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My latest: who won the debate?

Erin O’Toole won by not losing.

Justin Trudeau won by sounding authentic, for once.

Yves-Francois Blanchet won by being himself.

Jagmeet Singh lost — by looking lost.

That’s this writer’s assessment of the first federal leaders debate, held Thursday night in Montreal. It was entirely in French, and fast-paced. But it made for compelling viewing.

The debate was organized by Quebec’s TVA network, and the moderation — by veteran broadcaster Pierre Bruneau — was simply excellent. Unlike what we are all likely to see in the English-language debate, the TVA show was well-done: Lots of important subjects covered, and very little over-talk.

The leaders, meanwhile, mostly performed well. When he speaks in English, Liberal Leader Trudeau is too often affected and phony. But in the French debate, Trudeau didn’t look or sound like he was acting. On subjects like vaccines and guns, he was passionate.

The Bloc’s Blanchet is an award-winning figure in Quebec’s entertainment and communications industry, and it showed. He has a broadcaster’s voice, and a performer’s style, and he clearly knows how to use the camera to his advantage.

The New Democrats’ Singh desperately needs Quebec voters to embrace the NDP, as they did overwhelmingly a decade ago under Jack Layton. But, based on Singh’s first 2021 debate performance, that’s unlikely to happen. The Dipper boss was low-energy for much of the debate, and really didn’t ever score any points.

O’Toole, however, did — and not just by showing up. The Tory leader’s French was much better than many Quebec commentators expected. And he clearly surprised the other political leaders, too.

The expectations for O’Toole were as low as they can get — just as they were before this unnecessary, unwanted election kicked off. But he didn’t merely play defence in the debate. O’Toole was aggressive, at times, going after Trudeau on the appalling Liberal record on sexual harassment and treatment of women.

Trudeau was left blinking and sputtering throughout much of what the moderator Bruneau noted was the “MeToo” segment of the debate — because O’Toole put Trudeau on the ropes, and kept him there.

All of the opposition leaders hammered Trudeau on the election call itself, too. As in the rest of Canada, Quebec voters are mystified — and angry — that Trudeau called an election during a fourth wave in the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.

As has been the case so far in the 36-day election, Trudeau was simply unable to come up with a compelling narrative for triggering an election two years earlier than he needed to.

But the debate wasn’t all bad for the Liberal leader. Watching him, no one should be surprised to see Trudeau continuing to hammer away at the vaccination issue in the remainder of the campaign: On Thursday night, he was effective on it.

Trudeau clearly feels O’Toole — who has an undisclosed number of unvaccinated Tory candidates, and has been blasé about it — is vulnerable on vaccines. If Trudeau goes neg in the remaining days, it’ll likely be on the hot topic that is vaccines.

For those who are dismissive about the French-language debates, keep this in mind: In 2019, Blanchet became far more popular after turning in strong French-language performances. And the resulting Bloc surge helped to rob Trudeau of his majority government.

Remember this, too: O’Toole needed to show that he could be prime minister for all of Canada, not just Western Canada.

Based on his first debate performance as Conservative leader, he did that and then some.

And that’s why he, more than Messrs. Trudeau or Singh, was the winner.

— Warren Kinsella has provided TV debate coaching to Canadian political party leaders since 1989

My latest: the Harvey Weinstein Party

Sexual assault.

Because that’s what we’re talking about, isn’t it? Whether the Prime Minister of Canada — and several members of his party — sexually assaulted women.

It’s an important question, and not just because there’s an election going on. It’s important all the time, because it happens all the time, at every level of society. Sexual harassment and sexual misconduct, too.

The Criminal Code of Canada says “sexual assault” happens if a person is touched in any way that interferes with their sexual integrity. It includes kissing, touching, intercourse and any other sexual activity without his or her consent. It’s a crime to do those things.

The definition of sexual assault was on my mind the evening of June 6, 2018. Someone — a female Member of Parliament — had sent me a message.

“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.

The anonymous correspondent sent me the August 2000 editorial from the Creston Valley Advance. It described an encounter between the author of the editorial — who I have never named, and I never will — and Justin Trudeau at a beer festival.

The paper stated, as fact, that Trudeau had groped the female reporter. And then how, after learning that she also wrote for a newspaper in the Postmedia chain, apologized for touching her.

“I’m sorry,” the newspaper quoted Trudeau as saying, 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.

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.

What the editorial described, on the face of it, was sexual assault. Groping someone without their consent is sexual assault, full stop.

I decided the best thing to do was to place the editorial on my website, with no commentary, and no identification of the victim. Within hours, the story ricocheted around the world, covered by everyone from CNN to the New York Times.

What was Justin Trudeau’s response to the story? Well, he blamed the victim, basically. Said he didn’t know what she was thinking.

And then he went jogging. Shirtless.

That, to me, was so lacking in self-awareness — so lacking in respect for what that woman had experienced, frankly — it made me want to throw up.

Because, you know, zero tolerance.

That’s what Trudeau has said, many times. That he and his party have “zero tolerance” for sexual harassment and sexual misconduct.

In 2018, he gave interviews to Canadian Press and CBC about the subject. Here’s what he said.

“We have no tolerance for this — we will not brush things under the rug, but we will take action on it immediately,” he declared.

He said the same sort of thing to CBC Radio. There, the self-proclaimed Feminist Prime Minister proclaimed: “I’ve been very, very careful all my life to be thoughtful, to be respectful of people’s space and people’s headspace as well.”

No, he hasn’t. No, he isn’t.

And we have been provided with yet another goddamned example of that, just this week, mid-election. When we learned that a member of his Liberal caucus has been the subject of multiple complaints of sexual misconduct and worse. One of the complainants actually attempted suicide.

Trudeau’s response? He says he believes the MP. And we simply don’t know if he or his PMO consulted with the RCMP. We need to know that. We deserve to know that.

So, it’s relevant that, early Wednesday, Trudeau’s former attorney general — Canada’s lawyer, in effect — wrote this online about the latest allegations: “Anyone who has a responsibility to address (the Liberal sexual misconduct allegations) and does not is not fit to lead. Anyone who stands by and does nothing is complicit. Anyone who is surprised has not been paying attention.”

Well said, Jody Wilson-Raybould.

Is it sexual assault? Is it sexual harassment? Those are, and will remain, important questions.

But here’s another one: After all that we now know, why the hell would anyone vote for this creep?

— Warren Kinsella is the founder of the Daisy Group, a firm that has worked with multiple women who have experienced sexual harassment in Trudeau’s Liberal Party

My latest: Team Trudeau’s shitty week two

For Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, week one of the campaign went really, really badly.

Week two, therefore, needed to go better.

It didn’t.

Here’s a roundup of the past week and a bit. When you eyeball it, you’ll understand why every published poll shows the Conservatives edging ahead.

— Aug. 25: The Liberal Party spent more than all other parties combined on Facebook ads in the first week of the campaign — but you wouldn’t be able to tell from the polling. Because the polling ain’t good. They’re losing.

— Aug. 26: Trudeau’s candidate for Trois-Rivieres wrote a column in July 2020 which criticized Trudeau’s “elastic ethics” in the wake of the WE Charity scandal. In other news, Grit candidate vetting is going swimmingly.

— Aug. 26: Our acting Chief of the Defence Staff says that Canada’s mission in Afghanistan has come to an end — even though Trudeau had said our Armed Forces would remain there until Aug. 31. Shame.

— Aug. 27: After outcry — and after a column by yours truly! — the Public Health Agency of Canada reversed its plans to postpone briefings on the fourth wave during the election campaign. The Sun gets results!

— Aug. 27: The Liberal Party’s candidate for Kildonan-St. Paul previously worked at a think tank which dismissed the stories of residential school survivors as a “myth.” Why is that person still a candidate?

— Aug. 27: Trudeau hosts a rally in Mississauga — which has media and Liberals packed in like cordwood. The attendance is well beyond Ontario’s limits on public gatherings. Trudeau shrugs when asked about it.

— Aug. 27, at the same rally in Mississauga: After attacking the Tories repeatedly for having unvaccinated candidates, Trudeau admits that not all Liberal campaigning candidates are vaccinated, either. Do as I say, not as I do, etc.

— Aug. 28: The Liberal Party’s Marco Mendicino — who should know better — declines to answer questions about visa regulations for Afghans seeking a way out of Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

— Aug. 29: After six years in power, Justin Trudeau blames Stephen Harper for Canada’s increasing carbon emissions. In other news, Trudeau also blames Harper for long lineups and Canadian commercials during the Super Bowl.

— Aug. 30: The Conservatives point out that the Trudeau Liberals voted against a bill to ban foreign purchases of homes. Which the Grits now favour.

— Aug.  30: According to polling from Angus Reid, the number of Canadians who view Canada’s efforts to rescue Afghan nationals as a success “hovers near zero.” It could actually be less than zero.

— Aug. 30: Asked about his party’s process for handling sexual misconduct allegations, Trudeau reminds reporters that “every situation is different.” Which is basically what he also said when a reporter claimed Trudeau had groped her.

— Aug. 30: Trudeau called the election pivotal. But not so pivotal that he has a platform to show Canadians.

— Aug. 30: According to BNN Bloomberg, Canadians reported the sharpest decline in confidence since the middle of the pandemic last year. Rising inflation, the crisis in Afghanistan, and increasing COVID-19 cases are among the factors.

— Aug. 30: Real estate industry associations bash the Liberal housing platform amidst fears that it could “criminalize the way Canadians sell their homes.” Ouch!

And that’s how week two went, folks.

Will week three be any better?

Don’t hold your breath.

My latest: where’s Tam?

Where’s Theresa Tam?

It’s kind of like that popular Where’s Waldo book series, isn’t it? Someone is supposed to be somewhere, except you can’t find them. They’re hiding.

Theresa Tam, as is very well known, is the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada. But where she has gone? That’s not so well known.

Because Tam has been ubiquitous throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, hasn’t she? Every single day, just about, she has appeared in the media, providing information.

Often, the information has been dramatically, wildly wrong. A sampling:

  • At the start of the COVID-19 crisis, Tam said, “There has been no evidence to date that this illness, whatever it’s caused by, is spread easily from person to person.”
  • Shortly thereafter, Tam said there existed “no reason to be overly concerned” about the spreading virus.
  • In the week Canadians started to get infected, Tam said: “There is no clear evidence that this virus is spread easily from person to person. The risk to Canadians remains low.”
  • Even as the virus was killing Canadians, Tam said masks had “potential negative aspects” and added that “it can sometimes make it worse.”
  • Much later, Tam said that people should wear the aforementioned masks when having sex, and avoid kissing.

Seriously, she said all those things. And, yes, she’s a doctor and all that.

Now, you might wondering — and no one would blame you for doing so — if it’s possibly a good thing that Dr. Theresa Tam has gone Bermuda Triangle on us.

I mean, with the stuff she’s said, it’s probably better to get medical advice from one of the many epidemiological Nobel laureates found on Twitter, all of whom have pictures of kittens instead of their faces.

But, no. Tam has a job to do. It’s even in legislation. And, you know, the pandemic. It’s still going on. (It’s getting worse again, in fact.)

The statute that governs Tam’s shop is unimaginatively called the Public Health Agency of Canada Act. It has a couple interesting parts to it.

Here’s one, from the preamble: “The Government of Canada considers that the creation of a public health agency for Canada and the appointment of a Chief Public Health Officer will contribute to federal efforts to identify and reduce public health risk factors and to support national readiness for public health threats.”

See that? No less than the government itself says that Tam’s job is to “identify and reduce public health risk factors” and ensure there is “national readiness” for things like COVID-19.

There’s more. Section 7 of the Act says Tam is expected to “communicate with the public … for the purpose of providing information about public health issues.”

That’s Tam’s job. That’s what she was hired to do. But since the election began, Dr. Theresa Tam hasn’t really been doing her job, has she?

Oh, sure, she has a Twitter account, almost certainly maintained by a minion, in both official languages. But during the election? Press conference? Answering questions about the surge in infections?

Poof. She’s gone. Vanished.

People have noticed. The Conservative Party has written to the head of Canada’s public service, demanding an investigation — a search party, sort of — into Tam’s whereabouts.

And Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole — who now has a better shot at becoming Tam’s boss than any of us expected — says this: “Has (Justin Trudeau) silenced the public health authority from giving public updates? That’s a question for Mr. Trudeau.”

It sure is. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was much more direct, and said this to another newspaper: “I mean, if we needed another reminder why this was a bad decision of Justin Trudeau to call the election, there’s another example. We’re still dealing with this pandemic, still dealing with a crisis. And we’re not able to get briefings of that nature because we’re in a caretaker mode.”

Actually, we’re in Where’s Waldo mode. So what does Trudeau say?

Typically, nothing. Bureaucrats like Tam, Trudeau insists, “work every single day,” election or no election, blah blah blah.

If all of this reminds you of what Donald Trump did to Dr. Anthony Fauci, silencing America’s Chief Medical Advisor during the early days of the pandemic, you’re not alone. Lots of us have thought the same thing.

Like Trump, Trudeau doesn’t want his sunny days clouded with unhelpful talk about the rampaging Delta variant or Canadians gasping for air in ICUs. So, Tam — like Fauci — disappears. Poof.

With one critical difference. Fauci didn’t want to be silenced. Tam? We’re not so sure.

Here’s the thing, Dr. Tam: You were hired to do one job. You’re paid a quarter of a million dollars, annually, to — as the law says — “communicate with the public.” The law doesn’t give you time off for elections.

So, do your job, Dr. Tam, or quit.

You work for us, not the Liberal Party.

— Warren Kinsella was the chief of staff to a federal Liberal Minister of Health

My latest: the stench of death

The stench of death.

That’s the colourful phrase some politicos use — uncharitably, but not inaccurately — to describe a campaign in its death throes.

Justin Trudeau’s campaign? It’s not in the proverbial morgue, yet. But it’s definitely lingering near the Intensive Care Unit.

The Last Rites no longer seem impossible.

How can you tell if a political party’s election campaign is dying?

Well, there’s the big things, like when a Trudeau cabinet minister calls the Taliban — who literally killed 158 Canadians — “our brothers.”

You know, the Taliban: the actual terrorist organization that subjugates, enslaves and rapes women.

Trudeau’s minister for “women and gender equality,” Maryam Monsef, called them “our brothers” yesterday.

She did that.

For the Trudeau Liberals, that represented a really, really bad day on the campaign trail.

Whatever else they wanted to announce was blown up by Monsef’s outrageous, disgusting statement.

But that’s kind of how the Trudeau campaign has gone, this time. Something has gone wrong every single day. To wit:

• Pre-election: On August 12, Theresa Tam announced Canada was in a 4th wave of the pandemic. Trudeau went ahead with the election call anyway.  

• August 15: Trudeau calls election just  as Kabul falls to the Taliban. Any other Prime Minister would’ve waited. Not Trudeau: he wants his majority, and to Hell with the consequences. 

• August 16: Trudeau and Global Affairs minister Marc Garneau refuses to say if Canada will recognize the Taliban as a government.  Wouldn’t that have been the, um, brotherly thing to do? 

• August 16: The federal Public Service Union opposes Trudeau’s vaccine mandate for federal employees. Trudeau can’t say if or how it would be enforced.  Oops. 

• August 18: Maryam “Taliban Brothers” Monsef posts a Twitter thread accusing O’Toole of being anti-abortion. He isn’t.  But the Trudeau campaign won’t ever let the facts get in the way of the daily smear. Onward and downward.  

• August 19: Tweets surface of a star Liberal candidate from Calgary telling Albertans to “Fit in or f— off.”  Albertans look ready to return the favour. 

• August 19: Trudeau says he doesn’t think about monetary policy – just as StatsCan reports 3.7% inflation in July.  

• August 20: Canada evacuates 198 people from Afghanistan — while the Americans evacuate 823 on the same kind of plane. Canadian officials fret about seatbelts. Seriously.  

• August 20: A photo circulates of the Liberal plane in front of “Air Elite” sign. Life imitates art, etc. 

• August 20: Trudeau blames Afghan refugees for being unable to get to the Kabul airport. That’s right: he blames The very people he had previously promised to help.{%27relatedChannels%27:%20[],%27autonav%27:true}&autoplay=0&playsinline=1&enablejsapi=1

• August 21: Trudeau does not campaign. A grateful nation rests. 

• August 21: Trudeau minister Mary Ng releases a letter asking O’Toole if he will prohibit his caucus from proposing legislation which bans mandatory vaccinations — when Trudeau himself said for months that he was against mandating vaccinations.  

• August 22: Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland releases a video of O’Toole  which Twitter says has been manipulated.  Like they used to do for Donald Trump.  

• August 22: Video emerges of the aforementioned Freeland at campaign headquarters looking decidedly un-Deputy Prime Ministerial about the fictionalized Conservative healthcare plan. 

• Same day, August 22: Mr. Health Care, Justin Trudeau, won’t say if he’ll match O’Toole’s healthcare transfers to the provinces.  

• August 24: Trudeau threatens a clawback of Saskatchewan health transfers – despite the fact that Quebec has the very same health care approach as Saskatchewan. 

• August 25: The Liberal candidate for Vancouver Granville is found to have engaged in speculative home buying – a day after a big Trudeau announcement…against speculative home buying.

Which brings us to Wednesday, the day the Trudeau government declared that the Taliban terrorist organization were “our brothers.“

Is the Trudeau campaign dead? Not yet, but based upon all available evidence, rumours of its impending death are not exaggerated.

— Warren Kinsella was chair of the federal Liberal war room in 1993 and 2000

My latest: Justin Trump

Trudeau and Trump.

There’d always been the similarities between Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump.

You know: Sons of multimillionaires. Celebrated surnames. Chasing aspiring models and actresses. Private schools, privileged lives. Charmed existence.

Charter members of the Lucky Sperm Club, basically.

And now Trump and Trudeau share another distinction: They’ve both been caught spreading mistruths and misinformation on social media. And, when caught, they refused to admit it. They refused to apologize.

Asked about postings made by his deputy prime minister — postings which Twitter labelled as “manipulated media” — Trudeau smirked. He defended what is indisputably, inarguably fake media.

And, in so doing, has created a big problem for himself.

A recap: Chrystia Freeland posted tweets, in English and French, purporting to show Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole answering a question during his party’s leadership race last year and seemingly answering “yes” when asked if he favours privatized health care.

Except he didn’t say that.

In fact, the full video is more than two minutes long and in it, O’Toole stressed that universal health care is paramount. In fact, he said the opposite of what Freeland claimed.

The Liberals had surreptitiously edited the video down to make it seem O’Toole had said something he hadn’t.

For the Liberal war room, it was a disaster. Even Liberal-friendly news outlets like the CBC and the Toronto Star ran critical stories about what Freeland had done. Twitter, for its part, has refused to remove the warning — which its rules say is done in cases where information has been “significantly and deceptively altered or manipulated.”

Did Trudeau apologize for his team’s deception? Did he retract?

Not on your life. Trudeau retweeted Freeland’s disinformation — and then doubled down.

As Trump did so many times — about coronavirus, about his critics, about Joe Biden (who this writer worked for, full disclosure) — Trudeau refused to acknowledge that he and his team had propagated fake news online. He refused to take responsibility for spreading falsehoods.

“Erin O’Toole came out unequivocally for private health care … for-profit health care,” Trudeau said to reporters Monday. “I encourage all Canadians to take a look.”

Some will. Some will come away with the same conclusion as Twitter: It’s bald-faced lie.

Why didn’t Trudeau just apologize and move on? Good question.

Trudeau, like Trump, boasts millions of followers on Twitter. Like Trump, his words and deeds command attention. He runs an entire country, just like Trump did. Maybe he thinks he can get away with it — like Trump apparently thought.

Twitter didn’t, and doesn’t, care about all that. They ultimately kicked Trump off their platform.

In May 2020, Twitter restricted a Trump post for glorifying violence. In the same month, other Trump tweets were cited for violating Twitter’s rules. That June, they removed a Trump tweet for violating copyright.

And then, again in June 2020, Team Trump were cited for “manipulated media” — just like Team Trudeau have been. The label was slapped on a fake CNN broadcast about race-baiting. It could have been argued that the Trump tweet was satirical.

But that can’t be done in the case of the fabricated O’Toole tape. In that case, the manipulation was intentional, methodical and in both official languages. It wasn’t a lame attempt at satire. It was deliberate disinformation. It was fake news.

By refusing to apologize, Justin Trudeau has kicked the story into another day, and possible more.

By refusing to come clean, Justin Trudeau has degenerated into something we thought we’d never see:

Justin Trump.

— Warren Kinsella taught media law and ethics at the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Law

My latest: whither goes Nova Scotia, goes the nation

Big waves always start off as small waves.

Is the wave that hit Nova Scotia politics this week going to sweep away Justin Trudeau?

It could. (It should.)

Here’s a recap: On Tuesday night, a Nova Scotia election that was supposed to be a foregone conclusion, a sleeper of a contest, very unexpectedly became something else entirely. And thereby shocked many, many pundits, pollsters and politicos.

The so-called experts prognosticated that the Nova Scotia Liberal government was going to be re-elected, handily. Polls showed the Grits with as much as a 28-point lead. But the good people of Nova Scotia had other plans.

The Nova Scotia Progressive Conservatives — and they are truly progressive conservatives, more on that in a minute — swept away 15 years of Liberal rule with a left-leaning platform that promised more and better health care. Tim Houston’s Progressive Conservatives captured nearly double the seats won by the Nova Scotia Liberals and were elected with a comfortable majority.

The Nova Scotia Grits, meanwhile, ran a disorganized, lacklustre campaign. Their newly installed leader, Iain Rankin, revealed himself to be the rookie he was — and, at one point, was forced to to admit to drunk-driving charges in 2003 and 2005.

Rankin kept his seat — but a number of senior, veteran Liberal cabinet ministers lost theirs.

What happened?

Well, the pandemic, for starters. Like their federal Liberal cousins, the Nova Scotia Grits were seen as arrogant and complacent. Houston and his New Democrat counterpart, Gary Burrill, zeroed in on Rankin’s health-care shortcomings.

And Houston promised the sorts of things that have become important to voters since COVID-19 hit: A $15 minimum wage, more paid sick days for workers, and rent control.

Another sleeper factor: The cost of living. Pollsters like Abacus — and others who have supplied numbers to this writer without attribution — have identified the rising cost of living as the top issue for voters across Canada.

So, the obvious question: Do the shocking Nova Scotia results portend a big change when Canadians line up to vote next month?

Perhaps not. Voter turnout in Nova Scotia was very low. It’s difficult to draw big conclusions when less than half of eligible voters are showing up to decide who should lead them.

Also: Alternation is real. That is, Canadians — particularly in places like Ontario — will often vote Team Blue at one level of government and then vote Team Red at the other level. Perhaps Tuesday night’s result was a case of Nova Scotians blowing off some steam, only to stay within the federal Liberal fold on Sept. 20.

Maybe. But most of all — and as I always like to say — campaigns matter. The Houston Tories ran a disciplined, smart campaign. The Rankin Grits just didn’t.

Federally, Justin Trudeau’s campaign effort has been as uninspiring as Rankin’s was. On day one he needed to clearly explain why he called an election two years early. He needed to persuade Canadians that calling an election — during a surging pandemic, raging wildfires and a deepening crisis in Afghanistan — was the right thing to do.

He didn’t.

Erin O’Toole has problems of his own — most particularly, an enthusiasm for vaccines, except where his own caucus and candidates are concerned. He’s given them a pass.

But, on Tuesday night, it was Trudeau who may have been hearing footsteps echoing through the halls at Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, where he lives. An election campaign that was supposed to be in the bag now, suddenly, looks less so.

Nova Scotia, you started a wave.

And it’s a wave that may well get a lot bigger and sweep away another Liberal government, too.

— Waren Kinsella was chairman of the federal Liberal war room in 1993 and 2000

My latest: Biden failed

It’s easy to get into war.  

Chuck Hagel said that, and he’d know.  Hagel is a much-decorated war hero, an ex-Senator, and the former Secretary of Defense in Barack Obama’s administration.

Hagel wasn’t perfect.  As a Senator, he voted to go to war in Iraq. He later admitted that was a mistake.

And, after 9/11 – the twentieth anniversary of which is just days away – Hagel voted to send troops to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban. As the war ground on, however, Hagel started to express concern.  

Said he: “We cannot view U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan through a lens that sees only ‘winning’ or ‘losing.’ Iraq and Afghanistan are not America’s to win or lose.” 

And, fatefully, Hagel also said: “We can help [Iragis and Afghans] buy time or develop, but we cannot control their fates.”

By 2011, Hagel wanted to “start looking for an exit” in Afghanistan.  “We need to start winding this down, “ he said.

They, we, didn’t.  The war – which saw Canadian involvement from 2011 to 2014, and led to the deaths of 158 courageous Canadian troops – continued apace. Until Joe Biden.

Biden, like Donald Trump, had promised to end the presence of the United States in Afghanistan.  It was a popular promise for both men.  The Afghan conflict had been the longest U.S. war, claiming the lives of 6,500 fighters and a trillion American dollars.

But – and it’s a big but – Americans, and the world, expected that the withdrawal would be conducted in an orderly, safe and timely manner.  For those countries who sent young men and women to Afghanistan – many of whom would not come back alive – we expected the winding down of the war, as Chuck Hagel put it, to be done right.

It wasn’t.

In recent days, those of us in the West have watched events unfolding in Afghanistan in horror. The total collapse of the Afghan military.  Chaos and anarchy everywhere.  Terrible tragedies – such as Afghans literally falling off of departing planes, so desperate have they been to get out.

And, most ominously, the Taliban – the biggest and most feared terrorist organization in the world – now runs an entire country. Those who are knowledgeable about the Taliban foresee them returning to what they did so often in the past – repressing women, crushing dissent, and conducting terror attacks in the West.

The government of Justin Trudeau, practically alone in the civilized world, has refused to rule out recognizing the Taliban terrorists as a legitimate government.  Typically, Trudeau has also overpromised and underdelivered on rescuing those Afghans who assisted the Canadians who served there.

But it is the Joe Biden administration that has failed the most spectacularly.

Speaking to the nation this week in a televised address, the U.S. president was simply awful.  He blamed the Taliban victory on Afghans themselves – and he attempted to shift blame to his predecessors.  He sounded defensive, and chippy, and impatient.

Biden – who I worked for during last year’s presidential race – was decidedly unpresidential.

It gives me no pleasure to say that the Afghanistan fiasco will leave an indelible stain on Joe Biden’s administration.  Unlike John F. Kennedy after Bay of Pigs, or Ronald Reagan after the Iran-Contra mess, Biden didn’t take responsibility. He tried to shift blame.  He tried to dodge the truth.

And the truth, as Chuck Hagel also once said, is that it’s easy to get into war.

But it’s never easy to get out.

[Kinsella was Jean Chretien’s special assistant]