Don Martin: The prime minister talks turkey in a political address to the nation
OTTAWA -- What. Was. THAT??
A prime minister calling for time across Canadian airwaves is a BIG DEAL and thus very rarely done.
It’s not allowed to be political posturing. It’s supposed to be a five-alarm siren on a matter of national significance from a prime minister who believes urgent information must be fed directly into Canadian ears.
So what does Justin Trudeau do when his demand for 15 minutes of unedited access to the airwaves was granted under the assumption it NOT be political?
In that weird breathlessness he saves for his most dramatic conversations, Trudeau warned Canadians their Thanksgiving turkey is likely cooked by the coronavirus and they might as well cancel the family feast now. Then he dangled the faint hope of Christmas salvation IF we wear masks, download the government COVID-19 tracking app and get a flu shot.
That glum scenario hardly qualifies as news-bulletin material being released by a leader with unique insights to share. It barely rates as a news story, being the parroting of what public health officials have already said about the second wave being upon many of us.
And then Trudeau dived into an overtly-partisan listing of government actions already taken and those to come, provided the throne speech gets passed by Parliament.
It was political grandstanding masked as a public service message, a transparent and shallow attempt to paste Trudeau’s face over the throne speech highlight reel instead of leaving all the television clips to a disinterested reading by scandal-tainted Gov. Gen. Julie Payette.
Not to be outdone with this flexing of prime ministerial power, Trudeau’s opposition rivals jumped on the free political advertising bandwagon with highly partisan televised reactions of their own.
Clearly the last week or two have given Canadians an ominous preview of COVID cases building into a tsunami-sized wave on case projection charts.
It’s an emerging emergency which could’ve justified a national address, provided Trudeau’s 6,000-word action plan had not been read to rapture-level media coverage just four hours earlier.
All he did in the prime-time address was echo the throne speech’s pandemic as priority one and repeat the ways his government will help millions of Canadians through the approaching winter of self-isolation discontent.
To be fair, the government did launch a flotilla of lifeboats aimed at keeping COVID-displaced Canadian workers, ravaged retailers, vulnerable seniors, disadvantaged women and daycare-dependent families afloat in the second wave. (The resulting deficits which will confront post-pandemic taxpayers are going to be truly staggering).
But to flesh it out with a hodgepodge of less-urgent, undelivered or oft-repeated priorities dilutes an agenda which should be almost solely fixated on the medical and economic trauma this country is facing.
For example, it’s a safe bet Canada will be two billion trees shy of the two billion trees this government again promised to plant in the Wednesday speech by the time we head to the polls. That and most of the other non-pandemic initiatives will be quickly moved to the back-burner.
But, getting back to the address, for Trudeau to graft his message onto the throne speech was blatant duplication for purely political purposes.
Trudeau and the other party leaders will get their opportunity for an official Hansard-recorded reaction to the throne speech in the House of Commons on Thursday.
What more Trudeau can say after his urgent national address the day before is hard to imagine, unless he’s about to scare off Hallowe’en as well.
Here’s hoping the next time Trudeau demands access to the nation’s airwaves, the networks will say his turkey was cooked in 2020 when he deemed a threat to Thanksgiving worthy of a national broadcast alert.
Then they should tell Trudeau they’ll wait and air his Christmas greeting instead.
That’s the bottom line.