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If it wasn’t “inappropriate,” why apologize?

Because it was inappropriate.

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave his most detailed response yet Thursday to an 18-year-old allegation he groped a female reporter, confirming he had apologized to the woman at the time but saying he didn’t feel he had acted “in any way untoward.”

Facing reporters at Queen’s Park after his first meeting with new Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Trudeau offered a more elaborate reflection on the allegation for the first time since it resurfaced in the past months.

“I’ve been reflecting very carefully on what I remember from that incident almost 20 years ago,” he said. “I do not feel that I acted inappropriately in any way. But I respect the fact that someone else might have experienced that differently.”

Justin Trudeau at the second annual Kokanee Summit in Creston, B.C., on Aug. 6, 2000. Handout

The groping allegation was the subject of a short editorial in an August, 2000 edition of the Creston Valley Advance, a small-town newspaper in Creston, B.C.

That August Trudeau attended the Kokanee Summit festival, an event held by a local brewery, to accept a donation of $18,500 towards his family’s campaign to build a new public backcountry cabin in the nearby provincial park in memory of his brother Michel, who died there in 1998 after an avalanche swept him into a lake while skiing. An editorial the Advance published after the festival accused Trudeau, then still years away from a career in politics, of the “inappropriate handling” and “groping” of a young female reporter for the paper who had covered the festival. It also described his apology to her the following day.


If Justin Trudeau was a client

Both of us find that laughable, believe me. So there’s at least one thing we agree on.

Something on which we likely wouldn’t agree is this: the problem caused by the reappearance of the Creston Valley Advance – from so far away, from so long ago – simply isn’t going away.  If just yesterday’s Washington Post, CNN and others are any indication, the groping story is worming its way into the popular consciousness, and getting bigger.

Trudeau and his senior team obviously believe otherwise.  That’s why they have continued to rely on a lawyer’s slippery sophistry – that Trudeau doesn’t recall any “negative interactions” – in the face of ridicule and disbelief, even from Liberals.  But it simply isn’t working.  It isn’t.

For staff, stories like this are very difficult.  Talking to your boss about policy and politics is easy.  Talking to him about how he conducts himself in private – talking about sexual conduct – is very, very awkward.  I feel sorry for the staffers who have been assigned to deal with this mess.

So, to those who are trying to put out this dumpster fire, here’s some advice, gratis.

  1. It’s never the break-in, it’s the cover-up.  The victim wrote that editorial, and it went unrebutted for almost two decades.  It is fact, now.  Efforts to deny it or dilute it won’t work. Claiming she doesn’t want to talk about it – and insisting that we should all therefore drop the subject – won’t work either.  The issue is the conduct of the Prime Minister of Canada.  
  2. Lawyers stink at comms. Everything he says needs to be run past the lawyers, yes, because we are (a) ostensibly talking about what is considered criminal offence and (b) there is no statute of limitations on same.  But the lawyers should not be deciding what is effective communications strategy – because they mostly all suck at it. (Don’t believe me?  Consider how effective the “don’t recall negative interactions” line has been in putting out the dumpster fire.)
  3. Falling on one’s sword, in politics, works – as long as you are not doing it every day.  There is a lot of affection for Trudeau in this country, still.  He needs to take control of this, personally. He needs to say only one thing.
  4. This is what he needs to say, straight to camera – no staff, no lawyerly talking points.  “Eighteen years ago, my Dad was dying.  Eighteen years ago, I went to an event to receive a donation because my brother had been killed.  I went to that event, and I was not in a good frame of mind.  I drank too much.  I don’t recall doing what this woman said I did, at all – but if she says I did it, I did it.  I apologized to her then, and I apologize to her now.  I am ashamed of my conduct.  I am embarrassed. I am disgusted by what she says I did.  I have reached out to her, and spoken to her directly, to apologize and tell her that I intend to take proactive, positive steps to address my conduct and ensure this never happens again.  That includes not drinking alcohol.”
  5. He then needs to disappear for the rest of the Summer, and get some counselling.  That isn’t comms advice, but it’s what a man who aspires to be a feminist should do.

Will he?  Beats me.

But he should.

 


Column: he did it

 

Anonymous.

The message landed, as these sorts of things do so often, via Twitter on June 6, 2018.

“Hi Warren,” it read.  “Do you know about this B.C. community paper editorial about Trudeau being handsy with a reporter before he was in politics?”

I said I didn’t.

“Yes,” the anonymous correspondent wrote. “He had to write an apology to her.”

The anonymous correspondent wanted an email address to send a snapshot of the British Columbia community paper’s editorial.  I gave it.  A few minutes later, the August 2000 editorial, from the Creston Valley Advance, arrived.  It described an encounter between the anonymous author of the editorial and Justin Trudeau at a beer festival.

The paper stated, as fact, that Trudeau had “handled” the female reporter and then, after learning that she also wrote for the National Post, apologized for touching her.

“I’m sorry,” the newspaper quoted Trudeau as saying the day after the incident. “If I had known you were reporting for a national paper, I never would have been so forward.”

The editorial went on from there, criticizing the future Prime Minister for “groping a young woman” he didn’t know.

Groping.

I checked the British Columbia archives.  The editorial wasn’t fake news.  It was real.  I checked up on the reporter: she had indeed worked at the Creston Valley Advance.  She was now married, living in a different Western city, and no longer working in the news media.  She didn’t want to talk, I was told.

Two questions.  Why was the clipping sent to me?  And why was it sent on June 6?

The answers were pretty obvious.  June 6 was the same day that the conclusion of a report about former Liberal cabinet minister Kent Hehr was released, stating that he had acted “inappropriately” with young women ten years earlier, while he had been serving in the Alberta legislature.  Hehr would be kept out of cabinet as a result.

I had written extensively about the Hehr case, and had provided advice and support to one of the women who complained about his conduct.  The anonymous correspondent had presumably selected me, on that day, because – if Kent Hehr should be kept out of cabinet for unwanted sexual contact more than a decade earlier – well, then so should Justin Trudeau.

I asked the anonymous correspondent if I was right about that.  “Agreed,” they said.

I wrote about the Hehr and Trudeau cases the next day, and suggested that they were indeed connected.  Trudeau could hardly punish Hehr for years-old sexual misconduct when he himself was apparently guilty of precisely the same thing.  I also stated that, if Trudeau’s victim – who the National Post later said was the author of the editorial – didn’t want to take the matter any further, then that was that.

In the #MeToo era, I wrote, the victims decide.  Not the media, not political people.  The women.

Conservative partisans weren’t so interested in what she wanted.  They hate the Liberal leader, and they wanted Trudeau to suffer the same fate as Kent Hehr, or worse.  I gently reminded them that I also possessed similar, more-recent information about one of their own Conservative leaders, and they’d eventually go silent.

Media folks got in touch, too.  They demanded the name of the woman Trudeau had groped.  They wanted me to do their job for them.  I told them I wouldn’t.  They’d get snarky.

(Oh, and parenthetically: the story had previously appeared in Frank magazine, apparently, but I didn’t know that at the time.  I stopped reading Frank when they ran – and defended – a “contest” to rape Caroline Mulroney.  Not exactly the best forum for the Creston Valley Advance editorial, I’d say.)

The story pinged around Twitter and Facebook for a few days.  Eventually, reluctantly, some mainstream media outlets started to write about it: the Hamilton Spectator, the Sun, the National Post, the Ottawa Citizen, even the New York Times.  The Times implied that I had been in cahoots with Breitbart.

I wrote a letter to them, telling them I had worked for Hillary Clinton and that I had been active in supporting victims with #MeToo stories.  I don’t know if they printed the letter or not.

Anyway.  None of that matters so much, now.  Only two things matter, at this point.  One, how has Justin Trudeau responded to the woman’s allegation in the Creston Valley Advance?  That’s a very important question.

The Office of the Prime Minister of Canada, when asked about the “groping” allegation – and groping, in case you are wondering, is addressed in the Criminal Code as sexual touching without consent – had this to say:

“As the prime minister has said before, he has always been very careful to treat everyone with respect. His first experiences with activism were on the issue of sexual assault at McGill, and he knows the importance of being thoughtful and respectful. He remembers being in Creston for the Avalanche Foundation, but doesn’t think he had any negative interactions there.”

Wow.  See that? He “doesn’t think he had any negative interactions there.”  Not exactly a categorical denial.

So, that matters, and so does this: the young woman who was assaulted doesn’t want to say anything else about the incident.  She holds a senior position in a federally-regulated sector, and she is undoubtedly afraid about what could happen to her and her family.  Until she says otherwise, then, she should remain what she is.

Which is anonymous.


An open letter to new Ontario PC MPPs, ministers and staffers

Dear folks:

Welcome to the big leagues. You’ve worked hard to get to today, so enjoy every minute. It’s all downhill from here, believe me.

Five tips, gratis.

One, you have been given an incredible opportunity, one that few aspiring political types ever, ever achieve. Treat it like a privilege, not a right. The people put you there, and the people can take you out. You work for them, like Premier Ford said, over and over.  He was right.

Two, don’t lose touch with the aforementioned people, the ones North of Bloor Street. That’s what your predecessor did – she only listened to people who agreed with her, and she only hired those who told her what she wanted to hear. Remember what Mr. Ford said: your mandate is about the people, not government.

Three, zip your lip, and always be humble. Or, as Chrétien used to say to us: when you are losing, say little. And when you are ahead – like you guys presently are – say even less. That means: no bragging. No hubris. No arrogance. When I was a Chief of Staff, I kept out of bars, I didn’t hang out with journalists anymore, and I reminded myself daily that I was always one headline away from the end.  You should do likewise.

Four, let me tell you what was on Premier Ford’s business card: his name and his contact information. And here’s what wasn’t on his business card: his party affiliation. One of the reasons I became friends with Doug Ford is that he seeks friends everywhere – Liberals, New Democrats, people of colour, people of all faiths. He reaches out. You should, too.

Fifth and final piece of advice: it’s going to get bumpy. You have a clear mandate to do some things, including cuts. So do them. Kathleen Wynne oversaw a reckless, irresponsible government, one that was completely out of touch with the people. Always heed, then, the people.  They expect you to do what you said you were going to do.  So do it.

The people put you there, as noted. And, if you’re not careful, they’ll put you right out again.

Now, enjoy today. The work begins tomorrow, and you are incredibly privileged to have been chosen to do it.

Warren


#MeToo and #Trudeau

A snippet from next week’s Hill Times:

Only two things matter, at this point. One, how has Justin Trudeau responded to the woman’s allegation in the Creston Valley Advance?  That’s a very important question.

The Office of the Prime Minister of Canada, when asked about the groping allegation – and groping, in case you are wondering, is addressed in the Criminal Code as “sexual touching” without consent – had this to say:

“As the prime minister has said before, he has always been very careful to treat everyone with respect. His first experiences with activism were on the issue of sexual assault at McGill, and he knows the importance of being thoughtful and respectful. He remembers being in Creston for the Avalanche Foundation, but doesn’t think he had any negative interactions there.”

See that?

He “doesn’t think he had any negative interactions there.” 

Not exactly a categorical denial.


Top ten things Trudeau could have done with Trump™

The Neville Chamberlains and ostriches are filling my inbox.

“Get tough with Trump, eh, Warren?” they bleat.  “That wouldn’t have worked, ever ever!  What would you have done instead?”

It’s a good question.  It’s  fair question.

So, here’s the Top Ten Things Trudeau Should Have Done Instead™:

1. Trudeau should have sought a quicker deal than this (failed) drawn-out process.
2. Trudeau should have given Trump an early win that he could have, er, trumpeted to his supporters.
3. Trudeau should have worked Congress hard with more than just one ambassador – he should have had his whole damn cabinet down there, and himself, signing up congressional support.
4. Trudeau should have more aggressively, and specifically, signed up pro-free-trade Republicans – because the G.O.P. historically has more free traders than the Dems – and because those selfsame Republican free traders are now disproportionately facing mid-term defeat/early retirement.
5. Trudeau should have run a targeted ad campaign in Trump swing states – about Canada supporting America in war, Iran hostages, CanadaArm, supporting them in hard times, etc.
6. Trudeau should have appeared on the media Trump and his core watch – Fox News, etc. – and not the elite media favoured by the McGill Debate Club.
7. Trudeau should have understood that the tax cut was always going to put Trump in a huge deficit/debt situation, one that he would need to offset with tariffs and, ipso facto, get a frigging deal done before the tax cut passed.
8. Trudeau should have shown Trump that he’s not just a wimpy trust fund peacenik – by helping to bomb Syria, or boosting our NATO contribution in the way Trump has been demanding for three years, or whatever – because strongmen only respect strength.
9.  Trudeau should have been more like his father was with guys like Nixon and Reagan, who were elected by the same kind of demographic who elected Trump.  Meaning:
10. TRUDEAU SHOULD NOT HAVE KISSED TRUMP’S ASS AND CONSIDERED THAT THE ONLY VIABLE STRATEGY.


Donald Trump is an asshole

Listen to this Canadian punk rock band, if you don’t believe me:


Anyway.

Here’s Adolf Twitler yesterday, speaking to a rally of mouth-breathing knuckle-draggers:

When Trump eventually got around to Canada, he began by saying “Canada” in a loud, exaggerated voice.

“Canada. You know, Canada: nice guy, nice guy,” he said, extending his arms in a kind of conciliatory gesture. “Prime minister. Justin. I said, ‘Justin, what’s your problem, Justin?’ So: Canada. O Canada. I love their national anthem. O Canada. I like ours better, however. So. No, Canada’s great, I love Canada.”

Elsewhere in the speech, Trump referred deferentially to North Korea’s dictator as “Chairman Kim.” Trump aides say the president intentionally refers to Trudeau by his first name “to be diminishing,” Maggie Haberman, a prominent New York Times reporter, wrote on Twitter.

Trump then launched into his familiar complaint about the post-G7 news conference in which Trudeau repeated his measured criticism of Trump’s new tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum. Trump baselessly suggested again that Trudeau gave the news conference because he thought Trump could not watch it while stuck on a long Air Force One flight to Asia.

“I get onto Air Force One. And he doesn’t understand that Air Force One has 22 televisions. So I come on — they have televisions in closets, they have televisions in areas that no place has — unlimited budget, Air Force One, right,” he said.

“So I get onto the plane and I see Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, saying, ‘Canada will not be bullied by the United States.’ I said, ‘What are we doing here? The fact is that Canada has a 275 per cent tariff on dairy products.’ Little thing called dairy product. Their lumber is a disaster with us. I say, ‘Why aren’t we using our own lumber?’”

The U.S. imported $5.7 billion (U.S.) in Canadian softwood lumber in 2016, according to Trump’s Commerce Department. The two countries are still embroiled in a years-old lumber dispute.

“Energy is a disaster,” Trump continued without elaboration. The White House has never explained the president’s occasional vague complaints about the energy relationship.

Trump then adopted a mocking voice to dismiss Trudeau’s argument that Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs, officially imposed on “national security” grounds, are an insult to a close military ally like Canada.

“I see Justin said, ‘We fought World War I together, we fought World War II together.’ That’s true. We love Canada. But Canada’s charging almost 300 per cent tariff on dairy products and many other things,” he said.

Canada’s supply management system for dairy involves a quota on foreign imports and then high tariffs above the quota levels. The Canadian dairy industry argues that U.S. dairy farmers also get signifaicnt help from governments in the form of subsidies.

Trump continued: “I said, look, if you want to do that, we’re going to put a little tariff on your cars.”

When will Justin Trudeau stop taking this shit, and fight back?

Your guess is as good as mine.


Column: anger is an energy

Anger is an energy.

That’s a line from Public Image’s improbable 1986 hit single, ‘Rise.’ The former Sex Pistol Johnny Rotten wails it, over and over, and it eventually makes a point worth pondering: that, sometimes, it’s advisable to get a bit angry.  It’s not always a good idea to turn the other cheek, and keep quiet.

Righteous anger is – well, righteous.

Historians will one day go in search of Justin Trudeau’s righteous anger, and they’ll probably start with June 10, 2018.  It was on that day that Donald Trump called the Canadian Prime Minister “very dishonest” and “weak.”

Trudeau wasn’t dishonest, of course, and he wasn’t weak.  He was merely doing the job he was hired to do.  But Trump’s puerile insults revealed one truth.

And that truth was this: with the TPP torn up, the Paris Accord a memory, and NAFTA heading swiftly to the morgue, Justin Trudeau’s Trump charm offensive had become an abject failure.  All of it had come to naught:  the dozens of phone calls.  The bilateral meetings.  The cordial diplomacy. The gift exchanges.  The disconcerting bromance between Trudeau’s chief advisor, Gerald Butts, and Trump’s former chief advisor, Steve Bannon.  All of it.

On June 11, 2018, Trudeau’s efforts to nudge Donald Trump towards re-ratifying NAFTA – with flattery, with blarney, with even some servility – came crashing to Earth.  And, at that point, every Canadian – from Doug Ford to Jason Kenney to even Stephen Harper, appearing on FOX – got mad.  And they wanted to see their Prime Minister get a bit mad, too.

But Trudeau mostly kept his cool.  At a press conference held to mark the end of the Parliamentary sitting, Trudeau gave the sort of verbal shrug for which his father became well-known.

“We continue to make sure that our folks are in regular contact, we continue to work on NAFTA negotiations,” Trudeau said. “I think the next time that I’ll see [Trump] will be at the NATO summit in Brussels and I look forward to continuing to have a constructive relationship with him in which I will continue to stand up for Canadian interests.”

“I believe it’s clear the way we have engaged with the president has been the right one.”

Well, actually, no.  It hasn’t been, at all.

If he is anything at all, Donald Trump is a thug.  Being a thug, he admires thuggery.  Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: those are the men whom Trump most admires.  The ones who are decent, and civil, and play by the rules – like Justin Trudeau, like Angela Merkel, like Emmanuel Macron – are door mats, on which Trump routinely wipes his feet.  He holds them in contempt.

When Trump “won” the U.S. Electoral College with three million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton, frantic bureaucrats and diplomats around the world scrambled to type up memoranda about what lay ahead.  The peered into the dark, dank recesses of the space where Trump’s brain is supposed to be, and they came up with a strategy that can be summarized in one word: flattery.

Suck up to Trump, they advised.  Kiss his flabby posterior, they said.  It will work.

It didn’t.

Others, like this writer, always had a different view: strongmen admire strength.  Aggressors respond to aggression.  Having cut his teeth in the take-no-prisoners world of New York City real estate – having literally become a star on a TV show whose principal purpose was humiliating people in prime time – Donald Trump was never going to abruptly change course, and adopt the Marquess of Queensberry rules.  Having achieved the presidency by being an angry, racist, pussy-grabbing creep, Donald Trump was never going to stop being angry, racist, pussy-grabbing creep.

In politics, you see, anger sometimes works.  Take, for example, CBS News anchor Dan Rather’s celebrated January 1988 interview with Vice-President George Bush, Sr. – who at that point was losing his bid to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The interview was supposed to be a presidential candidate profile, but Rather went after Bush, aggressively, about his role in the Iran-Contra Affair.  Even Bush’s critics later agreed it was a nine-minute, on-air ambush.  But the way in which Bush handled Rather helped win him the presidency.  Here’s a representative sample:

RATHER: I don’t want to be argumentative, Mr. Vice President.

BUSH: You do, Dan. I have respect for you, but I don’t have respect for what you’re doing here tonight.

 The Bush-Rather interview-cum-ambush became so pivotal, so much part of U.S. political history, that C-SPAN decided to sell recordings of the confrontation on its web site.  Bush himself came to regard it as the moment when his political fortunes turned around.

In their encounter, Bush is clearly frustrated and even angry.  He stumbles over words, he doesn’t complete sentences.  But it is because of that, not despite that, that the Republican Vice President seemed most truthful. He stammers, he loses his patience, he is anything but smooth – and, therefore, he was authentic.  No longer would he be regarded as an East Coast Ivy League wimp.  The confrontation with Rather catapulted Bush ahead in the polls, and helped to win him the presidency.

Justin Trudeau, as he ponders the darkening horizon at Harrington Lake, should heed the advice of no less than Johnny Rotten.

Anger works.  Anger is energy.

Time to get angry, Prime Minister.