Charles Adler: Whatever happened to Trudeau the tolerant?

Justin Trudeau will be seen as one who plays well with others this week at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. But back here in Canada, Charles Adler says it seems like every day he's picking fights with ordinary Canadians.
Justin Trudeau will be seen as one who plays well with others this week at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. But back here in Canada, Charles Adler says it seems like every day he's picking fights with ordinary Canadians. Photo by Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Justin Trudeau is hoping to change the channel this week in Switzerland.

At the economic summit he’ll share a stage with world leaders and he will look good doing it. Yet for all the importance that is attached to these meetings by the chattering classes, by the time the story gets retailed to the public, they will see only rich and powerful celebrity influencers congratulating each other for being at the top of the economic food chain.

Some of them will no doubt remark on how impressed they are with Trudeau. He will be portrayed, as he always is at these summits, as more tolerant and open minded and embracing of diversity than U.S. President Donald Trump. Any Canadian prime minister these days on the international stage is going to get kudos from the world’s most comfortable members of the upper crust simply for not having the name Trump on the Canadian passport.

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But while things may be rosy for him in the Swiss Alps, things have been thorny on the ground back home in down-to-earth Canada.

In Switzerland, he’ll be seen as one who plays well with the other kids. But here in Canada, it seems like every day he’s picking a fight, not with professional political pugilists, but with ordinary Canadians.

In the last three months he’s been seen battling small, mom and pop business people — some of the hardest working people in Canada — accusing them of being selfish, greedy people not willing to share their wealth fairly, by taking advantage of Canada’s taxation system.

The attack was ham handed, and whatever merits of the case some scribblers could find, the optics, as they say, were terrible. This was Trudeau, the son of privilege, attacking immigrant families working at all hours of the day, seven days of week — families operating little restaurants, hair salons, and dry cleaners.

READ MORE: Liberals to trim small business tax rate to 9% by 2019

Why was Trudeau fighting with them anyway? Aren’t these the folks most likely to vote Liberal? Why was this out-of-touch wealthy person biting the hands that have fed the Liberal party for generations?

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On Canadian screens he looked like a bully. Shortly after being knocked out in that bout, Trudeau boxed with Canadians who were unimpressed with his relationship with one of the wealthiest people on the planet, the Aga Khan, whose foundation has been given many millions by Canadian taxpayers and which continues to negotiate for many more.

The perception was that Trudeau and family were being given free room and board, any time they wanted, on the multibillionaire’s island paradise — the ultimate freebie paid for with the Canadian public’s continued generosity with the rich man’s foundation.

Trudeau was convicted both in the court of public opinion and the court of the Canadian ethics commissioner. Mary Dawson nailed Trudeau on four counts of violating the federal conflict of interest statute.

READ MORE: Mary Dawson says she probably would have said ‘no’ to Trudeau’s Aga Khan trip

A sitting prime minister, convicted while in office — but not of a crime, he’d want to remind you. He’s a violator of a federal statute, but not a criminal. This has never happened before to a sitting prime minister. Nothing tears the bark off the image of this sweet, innocent, young, idealistic Prime Minister than those four words: guilty, guilty, guilty and guilty.

And then there are the townhall meetings, where Trudeau scrapped with members of the public about his insistence that making Omar Khadr a multimillionaire was the right thing to do. He turns on the synthetic empathy and tells them he hears and feels their anger, then pirouettes right into Pinocchio territory by telling that he’s angry too.

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If he’s angry, it’s only because wheeling out the Charter of Rights of Rights and Freedoms prop isn’t working for him. He tells them that when a government violates this sacred Charter, brought down from the top of Mount Sinai by his dad, Canadians need to pay a price.

The dudes in Davos may get swept up by that rhetoric, but Joey and Janey in Kitchener think it’s a crock.

And it becomes an even more obvious crock when he picked a fight with Canadians who have applied for Canada Summer Jobs program grants by demanding they swear allegiance to a gravy boat of rights. This crude new rule was supposedly put into place to let Canadian women know how seriously the government takes access to abortion.

READ MORE: Anti-abortion efforts out of sync with Canadian society: Trudeau

Never mind that the abortion laws were struck down by the Supreme Court in the 1980s when Trudeau was barely old enough to shave. Access to abortion isn’t an issue today and hasn’t been for nearly 30 years. The political plan was to provoke the leader of the Conservatives to offer criticism so harsh that the Liberals could then vomit up the two dumbest words in politics — “Hidden Agenda.”

If Trudeau was actually interested in doing something for Canadian women instead of using them as campaign props, he would do something about access to affordable housing, especially for the elderly, most of whom are the women, and the poorest of whom are women. And there’s access to timely health care needed most by the elderly, most of whom are women.

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There’s something in the Charter about freedom of expression. While scholars can argue back and forth whether the attestation rule suppresses it, it looks so “unchartery” to force people to submit to the government’s political campaign strategy by checking off the asinine attestation box.

Hardening the growing perception that the PM isn’t only ham handed but hard wired for more confrontation is the interview Vassy Kapelos did on Global’s The West Block on Jan. 21.

WATCH BELOW: Employers should have no problem with new attestations on abortion rights, Hajdu says

Click to play video: 'Employers should have no problem with new attestations on reproductive rights: Hajdu' Employers should have no problem with new attestations on reproductive rights: Hajdu
Employers should have no problem with new attestations on reproductive rights: Hajdu – Jan 21, 2018

Kapelos gave Trudeau’s Labour Minister Patty Hajdu several opportunities to say this ideological attestation card wouldn’t be played on other government grants. But the minister left the door wide open.

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Just so everyone remembers, the prime minister rode into power on a promise that he would listen to Canadians instead of bullying Canadians, which is what he effectively pinned to Stephen Harper. But these days Trudeau’s never ending scrap with ordinary Canadians makes Stephen Harper look like a nice guy.

Who would have thunk that Justin Trudeau could out bully the guy who wanted to install the Barbaric Practices snitch line?

Of course, that was just a campaign gimmick to guarantee turnout from true believers who couldn’t imagine Harper losing to a boy who wasn’t ready to be a man, or to the terminally angry NDP man who wasn’t ready to be human.

Trudeau’s team can assure themselves that the channel will be changed this week as the prime minister leaves his Rottweiler personality in Canada, and in the Swiss Alps transforms himself into a cuddly St. Bernard.

But next week you can be certain the Rottie will be back and Liberal supporters will be forced to ask again, “whatever happened to Trudeau the tolerant?”

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