“Get the fuck out of my way,”* growled our Boy Wonder Prime Minister, as he shoved through a crowd of opposition MPs, grabbing one and elbowing another, in an ultimately self-destructive effort to get them to sit down so Parliament could get along with the important business of doing exactly what Justin Trudeau said it ought to be doing.
The incident has been parsed and mocked and debated and dissected interminably in the days since. The question of whether or not the opposition overreacted has gotten a lot of airtime, as have questions of how this incident will affect Trudeau’s supposedly sterling (inter)national reputation as a super-sexy uber-charismatic wonderkid feminist. The consensus seems to be that #Elbowgate, as the incident has been trashily labelled, is a shocking departure from the Prime Minister’s (all together now) “sunny ways” style.
But as a summary of the Trudeau Liberals’ governing philosophy, one would be hard-pressed to come up with anything more succinctly apt than “Get the fuck out of my way”. It’s Justin’s answer to Pierre’s “Just watch me” – which, when you get right down to it, amounted to about the same thing: the PM is gonna do what he wants.
This is a government that, notwithstanding its nausea-inducing rhetoric of inclusivity and consultation and real change and sunny ways, has consistently steamrolled its way to its desired outcomes.
A perfect example: When the profanity-laced elbowing incident in question occurred, Trudeau was trying to force opposition MPs back to their seats so the House could vote to prematurely move forward on a controversial assisted-dying bill. On this issue, the Liberals have been both incoherent and imperial. Their proposed bill falls far short of the recommendations of a panel of experts, and has been denounced by doctors and patient advocacy groups.
The government has at every opportunity attempted to shut down debate on the issue, spurned all efforts by the opposition to amend the bill, and was threatening to pass a measure which would give the Cabinet complete control over the agenda of the House, essentially turning opposition and backbench Liberal MPs into spectators.
The Liberal Party’s defence of the bill has been at best incoherent – it’s a minefield of ambiguity which will almost certainly face legal challenges. Their main argument in its favour, in fact, seems to be that they want to pass a bill, any bill, before a Supreme Court-imposed June 6 deadline. Except that this deadline is not such a big deal – as many senior politicians have pointed out. If no law is passed by that date, then there simply wouldn’t be a law governing medically assisted death, leaving it up to hospitals and possibly the provinces to institute provisional guidelines until a federal law was enacted. Such a state of affairs would not be disastrous, and is almost certainly preferable to a hastily written, insufficiently debated, and arbitrarily designed law rushed out to fill a not-so-scary legal void.
In response to these criticisms, what is the government’s response? “Get the fuck out of my way” – get back to your seats, get in line. This is what we’re doing. Don’t like it? Too fucking bad.
Nor is this a unique reaction. When the government decided to stick by Trudeau’s preposterous focus-group-designed campaign pledge to both escalate and deescalate Canada’s
war non-combat operation against Daesh by pulling out the CAF’s bombers while introducing three times as many Special Ops training troops in Iraq, they faced criticism on all sides. Specifically, many critics wanted to know why they had chosen this course of action. Why choose to withdraw the half-dozen Canadian bombers? What’s more, why promise to pull them out and then refuse to do so for nearly six months after taking office? Did Trudeau’s government disagree with their mission? If so, why maintain the logistical support for other nations’ bombers? What was the end goal here?
Ultimately, the government offered no justification for their decision whatsoever beyond the vaguest bromides about “doing what Canada does best”. Their ultimate response to all of these completely valid questions boiled down to “Get the fuck out of my way”. Why this particular approach? Because we fucking said so. Of course, they dressed it up in the most agreeable sunny language they could – but the ultimate message was unmistakeable. They were gonna do what they wanted, and they didn’t feel that they had to justify or explain it to anybody.
Instituting a new pipeline “review” and Indigenous consultation process which is denounced by Indigenous leaders and politicians in affected communities as a joke?
Heavy-handedly imposing an electoral-reform process which inexplicably eschews citizen committees, balanced all-party consultation, and/or a national referendum and instead insists on a show process completely controlled by the government from start to finish?
The Liberals’ response to any criticisms of their inconsistency and hypocrisy regarding these and other issues has been, essentially, “Go fuck yourselves”. They seem to feel that not only can they do whatever they please, they also don’t owe anybody any explanations for any of their often-inexplicable decisions.
Of course, this is not a new trend in Canadian politics. The HarperCons managed to ride a policy of “Middle Finger To The World” to three successive election wins. What’s changed is the messaging. Harper never pretended that he was running the most open and transparent and consultative and awesome-sauce government ever. He never had any pretensions to governing with idealism.
Up until now, the Trudeau government has been able to act as though they’re a sunny breath of Real Change-y fresh air, while actually telling their opposition to get the fuck out of their way at every turn. #Elbowgate isn’t a radical departure for this government; it’s just the first time their masks have slipped so noticeably. In the months and years to come, this incident will seem less like a standout and more like part of a pattern.
Don’t believe me? Just watch them.
* Some outlets are reporting the Prime Minister said “Get the fuck out of the way”, as opposed to “my way”. Regardless of who’s right, the point stands – but I like the sounds of the former better, so I ran with it.