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Don Martin: Justin Trudeau finally grows up
OTTAWA -- For years it’s taken considerable self-restraint not to throw my remote at the television screen whenever the prime minister was speaking.
Justin Trudeau’s script-written sincerity, delivered in choppy, whispery soundbites with all the critical mass of candy floss, was infuriatingly hard to swallow because there was nothing to digest.
Not any more. Justin Trudeau is growing up before our eyes.
Watching his almost-daily availability from self-isolation is to see a prime minister enduring and embracing a leadership challenge unlike anything his predecessors have faced in peacetime for almost a hundred years.
There’s no political road map through the uncharted coronavirus maze of a national health care emergency, a collapse in manufacturing, a gutting of service sectors, a shuttering of small business and an oil industry tumbling into the abyss, all at the same time.
Every course of economic action will need correcting. Every coronavirus containment step will be viewed as too extreme or dangerously insufficient.
Every future death due to a ventilator shortage will be condemned as a failure of medical preparedness. But all we can realistically ask of our political leaders in these troubled times is to unleash a coherent, compassionate, comprehensive plan to cushion the blows of the multiple blitzkriegs happening in our midst.
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So that’s why there is cause for comfort to see a prime minister, who always appeared to be solidly in the lightweight category, doing the heavy pandemic lifting and, so far, doing it well.
While not sugarcoating the dark times ahead, Trudeau is delivering the right mix of reassurances that government will do everything it can, insisting that individual responsibility means self-isolation and highlighting the shared responsibility we all have to help when and where we safely can. It also means knowing when to show restraint.
The Trudeau government hasn’t rushed to invoke a national emergency declaration because it’s not yet clear it needs the powers it could unleash.
The prime minister didn’t unilaterally announce closing the border to Americans, opting to negotiate a two-way roadblock that allowed the mercurial U.S. president to lay mutual claim to the move.
And while there are calls to summon the troops to this viral war, his government is only talking about conscripting them for the manufacture or distribution of health care equipment, but isn’t calling them out just for the we’re-taking-this-seriously optics of having troops on the street.
Trudeau is also fortunate to be backed by the impressively-steady hands of Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, Health Minister Patty Hajdu and, if he can roll out economic relief quickly and efficiently, Finance Minister Bill Morneau.
(And lest we forget, we should salute the real rock stars of this pandemic, specifically and particularly public health officers Deena Hinshaw of Alberta, Bonnie Henry of B.C. and Theresa Tam from the national desk.)
Whatever the federal, provincial and municipal governments have done so far won’t be enough, of course.
There’s only one realistic end to all this and that is a vaccine now in preliminary testing which will take a year or longer to be ready for global inoculation.
So we can only hunker down, hoping history will write the final chapter of coping with this pandemic as more of a baby boom than divorce epidemic, more a story of neighbourly love than cabin-fever antagonism and more a case of Canadian business on hold rather than going out of business.
And perhaps it’s time to suspend our usual cynicism of all things political to believe that, subject to change without notice, federal and provincial leaders really are here to help and will have our backs through the dark and stormy times ahead.