Trudeau stays in power — for now


LONG before the advertising industry was created to market products, the dark art of appealing to the masses was being practiced by politicians. Those who wished to climb the greasy poll to power had to promote themselves and their policies to a sometimes even indifferent electorate.

It is one of democracy’s greatest weaknesses that time after time, governments are elected on programs that they then fail to carry out. Sometimes they can protest there were good reasons for this. Nicolas Sarkozy for instance won the French presidency with firm promises to rebuild the ailing French economy with radical reforms, particularly to end unsustainable state spending. In the event the world financial system tanked and Sarkozy spent much of his presidency trying to save French financial institutions from going bust.

However, more often than not, politicians win power and fail to carry out almost all of their advertised policies, because they were perfectly aware at the very beginning of their campaigns that they were promising too much. By and large governments do little but tinker with the machinery of state, merely changing the emphasis rather than the trajectory of day-to-day government and the permanent civil service which has the job of actually running the system.

But this triumph of big talk over real substance, of advertising presentation over reality, is the stuff of modern democratic politics. Those who win government know t they probably have four or five years before they will once again have to answer to voters. Thus they can get on and enjoy the perks of power and at least look as if they are really trying “to make a difference” — the mantra of so many politicians.

One prime example of presentation over reality is the apparently liberal Justin Trudeau who has just been defeated in Canada’s general election. His Liberal party lost so much support that they can only continue in power as a minority government. Though he of course is claiming a victory, the analysis of political pundits is that Trudeau only won to the extent that he did, because his challengers were so lackluster. The truth is that Trudeau, who swept to power in 2015 promising “real change”, did not deliver and is now on the political ropes.

The clean-limbed young son of the genuinely popular former premier Pierre Trudeau has been shown to anything but a trustworthy, incorruptible and liberal politician in his late father’s mold. The fact that social media witch-finders dredged up pictures of a youthful Trudeau “blacked up” for a collage fancy dress party was not of itself particularly relevant. What was, however, was that Trudeau first claimed it was a one-off, only to protest that his memory had been bad and it was a long time ago, when similar pictures from different events were also produced.

Trudeau comes over as even slipperier than the average politician. His obstruction of an enquiry into the bribery scandal involving Quebec-based construction company SNC-Lavelin has raised serious questions. He sidelined the justice minister investigating huge payments made by the firm to win contracts in Libya, clear evidence of which was uncovered after the fall of the Gaddafi regime. Many former supporters have clearly lost trust in this tarnished “wunderkind” and will be wondering how long his minority government can survive while opposition parties try to organize themselves.