Categories for Feature
A bit from next week’s Hill Times column. Comments are open.
Donald Trump won. He beat us all. He has dominated the politics of this era like no other, standing bestride it like a Cheeto-coloured colossus.
As I type this, there are 24 news stories on the main page of CNN’s web site. Fourteen of them are about Trump. The New York Times and the Washington Post’s front pages have six news stories each – and in the Times, three are about Trump. The Post, five of the six.
In Britain’s The Times, just two stories – one about their World Cup loss, naturally, but the other is about Trump, coming to have tea with the Queen. In Germany, the verdict in a homicidal neo-Nazi’s trial is ubiquitous – and then there is Donald Trump coverage, above or near every fold. And so on.
…At this point, in this year in this Century, winning is simply defined as sheer dominance. Winning is not just securing power – it is wielding power in such a way that no one else can be heard anymore.
And that is why Donald Trump is the winner: he does not merely dominate the news cycle.
He is the news cycle.
Donald Trump has said – and this week, in Brussels he will say yet again – that Canada and other nations don’t pay our way in NATO. He will say we need to pay more.
There are 28 members of NATO. Its budget is is hundreds of billions, annually. The United States of America contributes most of that. The United Kingdom, France and Germany are also big contributors. Canada?
Canada is in the bottom third of NATO members, alongside Slovenia and Luxembourg, and others with bankrupt and/or struggling economies. By agreement reached in 2014, NATO members are supposed to be devoting two per cent of their nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) to defence. Canada doesn’t, and consistently hasn’t.
During the Republican primaries and during the U.S. presidential race, Donald Trump would be asked often about defence by journalists looking for some crazy new Trump statement to report. Trump wouldn’t disappoint.
So: “We are getting ripped off by every country in NATO, where they pay virtually nothing, most of them. And we’re paying the majority of the costs.”
And: “We’re spending a tremendous — billions and billions of dollars on NATO. We’re paying too much! You have countries in NATO, I think it’s 28 countries – you have countries in NATO that are getting a free ride and it’s unfair, it’s very unfair.”
And, this gem, which gave plenty of Western leaders heartburn, and which transformed Donald Trump’s presidency from something that was mildly amusing to something that was deeply terrifying: NATO was “obsolete,” he said.
That statement about NATO’s obsolesence, uttered during an interview with a German newspaper, was a shock. “[NATO is] obsolete, first because it was designed many, many years ago,” Trump said. Secondly, he said, it’s obsolete because “countries aren’t paying what they should.”
His first point, like so much that Trump says, was certifiably insane. With Trump’s boss Vladimir Putin massing troops and guns on the border of assorted Baltic states, NATO is needed more now than perhaps ever before. But on his second assertion, that NATO is compromised because many countries aren’t paying what they should?
On that, Donald Trump is not entirely wrong.
This week, Justin Trudeau has attempted to curry favour with Trump – by deploying more Canadian Forces troops in Latvia, and by keeping them for another four years. It is unlikely to sway Trump, however. There are two reasons for that.
One, Trump – as noted – is arguably right that Canada needs to devote more of its GDP to NATO. Not two per cent, necessarily, but more.
Two, Trump isn’t going to Brussels to praise NATO – he is going there to bury it. That’s what his benefactor Vladimir Putin wants; Trump will comply. And complaining about the funding of NATO is a clever ruse – it undermines the military alliance indirectly.
And, you know? It just might work.
Could Justin Trudeau lose the next election?
Well, sure he could. In strictly existential terms, you are always facing political death. The distance from hero to zero is very slight. Ask Kathleen Wynne.
After Trudeau won big in 2015 – after he came from a remote and distant perch in the House of Commons, from third place, to a first-place finish and a majority government – shell-shocked Tories could be seen walking around the Hill, muttering to themselves: “He’s good for eight years.”
I even heard that from rabid Trudeau-haters, people who had previously been cabinet ministers: eight years. The Opposition parties were leaderless, rudderless, hopeless. They’d been consigned to the political wilderness for a decade, possibly more.
Well, that was then, this is now. And, nowadays, Mr. Chewbacca Socks doesn’t look so invincible anymore, does he? The Force, not so strong with him.
A poll, in and of itself, is meaningless. The pollsters get stuff wrong all the time. But when you put a bunch of them together, they start to tell a tale. And the tale they tell should keep the Liberal leader up at night.
Case in point: CBC’s Calculator Boy is Eric Grenier. CBC calls him a “polls analyst,” but really what Grenier does is add up the poll numbers, and then divide. That sort of tells him, and us, where things are at.
For Trudeau, they’re not necessarily pointing towards oblivion. But some sort of a defeat, increasingly, looks possible. Ask Grenier.
“The Trudeau Liberals have a lot less to celebrate than they did in previous summers,” Grenier wrote just before Canada Day. “With little more than a year to go before the 2019 federal election campaign kicks off, the Liberals are facing a closer race than a first-term majority government might expect. The party’s lead in the polls has disappeared and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is facing pressure from both the Conservatives in Quebec and the New Democrats in Ontario.”
Way back when, at the commencement of the Dauphin’s Sunny Ways Dynasty, he held a nearly 20-point lead over his opponents. His approval ratings were stratospheric.
Now, not so much.
The governing Grits are now locked in a statistical death match with the Tories – and, on some days, said Tories have even been ahead. The Conservatives – led by the remarkably unremarkable Blandy Scheer – have been kicking Trudeau’s keester in the fundraising department, and recently humiliated him in a Liberal-held riding in Quebec, Trudeau’s last provincial stronghold.
The reasons for the less-than-sunny days are myriad and manifold. Apart from cannabis – which hurts them in the aforementioned Quebec and among minority communities – Trudeau has not had a single major legislative victory in three years. Not one. His go-soft strategy for handling Donald Trump has contributed to the demise of the TPP, the Paris Accord, and has NAFTA edging its way towards the morgue.
Other causes, in Trudeau’s Summer of Discontent: he overpromised and under-delivered – with indigenous communities, and with the mythic middle class. He seemed more preoccupied with selfies and baby-balancing than he was with stuff like the dimensions of the deficit (big), or the dimensions of business confidence (small).
And: the India trip. And: the Aga Khan. And: he groped a journalist.
All of it has produced a confluence of conundrums: Justin Trudeau is now arguably treading in his father’s footsteps. From a big Trudeaumania victory (for his Dad in 1968, for him in 2015) to a big come-down (majority to minority for his Dad in 1972, from a majority to minority and possibly worse for the son in 2019). Could it happen?
Sure it could. His father’s first term was a veritable flood of legislative and political achievements: Pierre Trudeau promoted and protected NATO, advocated for bilingualism and multiculturalism, transformed Parliament, boosted francophones in the public service and the military, reformed and expanded Unemployment Insurance, rewrote tax laws, and increased the family allowance for the first time since 1945. In comparative terms, the younger Trudeau’s policy achievements have been a tiny trickle.
Voters know it, too. And that is why they have been discreetly edging away from Justin Trudeau, and embracing a decidedly lackluster alternative, in the form of Blandy Scheer. They have measured Justin Trudeau, and found him wanting. More sizzle than steak, etc.
Can he turn it around? As noted at the outset, of course. Nowadays, per Ferris Bueller, political life moves pretty fast. One day, the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario is mired in a massive #MeToo scandal, and self-destructing. Just 134 days later, the same political party won a huge majority in the Ontario election race.
Justin Trudeau, similarly, can surprise us all. He still possesses charm and likeability in abundance. As handsy as he is, he is not unintelligent. His party has a formidable team of organizers and fundraisers in every region. He regularly benefits from being underestimated. And his two main opponents lack his political skillset, to say the least.
That all said, Justin Trudeau could still lose. And, at the moment, he is losing.
Not by much, but enough.
Publisher’s Weekly is the book trade publication in the United States. As Wikipedia notes, it is the “American weekly trade news magazine targeted at publishers, librarians, booksellers and literary agents. Published continuously since 1872, it has carried the tagline, “The International News Magazine of Book Publishing and Bookselling”.
And I have never had one of my books mentioned in it. Like, ever.
But here’s what they have said about my new one, Recipe for Hate:
Link is here.
She says it happened. He says it didn’t.
I believe her. He used to say we should believe the victims, too.
So: can he continue as Prime Minister? Should he?
He’ll try and ride it out. I think he needs to step down while it is being investigated.
He made others do that. He needs to do so, now, too.
KINSELLACAST 21: Warren gets pissed off! #MeToo and Trudeau! Adler visits! Spin Twins on Ford-Trudeau summit!
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
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.
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.