, 11.30.2022 04:24 PM

My latest: be smaller, win bigger

If you believe that big political graves are dug with tiny shovels – and you should, because they are – then you should also believe the reverse is true.

That is, big political successes are usually constructed with the little things.  Not grand, sweeping gestures: voters have become justifiably suspicious of over-the-top political rhetoric.  They like it when leaders underpromise, and overdeliver.

Which explains quite a bit of Justin Trudeau’s political problems, circa 2022.  He overpromised and underdelivered, a lot.  The political landscape is littered with the corpses of his unfulfilled promises: electoral reform, balanced budgets, ethical government, clean water on reserves, better relations with the provinces.  Sunny ways.  Remember that stuff?  Not so sunny, after 2015.

The Liberal leader made things appreciably worse for himself – and was thereby reduced to serial minority governments – with his soaring rhetoric.  Like Brian Mulroney, with whom he was closer than with any previous Liberal Prime Minister, Trudeau always preferred grandiloquence and hyperbole – more sizzle than steak.

It got him into lots of trouble.  And, as is always the case in politics, it was no single thing that dragged down his reputation.  It was a bunch of things.

A lot of folks were surprised late last week, therefore, when Justin Trudeau grabbed a tiny shovel and started digging himself out. Because he looked, and sounded, more Prime Ministerial than he had in a long time – perhaps ever.

Appearing as the last witness at the inquiry into the use of the Emergencies Act during the Ottawa occupation, Trudeau was calm, clear and coherent.  There was none of the oratorical overkill of the past.  In hours of questioning by a battery of lawyers, Trudeau did not once lose his cool.

If you have ever been subjected to hours of cross-examination in court – I have, and I do not recommend it – Trudeau’s achievement was all the more extraordinary.  As an experienced litigator reminded me this week: “No witness ever wins in cross.  The best you can hope for is a draw.”

But Trudeau won with his appearance at the inquiry.  And, more than any of his ministers, he laid out a compelling and convincing argument for how he acted during the occupation, and why.

His appearance wasn’t without missteps, of course.  This writer originally supported the freezing of some bank accounts, but does no longer – because it was an extraordinary step that the evidence, now all in, simply does not support.  It was unjustified.  And Trudeau did, in fact, called occupiers names.  Even though he said he didn’t.

But, otherwise, it was a big win for him – because he said less, not more.

But Trudeau was not the only political winner, in recent days. He is not the only leader who won big by doing little.  Because Pierre Poilievre won, too.

The job of the Official Opposition is to oppose, not propose.  As an Opposition leader, you get up in the morning, dress, have breakfast, and then spend the rest of the day calling the Prime Minister names and demanding judicial inquiries.  Lots of sound and fury, directed entirely at then governing party. It’s a simple formula.

But last week, Poilievre didn’t do that.  You can be forgiven, too, for not noticing that, on the day Justin Trudeau was giving his evidence and thereafter, Pierre Poilievre was very, very quiet.  Quiet as a church-mouse.

Did he know that Trudeau was going to do well? Unlikely.  None of us did.  More likely is this: Poilievre used the occupiers to win the Conservative Party leadership.  But – because he is not stupid – he is now starting to quietly brush them off his sleeves, like so much Ottawa snow.  Poilievre knows they are uncontrollable, and ultimately more trouble than they’re worth.

So, Pierre Poilievre was silent, and won.  And Justin Trudeau said less, and won.

It’s an interesting little case study, one that Messrs. Trudeau and Poilievre should ponder: it’s the little things that’ll kill you, yes.

But it’s the little things that help you win, too.


  1. Warren,

    I agree with all of the above but let’s face it, the next election will be decided on one of two metrics: Trudeau, we’re sick of your face and have decided to replace you as PM with Poilièvre, OR we don’t like Poilièvre and will begrudgingly keep Trudeau in office. Both of these can’t possibly be right.

    • Douglas W says:

      Ronald, spot on … again.

      Poilièvre needs to start championing his team, 5-6 MPs that’ll occupy key cabinet positions with the message being: we’re ready to govern.

      • Douglas,


        I like your approach. It should prove heavy hitting and will bring the most political dividends if said MPs are especially used regionally and in home provinces/territories. But Pierre will either make or break our win. Depends on his issues, his sunny ways. (Thank God reality FINALLY set in on so-called truckers but it took threats against his loved ones to get him there.)

        • Put far more succinctly, if we bitch, complain, moan and groan about inflation, home ownership and high taxes, we’ll get far less traction in the election than if we already have in the bag an effective and comprehensive plan for each of the above. And those plans need to be both ready and costed on Day One of the campaign.

    • Jason says:

      “Both of these things can’t possibly be right.”

      Yet, if there was any justice or common sense left in this country, both things WOULD be right. Neither of these self-righteous tools deserves to lead.

      • Jason,

        You can be self-righteous and still turn out to be a good if not misguided leader. Harper is a classic case in point. Had Harper been more centre-right in 2015, he would have had better odds of returning to office but maybe Trudeau would have won anyway.

  2. Sean says:

    This entire piece is bang on.

    From my own experience… be it work / business / politics / family, whatever… In any serious meeting I always scan the room for that one person who is attentively listening to every word that is said… and says absolutely nothing themself. Thats the person you want to talk to privately during the coffee break…. because they are almost always the smartest person there.

  3. EsterHazyWasALoser says:

    Maybe the next election isn’t actually that far off….

  4. PJH says:

    Pierre Poilievre to various and sundry Ottawa trucker rabble today: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_8mduTEvnU0

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.