On the question of Donald Trump, Justin Trudeau’s pause puzzles his critics

Click to play video: 'George Floyd protests: Trudeau says Canadians watching U.S. with ‘horror and consternation’' George Floyd protests: Trudeau says Canadians watching U.S. with ‘horror and consternation’
WATCH: (June 2, 2020) Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took a long pause today before he answered a question about the racial violence going on in the U.S. Speaking outside his Rideau cottage home this morning, Trudeau stood silently for a time before answering that Canadians are looking at the violence in the U.S. with 'horror and consternation.' – Jun 2, 2020

As political pregnant pauses go, Justin Trudeau’s now-world-famous example had the rhetorical gestation period of an elephant.

Clocking in at 22 seconds, Trudeau’s remarkable hang time of dead air after he was asked about President Donald Trump made headlines around the world.

What was Trudeau doing? What was he thinking while he stared blankly into the camera for all that time before giving his take on the protests, looting and arson roiling American cities?

READ MORE: Anti-racism protests are important, but coronavirus risks still present: Freeland

Analysis of the pause heard around the world even made it to the primetime CNN airwaves.

“Was it a stunt?” asked host Chris Cuomo. “What was the effect?”

Story continues below advertisement

Fellow CNN anchor Don Lemon offered a theory.

“I think he faced a conundrum in that moment that many people face,” Lemon said.

“They don’t know what to say. You’re just sort of flummoxed because we’ve never really seen anything like this before. Many of us are at a loss for words.”

Other commentators were split between whether Trudeau had a debilitating brain cramp that made him look foolish, while others thought his sound of silence was a stroke of political brilliance.

“Trudeau’s pause brought tears to my eyes,” said Asha Rangappa, a former FBI agent turned political analyst.

“It said everything that words cannot.”

But anti-Trudeau critics — on both the left and right of the political spectrum — slammed Trudeau’s silent treatment.

Story continues below advertisement

“There are two possible interpretations for this embarrassingly lengthy pause,” offered left-leaning pundit Luke Savage.

“The obvious one is that Trudeau’s brain stalled.

“The more cynical reading is that his comms team hopes the silence will become a carte blanche onto which people will inscribe all of the moral outrage and disapproval he supposedly holds but won’t express.”

Among domestic politicians, federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh launched the sharpest attack.

“His silence reveals hypocrisy,” Singh said, insisting Trudeau should directly confront Trump over racism and police misconduct after the death of George Floyd, the Black man who died after he was pinned under the knee of a white police officer in Minneapolis.

“The Prime Minister of Canada needs to call out the hatred and racism happening just south of the border,” Singh said, characterizing Trudeau as a “passive bystander.”

READ MORE: Video captures Trudeau seemingly speak candidly about Trump at NATO summit

Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-Francois Blanchet piled on, saying Trudeau “needs a spine” while dealing with Trump.

Whatever you think about Trudeau’s approach, I suspect one thing is clear: political strategists in the Liberal war room must be high-fiving and back-slapping, social distancing be damned.

Story continues below advertisement

Trudeau’s polling numbers have shot up during the pandemic, opening the possibility he might even trigger an early election call to take advantage.

And while some want him to get tougher with Trump, I suspect Trudeau might be remembering his father’s parable of the United States being like a sleeping elephant that could damage Canada with the slightest reactionary twitch.

Here’s the thing: even if Trudeau continues to tread carefully around Trump and the seething cauldron that America has become, there’s little chance of Canada-U.S. relations returning to normal any time soon.

The border remains closed to non-essential travel, hamstringing our economy. And the images of massive crowds on American streets conjure fears of new waves of the virus, which would keep the border sealed.

Watch for Trudeau to remain cautious in dealing with an unpredictable president, while Liberal strategists here seek new ways to take political advantage of these historic days.

Mike Smyth is host of ‘The Mike Smyth Show’ on Global News Radio 980 CKNW in Vancouver and a commentator for Global News. You can reach him at and follow him on Twitter at @MikeSmythNews​.

Sponsored content