his seat. The Conservative is a grown man, quite capable of controlling his own affairs. The fact that the Prime Minister took these actions is deeply troubling to me – with respect, who the hell does he think he is?

    • Vancouverois says:

      +1. It was very inappropriate of him to act this way.

      It may not hurt him much now, but give it a while to sink in.

  7. BillBC says:

    “he undid his good reputation with all but the most rabid Liberal partisan.”

    –there’s something in what you say, and several of these rabid folk have commented above. I suppose it’s true to say that this was an “inside the bubble” event, but that doesn’t make your comments any less true. It was a shocking incident…at least, it shocked me, because it was so unnecessary, and because it showed a side of Trudeau that so far he’s kept hidden.

    –the bigger picture though is that outside the bubble people won’t much care, and the kind of non-political person who adores Trudeau because he’s so photogenic and cool won’t care much. I don’t think his good reputation is “undone” for his groupies, who are numerous….

  8. Art says:

    Seems to me the people defending the PM on this are on firm ground. At most Trudeau’s action was a minor faux pas. His immediate And sincere apology for bumping the Lady member should more than atone for it and should be admired. I find it amazing that the whole thing is even being talked about at this point.

  9. Vancouverois says:

    I have to give credit to the Liberal machine, though. Trudeau’s initial apologies came across badly, but the later apologies made up for that – as did dropping Motion 6. I think they sensed the danger of going ahead with it in this context; dropping it was a good decision as far as their image goes.

    • Michael S says:

      This is so inside baseball as to be insane. Nobody outside of a small number of political obsessives knows or cares what Motion 6 is.

      How political people have reacted to this is all too revealing. People really need to get out more and realize that people outside the bubble think that partisans are utter shit.

      • Vancouverois says:

        If the Liberals had continued with it, a lot more people would have come to know what Motion 6 is. That’s the point.

  10. Luke says:

    OK, I’ll bite at the risk of undoubtedly being one of those ‘rabid partisans’ (despite not having any party membership).

    Re: 1. Are you seriously stating that what happened in the House would have led to charges in most workplaces? Really? One hopes there is a legally recognizable difference between the sort of toxic behaviour in workplaces like Ghomeshi’s office at the CBC and the minor outburst, accidental bump, and ensuing yelling that occurred in the Commons.

    Re: 3. Nonsense. I don’t really see how you could spin the lessons from the Ghomeshi trial into one about feminist credentials that applies to the matter at hand, nor why you would. Accidentally bumping someone (and apologizing for it) does not disqualify a person from being a feminist, nor does it warrant any comparison to the allegations in the Ghomeshi case. Feminism is about recognition of the equality of and mutual respect between men and women. An accident does not contradict these ideals.

    Giving in to one’s frustrations and taking action is understandable and potentially forgivable, depending on past and future actions. I’d say the verdict is out. There is evidence that Trudeau’s government is more dictatorial and controlling than we would like, in keeping with Lawrence Martin’s observation that this tendency began with Trudeau senior and has been essentially increasing with each successive Prime Minister. That is not good, and is concerning. And so maybe this incident will become part of that narrative.

    The other possibility is that, as I previously asserted, this is a non-scandal that made a large swath of media rather indignant, and yet no one who doesn’t write for news outlets really cares. I think as many people will surmise that Trudeau was taking action in the face of obstinance as will be seriously concerned about the inappropriateness of the outburst. He has had inappropriate outbursts in the past — remember those ones that were supposed to derail his standing as a serious contender for Prime Minister? — and apparently so far people got over it.

    • billg says:

      When you have to say “non scandal” its pretty much a scandal.
      The Cons got bogged down on a “non scandal” called Duffygate, the Cons insisted it was money paid back to taxpayers, which it was, but, it was a scandal and it hurt them.
      If you think the Prime Minister of Canada getting out of his chair, then, briskly walking down the isle of Parliament to grab an opposing MP by the arm and forcing him to follow him to his seat is not a scandal then the word flabbergasted comes to mind.
      The Liberals have a majority with less then 40% of the popular vote, as did the Cons before them, it really doesn’t take much to lose the 5% of NDP support they received in the last election, just a few more “non-scandals”.
      Here’s a thought…..quit running towards the camera’s and the spot light and grow the hell up, there’s a pile of us counting on you.

      • Luke says:

        Couldn’t agree more with the sentiment about all the photo ops. I hate photo ops and selfies. I would be happier if Trudeau stopped preoccupying himself so much with image-craft. It is his worst quality and not a good use of time. Outreach is one thing, but I’m pretty sure the photo shoots at the gym do not qualify.

        But about the scandal business, I don’t really agree. I tend to agree with Warren’s (usual) view on such matters, which is that most putative scandals don’t seem to be particularly outrageous to people these days. We don’t expect much, apparently, and so what appears scandalous to the pundits barely registers with lots of others. Moreover, this one I really don’t see as very scandalous. Inappropriate and impulsive, sure, but I do expect a bit of that from Trudeau from time to time, as he sometimes acts on his passions without due consideration. We have all known this for some time. It doesn’t make it any better, but it is a fault I knowingly accept, and so I do not really care about this whole incident.

        Viewing the incident, I don’t particularly agree with your characterization of it. He did walk briskly, clearly upset, but “forcing” the member to his seat seems a bit of a stretch. I did not see anything particularly forceful, certainly not violent, happening in that video. That would be an actual scandal, indeed.

        And no, the need to call something a non-scandal does not make it one. Were we to follow such reasoning, everything would be a scandal as long as someone said it was.

  11. davie says:

    This sends a strong message to Trump as to the decisiveness of the Canadian Prime Minister that he has to deal with.

    • davie says:

      MP’s can learn, some can learn faster than the current prime minister can. If this Nanos measurement of the goose’s success is accurate, then 337 gander now know a way to boost their ratings.

  12. Ronald O'Dowd says:

    Warren,

    I’m ready to drop it. That is based on my presumption that: a) Ms. Brosseau is OK with the apologies and b) the Prime Minister gets it — i.e. lesson well learned.

  13. smelter rat says:

    Turns out it was much ado about nothing. Trudeau apologized and the video clearly shows that the elbow was an accident. Should he have stayed in his seat? Sure, but the NDP and CPC were up the shenanigans, and I haven’t heard any apologies from them at all.

    • Cory says:

      Why should the NDP apologize for doing the same thing that the Liberals themselves were doing the Monday before this incident (delaying a vote by not taking their seats).

  14. patrick says:

    I deal with people all the time. They have conversations going on around me all the time (that for some reason are not centred around my personal wisdom, strange but true) and I’ve only over heard the elbow incident once, and the anti Trudeau, a woman, was rebutted by the pro Trudeau, another woman. They both laughed, along with the rest of the table and then went on to important things like the coming Raptor game. That’s been it.
    I’d say this does nothing to tilt either side. Just like Ford’s far worse blind side of O”Connell did like to shift the pro and con Ford camps. At least Trudeau’s apology was coherent and he’ll learn from his mistake.
    4 years from now, if the opposition is trying to ride this into power, they may as well give Trudeau the keys and come back in twenty years when the public is tired of him and he’s starting to wrinkle.

  15. bluegreenblogger says:

    I dunno. I am busy getting on with my life. Some kind of hijinks in the house? I watched a short video, and just did not get it. Nothing happened. Almost literally. Since I do not watch TV anymore, nobody interpreted it for me. It was just a nothing that almost happened in the House of Commons.

  16. Ronald O'Dowd says:

    Warren,

    NOT RELATED: Is Hillary Rodham Clinton totally clueless about political strategy? She is refusing to debate Bernie Sanders in California? She can’t pivot 100% against Trump without first getting Bernie and his team onboard. Without most of them, she loses. Incredibly stupid war room. They prefer to continually and deliberately alienate and antagonize Sanders’ people.

    • Art says:

      And you feel getting into a likely shouting match with the “getting to be a cantankerous old fool” would be of benefit? I have ultimate faith in Hillary’s war room.

      • Ronald O'Dowd says:

        Art,

        CNN reported that Secretary Clinton had previously agreed to the California debate — prior to backing out…

        In my mind, she is like Truman. Clinton is capable of taking the heat in a California kitchen.

        • Art says:

          Hi Ronald
          Yes she did agree some months ago. Two things though. Bernie has become unhinged and doesn’t deserve a debate and more importantly, it’s a Fox News debate. It’s been the right wings fervent desire to run against Bernie the commie and Fox can not be trusted to be impartial.

          • Ronald O'Dowd says:

            Art,

            Won’t that become a problem when or if she is offered a debate against Trump at Fox?

    • Scotian says:

      I would suspect it has to do with limiting Sanders media appearance in the California media market since Sanders no longer has enough money to actually run the ad campaigns he has been doing in the other primary States. Sure he outfundraised her, but he also had a much higher burn rate, and came into May with somewhere between 5-6 million dollars cash on hand, while she was around 30 million, and 5-6 million dollars is about enough for one weeks worth of media buys in the very expensive California media market, and he has to have money to pay staffers and other expences so he can’t use all that for just ad buys, so he needs other ways of getting media coverage. Combined with the numerical impossibility of Sanders catching her in the pledged delegate count and when combined with her solid superdelegate support she is roughly 82 delegates out from the outright majority needed to win, this would not make sense for her. There is also the fact that Sanders and his campaign have been getting increasingly ugly and nasty, what happened in Nevada and his one the one hand on the other hand “denouncement” of that behaviour has not gone over well, nor has his increasing blatant delegitimizing of the process itself unless he wins. So it really isn’t in her interest to do this debate, and lets not forget, the place Sanders was going to have it on was that source of such respect for Dems generally and the Clintons especially, FOXNEWS.

      No, she is making the right call, in part because of the overall dynamics of the race, and in part because of the behaviour of Sanders and his team at this point. Ever since their loss in New York they have been getting increasingly harsh and ugly, and it is clearly costing them supporters, and especially the incident in Nevada and the way he failed to strongly denounce it without conditions is hurting him even with those who once supported him. We are seeing the Sanders campaign “Berning” out now, and he is not taking it well, nor is his senior staff, especially his campaign manager, Jeff Weaver.

  17. Maps Onburt says:

    907 words and I agree with every single one of them. A very insightful column – and demonstrates once more why I keep coming back here. Well done – if only the partisan shrills on all sides could be as thoughtful and honest.

  18. Ridiculosity says:

    See Abacus poll post below. It won’t change Canadians’ voting preference whatsoever.

  19. Kelly says:

    None of Trudeau’s actions will cause Liberal supporters to change their vote to the Conservatives. I am an example of a disloyal NDP, Liberal, Green voter…l’ll vote for any of those parties that has the best chance of defeating a conservative, of any stripe, and that is the case with most young people I think. What I want is a fair electoral system instead of the phony one we have now so I can vote for the policies I really want instead of against the Conservative polices that are simply all bad or at the very least not good enough or as good as those of the other parties.

    The elbow to Ms. Brosseau was clearly an accident. Getting out of his seat to hustle a fellow parliamentarian was rude and immature. However, I have to admit, shamefully, the fact he manhandled a conservative made me feel just a twinge of a “eff’n-A I’ve wanted someone to do that to the Conservatives for a long, long, time.” His Nanos poll numbers afterward seem to suggest I’m not alone. Not sure that is a good thing.

  20. Ronald O'Dowd says:

    Kelly,

    If this Prime Minister puts country ahead of raw political advantage, his government won’t get stuck in the mud — on the test of true, impartial electoral reform.

  21. Andrew says:

    Even John Oliver got in elbowgate – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0XV4paMAgw

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