Don Martin: Trudeau sees doing the right thing as 'counterproductive'
The weasel word from week one of the campaign was 'counterproductive'.
It would be, as Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has put it every day on the hustings, 'counterproductive' for his government to actively defend Quebecers who are denied the right to wear religious symbols and clothing in public service jobs.
It's far more productive to wait until the votes are counted before deciding if it's safe to challenge Bill 21 legislation in a province where the ban is popular.
This was no one-off bozo eruption. It was a focus-group-tested, Gerry Butts-approved, candidate-rehearsed repetitive response to an anticipated question.
It's Trudeau opting for partisan self-interest over political guiding principle – and it's not the first time.
After all, his government has criticized Saudi Arabia on human rights, yet considers it counterproductive to risk jobs and votes by cancelling the sale of armoured vehicles made here for use by the kingdom to suppress dissent.
But Trudeau has never before articulated the real reason for his inconsistency so clearly.
It's basically Trudeau parroting former prime minister Kim Campbell's declaration that a campaign is no place for a social policy discussion.
In the Liberal leader's 2019 campaign view, his 2015 declaration that a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian has an asterisk that says active condemnation of religious discrimination is to be sidelined during campaigns.
Now, give Trudeau points for honesty. It could imperil his prime ministerial ambitions to aggressively defend religious rights in a province which views this thorny issue as none of his business.
But defending human rights under siege is hard. Former NDP leader Tom Mulcair risked it all when he denounced the Conservatives for forcing women to remove face coverings at citizenship ceremonies. He lost the election and his leadership as a result.
Actions matter. Words matter. And defending key principles only when it's convenient to do so is a negative character-defining stance.
We have rarely heard political leaders throw basic citizen rights under the campaign bus so blatantly.
Justin Trudeau did precisely that by saying he wouldn't put his government in the legal challenge line up taking on Quebec's Bill 21 until later, if ever.
This boils campaigning in 2019 down to three sad realities.
Perception is reality.
The truth is negotiable.
And now a new one: Doing the right thing is counterproductive.
That's the first Last Word of the 2019 campaign.