Bennett's Blog

Justin Trudeau - a pleasant surprise

Bennett R. Coles | March 11, 2016

There's been a lot of media hype on both sides of the border this week due to the official visit of Canada's new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, to Washington DC. It's been fun to watch, but I'm actually a lot more impressed by an announcement that was made last week - Canada has reached its goal of receiving 25,000 Syrian refugees. So yes, I'm happy that the Canadian and American leaders are getting along again - it's been a while - but ultimately leadership is about substance, not glamour, and I'm happy to say that Prime Minister Trudeau is scoring high.

First, an important clarification. I didn't vote for Mr. Trudeau's Liberal party in the last election. I was as surprised as anyone when he won a majority government. But when he did, I accepted the news graciously and said to myself, "Okay, the people have spoken. I'm willing to give this kid a chance, but he better live up to all the hype."

So he's been in office for a little over five months - has he accomplished anything? Well, actually, yes. Quite a lot. He restored the long-form census, reversing a ridiculous decision by the previous PM to try and blind the federal goverment to national trends. He made the environment a major priority again, conducting perhaps the fastest, biggest reversal of national policy on a major issue I've ever seen. And good thing, too, because the environment matters. He pulled Canada's jet fighters out of the bombing campaign on ISIS - maybe I didn't agree with that one so much, but at least he kept his campaign promise. He created a government cabinet of unprecedented diversity and relevant experience - you know, like a Minister of National Defence who was actually a soldier, and a Minister of Health who was actually a doctor - and stood strong in front of scathing criticisms by the right over the fact that he hadn't created a cabinet of the usual gaggle of old, white, male lawyers.

Oh yeah, and in the midst of an epic humanitarian crisis he pledged to take in 25,000 Syrian refugees - and then actually made it happen! Quickly. Efficiently. Effectively. That's 25,000 lives saved - men, women and children - without even a wrinkle to our national well-being. 

Times are tough for a lot of people in Canada and the US. The economy is still sputtering, jobs can be scarce, debts are high, and there is a lot of uncertainty and fear. But in just five months Mr. Trudeau has shown that it is still possible, in these tough times, to remain positive, intelligent and compassionate. The troubles that we face here in North America are NOTHING compared to the troubles faced by the millions of people who've had to flee their homes in Syria. We have so much - they have nothing. For us to share just a little bit of our wealth and safety with them isn't a noble act: it's a basic act of human decency. I lived in Syria in 2003-04 and I saw first-hand the wretchedness which life there could be, even before the civil war. Trust me, our problems here in Canada really aren't that bad.

A lot of American politicians don't seem to see this - they'd rather focus on the relatively minor local challenges here at home and blame foreigners for it. They use refugees as a bogeyman to get their own people angry and scared.

And, I'm sad to say, there is a strong right-wing sector of Canadian society who are doing the same thing. And I'm not sure how much of this radical sentiment is genuine anti-immigration (ironic, in a country made up 99% of immigrants) and how much of it is just a knee-jerk, childish backlash against anything Mr. Trudeau does. His predecessor, Steven Harper, was a master at creating fear and scorn against anyone who disagreed with him, and it seems his ten years in office succeeded in creating an entire section of Canadian culture who want to keep that negativity going. Facts don't matter, it seems, and there's no place for compassion when fear and hatred are socially acceptable. If Justin did it, it's the worst thing ever, apparently.

So I didn't vote for Mr. Trudeau, but man, am I happy that he became Prime Minister. In five months he's done more good for Canada and for the world than Mr. Harper did in ten years, and most of all Mr. Trudeau has remained consistent to his campaign attitude of leadership through positive, intelligent collaboration. In the US, President Obama has struggled for eight years to remain positive against a tidal wave of Republican obstructionism, and the insanity of the GOP primaries is the result of that long acceptance by the right of extremist, knee-jerk attitudes.

So to the 25,000 newly-arrived residents in Canada - including those here in my neighbourhood - I say welcome. I'm proud of Canada for standing up and doing the right thing for the people of the world, and I'm proud of our prime minister for making it happen so quickly.

Mr. Trudeau, I had a lot of doubts, but you, sir, have impressed. Keep it up.

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