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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.


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My latest: the beast is awake – everywhere

STOCKHOLM — Extremism comes on tiny feet. You almost don’t see it until it’s too late.

Take this IKEA, for example, on Regeringsgatan, near the old city of Stockholm. Here, tucked between grandiose 16th-century buildings and charming cobblestone streets, is another IKEA.

It’s just like the ones in Canada, found from Vancouver to Halifax. Everything’s the same. Same corporate colours, same stuff for sale, even the same meatballs and lingonberries. (Which are as ubiquitous as they are delicious, by the way.)

IKEA advertises everything from candles to pillows, but it doesn’t advertise one important fact: It was founded by a fellow who was an extremist. A neo-Nazi, in fact.

Oh, sure, IKEA doesn’t completely hide who their founder was. He was a genial-looking fellow named Ingvar Kamprad, who — says IKEA’s website— was “rebel-hearted.” Uh-huh. Ingvar had “a dream to create a better life for as many people as possible — whatever the size of their wallet — (which) is and will always be our driving force.”

Well, not exactly everyone.

Ingvar, who died in 2018 at the age of 91, wasn’t too fussy about foreigners, Jews and other minorities. He wasn’t so enthusiastic about “creating a better life” for them, actually. Ingvar was a member of the fascist New Swedish Movement. The IKEA website doesn’t have a whole lot of information about that.

Ingvar joined the New Swedish Movement when he was a teenager, even before he founded IKEA as a mail order company in his family’s backyard. The leader of the far-right group was rabid anti-Semite and Adolf Hitler fan Per Engdahl, who said Hitler was “God’s saviour of Europe.”

Historians record that Ingvar recruited members and raised funds for Engdahl’s pro-Nazi group, even while the Second World War was still raging. And he remained a confidante of Engdahl for many years after that.

When caught, Ingvar insisted his involvement with fascism was “a mistake.” But, in her wonderfully-titled book “Made in Sweden: How the Swedes Are Not Nearly So Egalitarian, Tolerant, Hospitable or Cozy As They Would Like to Have You Think,” author Elisabeth Asbrink wrote the Swedish security service had a bulging file on Ingvar titled “Nazi.”

And, as recently as 2010, when Canadians were still gleefully assembling IKEA bookcases with Allen keys, Ingvar told Asbrink that “Per Engdahl is a great man, and I will maintain that as long as I live.”

So, there you go. We are all sitting on couches that, at one point, funded Nazism. Extremism, in other words.

That’s relevant, these days, because there’s quite a bit of it to be seen just about everywhere you look. Not just Sweden.

Here in Sweden in September, the extremist Sweden Democrats took more than 20% of the vote in the national election, making them the second-largest party in the Riksdag legislature.

The Sweden Democrats trace their beginnings to this country’s neo-Nazi movement. They don’t particularly like Muslims or immigrants, and said during the election they favour giving foreigners “one-way tickets” back to Kabul.

To the extent that the world pays any attention whatsoever to Swedes who don’t play hockey, the huge success of a political party with actual pro-Nazi roots went more or less unnoticed. How come?

Well, because the beast is awake everywhere, pretty much. Extremism is to be seen in a lot of surprising places, these days.

Not, we hasten to say, in the policies of the parties led by Justin Trudeau or Pierre Poilievre or Jagmeet Singh. Not even in Poilievre’s Conservative Party, which may be conservative, but is on record as favouring the admission of more immigrants — and at a faster pace, too.

No, extremism is seen in less-visible ways.

When some people wave around a swastika flag during the Ottawa occupation, for example, and nobody does a damn thing to take it away from them. Or when white supremacist members of Diagolon are caught heading to the Coutts, Alta., border crossing with a cache of weapons, allegedly to murder police, and people shrug.

Or even when the richest man in the world gives a rabid anti-Semite like Kanye West back his Twitter account. After he said he was going to go “Def Con” on Jews. Or how Twitter blithely allows extremist threats against my Postmedia colleagues, and other journalists, all the time. All that.

So, we should probably give the Swedes a break, the fascist leanings of IKEA’s founder notwithstanding. They’ve got a problem with extremism, yes.

And, if we’re honest with ourselves, we increasingly do, too.