Originally published at Convivium on October 11, 2019.
Convivium contributor Don Hutchinson says Andrew Scheer might have been speaking Biblically last night with his inflammatory charge that Justin Trudeau is a liar. The real question is whether that disqualifies the PM from another term in office.
Those words might drive your emotions in one direction or the other depending on whether you are pro Trudeau or contra Trudeau. Lest those emotions get the better of you, let me remind that the Bible tells us “all men are liars” (Psalm 116:11). The Amplified Version renders the English interpretation of the Hebrew word kazab perhaps more accurately as deceitful and liars.
(Sorry ladies, the Hebrew word used for men in that verse is better rendered as all humanity.)
Because political party leaders can be prevaricators, one of the highlighted features of media coverage for the 2019 federal election campaign is party-leader-statement fact checks. Not the partisan assertions that are routinely tweeted, “that’s not true and the other party leader is lying [insert about our position or about their position here],” but a decision by media organizations to assign staff to do background research every single day of the campaign about what politicians from all parties are misspeaking.
CTV has the alliteratively named it Truth Tracker. CBC, the State-funded broadcaster, goes with the more mundane Fact Check. Global has the austere sounding Reality Check. The Canadian Press uses a baloney measure.
The issue then is not whether Justin Trudeau is a liar, or the only liar, but whether the particular lying of any Canadian political leader affects their ability to do the job of leading the country. When the issue is the governance of a nation, where does one draw the line concerning deception?
The Liberal Party leader is somewhat hobbled in the frequent fibber category because he is the incumbent prime minister and only candidate to have already had opportunity to break promises as part of a governance record.
- “I am looking straight at Canadians and being honest the way I always have. We’ve said we are committed to balanced budgets and we are. We will balance that budget in 2019.”
- “We are committed to ensuring that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system.”
- “Only Liberals have a plan for real change that will restore trust in our democracy, and ensure an open and transparent government.”
The latter campaign promise from 2015 is contrasted with a statement made one frosty February morning in 2019: “The allegations in the Globe story this morning are false.”
Prime contender Andrew Scheer is not immune from a bit of prevaricating. Our disappointment with Scheer’s fudging may be framed partly by our expectations, in addition to the falsehoods themselves. Scheer’s choir-boy-dad-bod-and-dimples image is indispensable to affixing the mark against him concerning his résumé misrepresentation of being an insurance broker before entering politics. His defence? He passed a broker accreditation exam. Still, he did not complete the licensing process required for the job title.
The exposé that Scheer had not revealed his dual Canadian/U.S. citizenship – combined with his adherence to U.S. citizens living abroad requirements and failure to begin the process to renounce his citizenship at an earlier date than he did – was a log on the fire for hidden agenda allegations tied to his conservative Catholic positions on abortion and marriage.
While on the subject of dual citizenship, Elizabeth May immigrated to Canada from the U.S. as a teenager. She now has Canadian citizenship, but May has operated on the probable misassumption that receiving Canadian citizenship cancelled her American citizenship. May has not engaged the necessary process to renounce her citizenship and could be offside the same U.S. requirements for which Scheer has been criticized for his compliance.
May was also the subject of an altered photo image on the Green Party website in which she is seen to be holding a reusable cup and straw in her hands that were not in the original photo.
Jagmeet Singh has repeated the oft-stated fabrication that the previous Conservative federal government reduced provincial transfer payments for health care. The Martin-Liberal and Harper-Conservative governments used the same six per cent increase formula. The Harper government announced its intent to reduce to three per cent increases starting in 2016/17. The Trudeau Liberal government, elected in 2015, implemented the three per cent figure.
Singh has been outspoken on “a woman’s right to choose.” As a lawyer, he ought to know the 1988 decision in R. v. Morgentaler recognized the legitimate interest of government in what the Supreme Court called “the living fetus.” The Court struck down the existing Criminal Code provision because of inconsistencies in access to abortion that could endanger a woman’s life. Singh’s position is contrary to Sikh teaching on not interfering with the creative work of God, although it could be seen to align with Scheer’s position that he is pro-life but a government led by him would remain inactive on Canada’s legal situation.
Rather than consider a party leader to be a liar or deceitful, supporters prefer to set aside mischaracterizations such as those above as simply the art of politics. Indeed, an earlier politician, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judaea, is recorded to have asked Jesus, “What is truth?” It was a moment that still confronts our own comprehension of truth. Truth is either true or it is mutable, variable based on perspective.
Of the four contenders, Justin Trudeau has demonstrated more of a penchant for going beyond the political art of misdirection. His prime ministerial track record, even factoring for the caveat of him being the only incumbent Prime Minister in the race, suggests a preference for the notion of mutable truth, governing his public statements about what is truth by his point of view.
The Liberal Party platform suggests the missed target of a balanced budget in 2019 will be extended by current or increased levels of annual deficits for at least another term if re-elected.
When the parliamentary committee for electoral reform recommended proportional representation be put to Canadians in a referendum, it was not a proposal that would advantage the Liberal Party’s ability to hold power in Parliament. Trudeau abandoned the commitment to electoral reform as unworkable.
The February allegations in the Globe constitute an ongoing matter of dodginess. Faced with investigations of potential misconduct Trudeau’s predecessors, Stephen Harper, Paul Martin and Jean Chretien, gave full access. Trudeau instead recites that he issued the “largest and most expansive waiver of cabinet confidences in Canada’s history.” The wording of that waiver, however, is more accurately described as the longest and most restrictive. Citing cabinet confidentiality, Trudeau has refused to grant full access to at least nine witnesses in addition to cabinet documents.
The ethics commissioner issued his report on the SNC-Lavalin scandal just prior to the election. Polls suggested Team Trudeau might have weathered the storm with their messaging on that damning second-ethics-violation-by-the-prime-minister judgment but, as the late Tragically Hip singer Gord Downie intoned, “See when it starts to fall apart, man, it really falls apart.”
Out of the #LavScam and into the #BrownfaceBlackface.
Confronted with a photograph in which then 29-year-old high-school teacher Justin Trudeau appeared in brownface, brownhands and turban at an otherwise black-tie Aladdin-themed fundraiser (which Trudeau initially described as a costume party until other guests corrected his recollection) for the private school where he was teaching, Trudeau stated there was only one other occasion when he wore blackface. It was, he said, as a high school student singing Day O.
The morning after that statement, video emerged of a 20-something Trudeau wearing blackface, blackarms and blacklegs at a white water rafting venue. He took several days before answering in the negative the question as to whether there were incidents subsequent to the 2001 Arabian Nights fundraiser. He has declined to address whether there were more incidents prior.
In convoluted statements reminiscent of those he made in regard to SNC-Lavalin, Trudeau has said: i) he became aware of the harm caused by wearing blackface makeup after he was elected to Parliament in 2008; ii) he lied on his application to become a candidate for the Liberal Party in 2007 because he was embarrassed by his past blackface behaviour; iii) he first learned about the harm caused by use of blackface sometime after 2001; and, iv) he took a course in 1997, called Sociology in Education, as part of his teacher training that gave him an understanding of white privilege and sensitized him to racial dynamics (comments he made in 2016 before the blackface photos and video were made public last month).
These four public statements cannot all be true.
To his credit, Justin Trudeau has asked Canadians for forgiveness for his use of blackface.
The same Man of whom Pilate asked what is truth spoke about the matter of granting forgiveness. He told us that when our brother (or sister) sins against us we are called to extend forgiveness, not seven times but 70 times seven (Matthew 18:22). None can deny that repentance, when genuine, begs forgiveness. Neither can it be denied that sin begets consequence from which forgiveness may not absolve.
Trudeau’s supporters, with hearts warm to the proposition found in Psalm 116:11 and unlimited forgiveness on tap, intone Canadians should judge not. But judge not may be inadequate as response for a matter vital to the leadership of a nation. Judge not is also inadequate as an exposition of Jesus’ words on the subject. His words instruct not that we forgive and forget, but that we judge with the same standard by which we are prepared ourselves to be judged (Matthew 7:1-3).
From a liar’s perspective, it is desired that those to whom the lie has been told can forgive and forget, and preferably that no attention will be given to potential consequence. But forgiving and forgetting are two different things, and consequences are often beyond avoidance.
Political campaign promises designed for the purpose of attracting significant voter constituencies ought not to be acceptably set aside and shrugged off by any politician.
Historic incidents of racist behaviour raise questions for Canadians and to those outside the country. Combined with earlier escapades on a trip to India, the blackface incidents compromise Trudeau’s place on the world stage. Claiming the necessity to follow the rule of law in disputes with China, or any other country, seems a dubious act when the prime minister is personally impeding investigation of his own behaviour concerning efforts to influence a decision constitutionally assigned to the attorney-general.
Despite Justin Trudeau’s routine invitations for all Canadians to join him in shared learning experiences, the demonstrated deficiencies in judgment and behaviour are his.
Character matters. Canadians know this intuitively, which is why so many expressed respect for Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott when they stood firm against the prime minister’s questionable behaviour in regard to SNC-Lavalin. It also contributes to why Canadians were surprised by the revelation that Andrew Scheer held dual citizenship, and used words by which we felt misled about his pre-politics career.
Character matters in our personal lives, in the MP we select to represent our riding in Parliament, and character matters in regard to each person vying for the prime minister’s office.
Writing about Trudeau, Andrew Coyne asserted, “the character and credibility of a leader is a much broader matter than one issue. It informs every part of his record, the whole of his platform.”
In his interview with Dawna Friesen, Trudeau declined three times to answer the question whether there were additional embarrassing skeletons in his closet about which Canadians are unaware.
Justin Trudeau’s deceitfulness, returning to the translation of kazab in Psalm 116:11, suggests Canadians pray for him (and the other candidates). But should we express confidence in him to continue to lead the nation? In addition to domestic concerns, ought we to consider that other world leaders may be less likely to respect Canada’s voice if 2019 Trudeau is replacing 2015 Trudeau as the spokesperson?
Even campaigning on his signature issue for the 2019 campaign, Trudeau has attracted queries about integrity.
Days after seeking forgiveness for the blackface incidents, Trudeau sashayed from a canoe on the shoreline of a pristine lake to promote his panacea for Canada’s climate change afflictions from behind signage that was oddly coloured Green Party green instead of Liberal Party red. Of all the greens in the world, why Green Party green?
A few words later, he was off in his motorcade to the airport, where media had uncovered that twinned campaign planes would emit greenhouse gases per hour surpassing those of all other parties’ planes combined as he moved to his next stop. Carbon offsets do not reduce emissions. Why did he not disclose the two-plane plan himself? Why not put the Liberal Party campaign wrap on both planes?
In the English language leaders’ debate, Trudeau claimed his government is 75 per cent of the way to attaining 2030 emissions targets. Those targets were established by Stephen Harper, rejected by Trudeau in the 2015 campaign, and then adopted by Trudeau in 2015 after forming government. However, a January 2019 report from Minister Catherine McKenna’s department, Environment and Climate Change Canada, suggests the best case scenario is the Trudeau plan reaching 63 per cent of the target by 2030. As the party’s key campaign promise, wouldn’t it be best not to repeatedly rouse the media’s fact checkers on call?
On October 4, Mr. Trudeau pronounced, “I do think you have to be honest with Canadians when you’re applying for a job to be prime minister of 37 million Canadians.” Although he was talking not about himself, I agree. It’s discouraging for voters to be asked to assess candidates varying degrees of deceit.
Which brings us back to my original question. When the issue is the governance of a nation, where does one draw the line concerning deception by a political leader? More particularly, the leader of our nation?
Forgive Justin Trudeau? Yes, 70 times seven. Play a part in his re-election? Based on his track record, not without consequence.
Trudeau is just one among other viable candidates. Which you choose to support is entirely up to you. As for me, in words given voice by The Who frontman Roger Daltrey, “I’ll get on my knees and pray, we [Canadians] don’t get fooled again.”