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 Hilary 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.