Walk away, Justin Trudeau. Canada’s love affair with you is over

From climate change to foreign affairs, Trudeau has betrayed promises. The sad part? His alternative could be worse.

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, attends a meeting with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Friday, July 21, 2023, at United Nations headquarters. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has seen his poll numbers plummet in recent weeks [File: Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/AP Photo]

One way or another, all love affairs end – often badly. At least in politics.

In 2015, when he became prime minister with a robust majority at age 43, Justin Trudeau was feted as the reincarnation of former United States President John F Kennedy – young, vibrant and charismatic.

Much of the smitten international press, particularly the starry-eyed New York Times, swooned, praising the Trudeau-helmed government as “emerging as a moral leader of the free world”.

Heady stuff for a big, “boring” and largely anonymous country that yearns for attention and approval.

Lots of Canadians were smitten too. Trudeau was the “progressive” antidote to a spent Conservative administration that seemed to revel in its callousness – led for nearly a decade by the definition of the dour bureaucrat, Stephen Harper.

But Trudeau is discovering, like every other prime minister, that, given the inexorable cycle of politics, governments – Liberal or Conservative – have a natural life expectancy.

Trudeau is entering his eighth year in office. The predictable, tell-tale signs of atrophy are apparent, except, of course, to devoted partisans.

Enthusiasm has waned. Fractures have emerged. Scandal – real or manufactured – has begun to dominate the public discourse. Familiarity has bred hubris and contempt. Fatigue has become synonymous with the “brand”. Popularity has turned to animus. Change now seems almost inevitable.

In reply, Trudeau has dipped into the same, futile gambits meant to arrest his steep slide in the once reassuring polls and persuade Canadians that there is life and fight in him and his restive colleagues yet.

So Trudeau shuffled his bulging cabinet, expelling the corrosive underachievers and promoting ambitious and, no doubt, grateful backbenchers primed to prove to the wounded prime minister that they have the right mettle.

Yet beyond the fleeting notice of Ottawa’s incestuous, insular orbit of career pundits and columnists, the new arrangements have had no impact on Trudeau’s quickly listing fortunes.

Instead, worry – which, I suspect, has tipped lately into fear – among Liberal members of parliament has triggered leaks bemoaning the prime minister’s surprising listlessness in the face of Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre’s typically rabid rhetorical onslaught aimed not only at questioning Trudeau’s empathy for “struggling” Canadians but, shamefully, his loyalty to the country he serves.

Faithful readers of this column know full well of my antipathy towards the jejune Trudeau. The idea that a stunt-prone dauphin was intent, like Kennedy, to buck stubborn convention and pursue a transformative agenda as prime minister was a silly mirage.

Just like Kennedy, Trudeau has been, save for a bit of performative tinkering around the edges, a staunch advocate for and defender of the economic and foreign policy establishment and status quo.

A supposed “champion” of climate “action”, Trudeau bought a floundering oil pipeline for 4.5 billion Canadian dollars ($3.3bn). A supposed “champion” of human rights and the rules-based international “order”, Trudeau offers diplomatic cover and comfort to an apartheid regime in Israel and tried, with a little help from his insurrectionist-friendly friends in Brazil, to install a malleable marionette in Venezuela.

A supposed “champion” of the plight of hurting “ordinary” Canadians, Trudeau has allowed predatory corporate monopolies to continue to reap extraordinary earnings while the divide between the uber wealthy and the other, much less fortunate 99 percent, mushrooms.

Trudeau was confronted recently by an anxious caucus preoccupied by the disturbing prospect of losing power and their jobs. A chastised Trudeau emerged from the party’s please-do-something-to-save-our-vulnerable-skins “retreat” to announce that he would summon the CEOs of grocery chains to a meeting in the capital and issue the following ultimatum: Cut prices, or I may – somehow, someway – put a small, momentary dent in your obscene profits.

It was Trudeau Jr’s limp, belated variation of the famous admonition proffered in 1970 by his dad, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau: “Just watch me.”

Stirring stuff.

In Trudeau’s simplistic calculus, the solution to the systemic inequities not only tolerated, but entrenched by a do-as-you’re-told succession of Liberal and Conservative prime ministers is a stern lecture by a teacher-turned-prime minister delivered in the principal’s office.

Yes, that should do it.

If anyone requires any more evidence of Trudeau’s unserious nature and that his “revitalised” cabinet had promptly run out of what could be charitably described as “ideas” to address the onerous financial burdens too many Canadians endure every day, I am at a loss.

Trudeau’s insipid response to widespread hardship goes some way towards explaining the undeniable exhaustion that personifies a flailing government whose best-before date expired after the last federal elections in 2021 when the Liberals, out of squalid parochial interests, reached for another majority and failed.

Trudeau should have followed his father’s sensible lead and taken a contemplative walk in the snow and realised that his time was up and the baton ought to be passed.

Still, I don’t begrudge Trudeau the understandable toll that governing during a raging, disorienting pandemic and the sad demise of a long marriage must have taken on mind and body.

And spurred on by the addicted-to-rage provocateur Poilievre, Trudeau has been assaulted – there is no other word for it – by a torrent of bile by a travelling mob of vulgar, flag-waving, conspiracy-infected MAGA wannabes who, like their crass standard bearer, ditched civility for profanity ages ago.

Trudeau intends, it appears, to contest the next federal elections, slated for some time in 2025. He hopes, I gather, that time, combined with a stumble or two by a surging Poilievre will reverse his depressing political fortunes.

In the meantime, Trudeau and Poilievre will try to persuade Canadians that they stand with the beleaguered “everyman” and “everywoman”.

It is a familiar pantomime. Poilievre feigns concern for the working woman and man. If elected, this slick, anti-reason, anti-science, anti-union charlatan will, in quick and happy course, abandon the people he claims, with a cloying valedictorian’s earnestness, to hold dear to his calcified bosom.

Poilievre is a younger, slightly more fluent facsimile of Ontario’s Conservative premier, Doug Ford, who verified his “faux” populist credentials by recanting on a cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die promise to protect thousands of acres of prized farmland and forest from voracious developers.

Ford’s obedient minions sold the public land in secret deals to six hand-picked, chummy real estate investors who stand to pocket billions while the “buck-a-beer” premier insists he did not know about the sweetheart deals struck at chichi dinners.

Poilievre will follow the same cynical playbook because that’s what “fiscal” Conservatives do in the fanatical pursuit of “privatisation”: enrich the rich at the expense of the distracted “everywoman” and “everyman”.

Soon enough, Canadians will be asked to choose between two vacuous, pedestrian politicians.

Woe, Canada, indeed.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.