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The Plague-Ground – Why Justin Trudeau Drives Me Nuts

By a large margin, most Canadians voted against Justin Trudeau in the last election. Or at least the Liberal Party he leads. They won only 33% of the popular vote, the lowest percentage for any governing party in Canadian history.

I’m not here to slag our Prime Minister’s policies; he faces the same impossible choices that every head of the world’s 248 other countries wakes up to during COVID. Also, while Canada’s record of getting needles into our arms is stumbling, sincere, inept and naïve, I’m not ready to abandon his vaccine-procurement policies just yet. Maybe those 6 million new doses will land next month. Maybe we’ll all be vaccinated up by September, as he promises.

I admit I’m giving our Prime Minister more rope than most of us would. As Andrew Coyne wrote: “Perhaps things will pick up in the months to come. But by then, alas, a lot of people will be dead, who might otherwise have lived.”

But what seriously annoys me about Justin Trudeau is how he talks to us. Or rather, talks down to us.

You’d think we’re a bunch of high-school drama students learning how to over-enunciate for effect, practising earnestness as if it’s the key to conviction. This is why high school actors tend not to get work at Stratford: they over-act and come across as trying too hard. As fake. In fact, Trudeau sounds like one of those balmy Englishmen who, upon encountering a local in a foreign land who doesn’t understand English, simply repeats what he said loudly and very very precisely.

This should not be a surprise. In the mid-90s, our Prime Minister was a high school drama teacher for three years at West Point Grey Academy, a private school in Vancouver. I suspect his speaking style today comes from a time in his life when he was comfortable in what he was able to do easily when he was young.

It’s hard to give those things up, despite the legions of advisors and trainers waiting to help him speak more….believably. Many politicians have done this, often in extreme forms, from Margaret Thatcher, who learned how to sound more like a man; to Barack Obama who “code-switched” not only by saying different things to different audiences, but by speaking ‘white’ to white audiences and ‘Black’ to Black audiences. In fact, Trudeau’s persistent drama-school tone, now six years after he first became Prime Minister, suggests either he doesn’t care, or his aides can’t change him, or I’m wrong.

Maybe I am. Maybe you and millions more Canadians find his opening 30 seconds from Friday’s press announcement outside his home in Ottawa on the state of our fight against COVID charming and disarming.

“I know how tired we all are. I know how anxious we are to see our loved ones safe. To see life returning to normal. We feel it too. That’s why we’re working every single day to make sure that as many vaccines are coming into Canada, as quickly as possible.”

That doesn’t read so badly. But when you listen to it, whatever sincerity appeared in print is washed away in a tone that seems eager first to convince itself that what it’s saying is true before it can convince us. Hence, “that’s why we’re working every single day” comes out as: “that’s why….we are working…Every. Single. Day.

Gosh, I hope they’re working Every. Single. Day to save our nation in its worst crisis since the Second World War. I wouldn’t have thought working round the clock was an issue, let alone a bragging point by our Prime Minister. But less than a minute later, Mr. Trudeau tells us: “We’ve worked around the clock to negotiate one of the world’s most diverse vaccine portfolios.”

Justin Trudeau doth protest too much. When Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, she often boasted she’d flown more than a million miles to advance the interests of her department and her nation. Until someone pointed out that flying is an activity, not an achievement.

The ginning up of mundane things that most of us do anyway finds its way into Mr. Trudeau’s remarks far too much. It’s as if he thinks effort counts as much as success, though we know when it comes to vaccines especially, there’s only one scorecard that counts.

Mr. Trudeau is also a heavy user (though not the only one) of the phrase “hard-working”, as in “hard-working Canadians”. This flattery is so tired and fake that it’s cringe-worthy. When we hear him say it, are we really meant to connect more with him, to believe he understands us, that we’re a bunch of hard-working folks bonding over our common cause?

No, I’ve found that people who boast about everything from being courageous, to being funny, to working hard, generally aren’t – and don’t.

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9 thoughts on “The Plague-Ground – Why Justin Trudeau Drives Me Nuts”

  1. Thanks for this, Bob. My thoughts precisely. I think Canadians are sick and tired of his patronizing style and words…..almost as fed up as we all are with covid-speak. Could we start by banning “we are all in this together”..and “build back better.” PLEASE! I confess my politics lie somewhere just left of center, so …..what to do? Perhaps too early to decide. And besides, governments usually defeat themselves. Where votes migrate becomes secondary.

    I have felt for some time that Justin needs to take a walk in the snow.

  2. I absolutely agree, Bob. Drives me mad too. Do you think he sounds like that when speaking to his friends? I detect a touch of theatrical voice projection combined with all those breath intakes. The only good thing is that I am so distracted by that I tend not to hear what he is actually saying.

    1. Gail — This just reminds us that “sweet are the uses of adversity” I guess!
      Thanks for checking in on this.

  3. I disagree. For some of us Canadians, the tone of someone’s speech is the least of our concerns. We’re more concerned about the hate — speech and violence — we deal with, the racism, the barriers and gatekeeping that those in power and with privilege erect, the wars our families face abroad, the double standards in our societies, etc etc. All of which Justin Trudeau has been better at acknowledging and attempting to address than previous Prime Ministers. I’d rather have a PM whose tone affronts more than his policies. (Where’s the discussion and applause on how the White Supremacist group The Proud Boys were declared a terrorist organization under Trudeau? These type of organizations have had an negative impact on so many communities, led to the radicalization of people like the gunman who killed worshippers at a mosque in 2017. Where’s the remembrance of that? It’s not just the U.S. that has a racism problem. )

    1. Sajidah — Was there not applause on how The Proud Boys were declared a terrorist organization? Or the fact that Canada was the first
      nation to declare them as such? True, Canada is a racist country, as is every other country, sadly. But the tone of someone’s speech isn’t the least of our concerns at all. Thanks for checking in.

    2. Good point about the virtue ot distraction. But now that I’ve written about him, I fear I’ll have to listen to him more!

  4. Rosemary Phelan Blyth

    Although I totally recognize content over presentation, sometimes I wonder if the the PM struggles with a speach impediment, and if that impedes the message. There is the heavy delivery, strugling with certain pronunciation combinations. I don’t know. Clearly.

    But also I must clearly admit to agreeing about the boasting. Those that boast need to. They are covering up for something else. xx

    1. Interesting that you bring that up, Rosemary. I know lots of people who have overcome speech problems.
      It would be interesting to see if this is a matter of over-compensation. Will watch with a different set of eyes.

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