Get the latest summer forecast and weather knowledge from Cindy Day
Want to become a member? Check out the benefits here.
SaltWire's cartoonists bring heart and humour to the news.
Visit SaltWire.com for more of the stories you want.
SaltWire Selects: Stories you don't want to miss
What you need to know about COVID-19: August 13, 2020
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wears a mask at a repatriation ceremony for the six Canadian Armed Forces members killed in a helicopter crash off of Greece during Operation Reassurance, at CFB Trenton, Ont. on Wednesday, May 6.
International Development Minister Karina Gould responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons in 2019.
The Trudeau government has a great deal of faith in unctuousness.
Faced with a difficult question, its approach is to smear it with pablum. Tack on a note of sincerity and a well-meaning smile, and you have the standardized Liberal response. There’s never any real substance to the answer, but it comes in complete sentences and neatly fits into the required timing for a sound bite.
International Development Minister Karina Gould offered an example of the approach , and her skill at mastering it, when she was asked about the World Health Organization (WHO) and its ties to China. The WHO has been assailed by accusations it’s too close to the Beijing regime, and that the relationship interfered with international efforts to contain the coronavirus.
“I’m not sure that that’s the place for the WHO, because the WHO is a product of its member states, and I think that each member state can push for openness and for transparency,” Gould replied. “One of the things that we’re doing with the World Health Assembly this week is continuing to raise that issue … in terms of what we expect other member states to do in terms of providing information and data.”
It’s a classic Trudeauite response, because it seems to answer the question yet fails to do so. True, it shouldn’t be up to the WHO to police its members. It should be the states themselves that do that. But that makes it Ottawa’s place to ensure a supposedly neutral international organization isn’t bending to the wishes of a brutal aggressive one-party state. And Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have resolutely failed to do that.
To be fair, Gould might not be the ideal person to render an opinion on the matter, as she’s not responsible for either health or foreign affairs. But the prime minister backed her up with his own skilfully evasive view, starting off with the wonderfully accommodating observation that “no global institution is perfect,” before charging straight into the equally oleaginous assertion that, “There are always going to be reflections about the relationship between the largest donors to multilateral institutions and the functioning of those … institutions.”
Trudeau suggested he’s aware of the concerns about China’s efforts to order the WHO around, and the institution’s willingness to be ordered. Member countries have agreed to an independent review of the response to the pandemic. “There will be some real questions around China, of course, in the coming months and years,” said the prime minister. “We will be part of that.”
Yes, there will be questions, but don’t expect Ottawa to be the one to press them too hard. The review won’t necessarily focus on accusations that Beijing deliberately delayed its awareness of the virus, withheld information and silenced those who sought to speak up. Chinese President Xi Jinping moved to stifle any chance China would come in for rough handling when he suddenly kicked in an extra $2 billion towards fighting the pandemic. It was an adroit move, coinciding with Washington’s retreat from the organization. As one European diplomat noted, “It’s exactly what we feared: the space liberated by Washington will be taken up by China.”
Federal parliamentarians still haven’t managed to nail down an appearance by Bruce Aylward, the Canadian doctor and senior WHO official who led a team investigating the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan. Asked about Taiwan’s donation of 500,000 surgical masks to Canada, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne refused even to utter Taiwan’s name out loud , despite repeated prompting, for fear of upsetting Beijing. Ottawa has indicated it would like to see a greater role for Taiwan in international bodies like the WHO, but, keen to remain firmly on the fence, specified it should be as “a non-state observer,” a qualification intended to keep China from one of its patented outbursts of rage.
The Liberal position is a reflection of the belief that, as China and the U.S. square off in a global struggle for power, there is safety in numbers. Indeed, there are growing efforts to form alliances among lesser powers as a defence against the economic and security implications of the confrontation. It’s a smart enough strategy, but for some reason Canada’s prime minister continues to harbour the view that bodies like the United Nations are just the place to direct Canada’s interests. Even while struggling with the pandemic crisis, Trudeau kept up his single-minded pursuit of a temporary two-year seat on the UN security council, lobbying leaders from tiny island nations like Fiji , Tuvalu and Saint Lucia in search of the votes to counter stronger claims for the seat from Norway and Ireland. When a group of celebrities and left-wing luminaries issued an open letter questioning Canada’s claim, Trudeau evoked Canada’s role in rebuilding the world in the years after the Second World War as evidence it could do so again in post-pandemic years.
Except this isn’t the 1950s, and the UN has amply demonstrated its inability to meet the lofty goals set for it in those early years. The Security Council is run by China and Russia on one side, Britain, France and the U.S. on the other. Justin Trudeau has to get beyond the wonder years of his youth and face the world as it exists. It’s never been easy and all signs are that it’s only going to get tougher. As a national strategy, sweet talk and deference are a weak combination.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020