Don Martin: Is Justin Trudeau already checking out?
OTTAWA -- Watching the deputy prime minister bask in the glow of this week’s American surrender on aluminum tariffs, presumably retreating under threat of Canadian retaliation, raises an interesting question: Has Justin Trudeau already checked out?
Why the prime minister would not personally seize the spotlight to claim this rarest of political victories makes you wonder if he’s begun passing the torch to the chosen one, specifically Chrystia Freeland.
Next week’s parliamentary kickoff, whatever that will look like, features a throne speech and follow-up budget seen as Freeland’s emergence as the uncontested power behind the throne.
With Bill Morneau tossed into the abyss under the flimsiest of pretexts, there’s no Dr. No as finance minister to muddy or muddle the agenda.
Freeland has influential command over policy development and now has control over the purse. In corporate parlance, she’s the president and Trudeau the board chair.
Any push toward guaranteed annual incomes, innovation enhancement and going-greener technologies will move forward under her signature, albeit with a permissive nod from above.
But there’s more than one missed victory-over-Trump opportunity to feed wild speculation Trudeau may be entering the fading half of his Liberal leadership.
The year since he launched his re-election campaign would’ve prematurely-aged any prime minister, what with pandemic, economic, diplomatic and ethical battles raging all around his government.
And it’s taking a toll.
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Trudeau has taken an inordinate number of personal days off this summer and posted more than a few blanked-out ‘private meeting’ itineraries for a supposedly-transparent prime minister who is the country’s public face in fighting a pandemic and a recession.
Besides, the fun part of his job is gone.
The only time you see a gleam in Trudeau’s eyes is when he interacts with large groups of real Canadians, preferably of Liberal persuasion.
That re-invigorating oxygen supply has been turned off for the foreseeable future, likely denying him any human connection in the next election campaign.
Then there’s the environmental crusade, which was supposed to be his passion project for this second mandate.
I’m told an unusually thick wad of briefing documentation dropped on Trudeau cabinet ministers recently.
It advocated the most aggressive, comprehensive and expensive assault on climate change in this country’s history.
Hydrogen technology boosters, tree-plantings by the tens of millions, backing for small modular reactors and federal fertilizer to grow green industries were all in line for an eye-watering dose of taxpayer dollars.
But the environmental plan was largely dead on arrival, delayed because the political optics of going deep green this year clashed with the bleak reality of the Canadian pandemic landscape.
The cabinet didn’t require a focus group to confirm those instincts. A new Research Co. poll says it all by putting the economy as top public concern at 30 per cent, health at 25 per cent and the environment a distant fret at just seven per cent, even with Vancouver suffocating under smoke from California and Oregon wildfires.
While it’s far too early to talk about Liberal leadership change, the prime minister appears to be wearying of the job earlier than one might expect, knowing he may well face a difficult grind to keep it in the next election.
That’s why there was some irony in Chrystia Freeland revealing she’s consulting former prime minister Paul Martin on deficit control and reduction in her new finance minister role.
Clearly there’s one topic she need not consult him on: How to seize the Liberal leadership.
There will be no coup attempt for Trudeau’s job to replicate Martin’s disastrously premature push to take down Jean Chretien.
Prime Minister Trudeau is already signalling he’s crowned Freeland as his successor, even while he has one more election to fight.
Unless, of course, he opts for early checkout.
That's the bottom line.