Rex Murphy: I accept and I disagree: Justin Trudeau's amazing doublespeak
I’m willing to give the PM a break. It’s possible he’s got no apologies left. He’s simply run out. But I’m sure some new ones are on order
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau points to Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer while walking with the crowd in celebration of National Acadian Day in Dieppe, N.B., on Aug. 15, 2019. Scheer is asking for an investigation into the SNC-Lavalin affair, after a scathing report found that the prime minister broke ethics law.Marc Grandmaison /CP
August 16, 2019
4:47 PM EDT
Our prime minister is a gifted voice artist.
Sometimes Mr. Trudeau speaks in a soft, semi-muted, soothing voice, each word sounded distinctly, and with something like a pause or a halt between nearly every word. It’s his empathy voice, it whispers the deepest sincerity of feeling, it’s his my-fellow-Canadians-I-want-you-to know-that-what-I’m-saying-now-is-from-the-bottom–floor-of-my-heart voice. (Maybe even further down, the basement.) It’s a great voice for apologies, so it gets lots of exercise. It’s also great for those staring-deeply-into-the-eyes-of-friendly-interviewers moments, when he wishes to lather whatever pseudo-profundity he’s about to utter with maxima unction.
There’s another voice — it could be called the Robert Fife voice, since it mainly shows up whenever Robert Fife (Kingslayer) comes up with another doozy of a story. The volume is higher than the apology voice, the words are evenly spaced and punctuated by what I’ll call a stream rhetorical hiccups (the trademark “ums” and “uhs” that brocade so many of his speeches), and the final stroke — a hard hit on the definitive part of the statement.
It’s a great voice for apologies, so it gets lots of exercise
Classic example, easily found on YouTube and in other archives, from the early days of the SNC-Lavalin affair: “The allegations in the Globe story this morning ( … pause for emphasis … ) are false.” And that takes care of that. When the PM hits “are false,” the pressure put on those two words is the signal that people can accept that the story is all tosh, and everyone should go home and watch Big Brother.
The third voice doesn’t come out as often as those two, but it’s plainly meant to be the knockout voice. It’s declamatory, strong, even loud, and has the neat, even unique characteristic of telling Canadians that what he’s saying this time is true because he’s saying it. Who can forget the almost-Churchillian vigour of his famous promise, from the 2015 campaign, to “balance the budget by 2019.”
“I am looking straight at Canadians and being honest the way I always have. We said we are committed to balanced budgets and we are! We will balance that budget in 2019.” You can almost hear the echoes … We shall fight on the beaches … etc.
Justin Trudeau, seen on stage at Liberal party headquarters in Montreal on Oct. 20, 2015, after winning the 42nd federal election, promised during that campaign to balance the budget, a promise he later reneged on. Sean Kilpatrick/CP
Looking at the clip nearly four years later you can’t help but be impressed by its sheer (Scheer?) ardour, the steely determination of the voice, the clarity and certitude behind the promise. It has that same stern infallibility you hear in Newfoundland when someone says “I ’spose it’s going to rain on the weekend again.” Pure accent of truth or truth itself.
On my believability meter, I’d put “I ’spose it’s going to rain on the weekend again (in Newfoundland) and the dramatic assurance of “We’ll balance the budget in 2019” from Mr. Trudeau, as right up there with Papal declarations, and the familiar operations of diarrhetic bears in the woods. One hundred per cent in both cases.
Or, I should qualify, almost. Here I must reluctantly add an alas and a couple of alacks. Brace yourself, good reader.
The budget in 2019 is NOT balanced. It is nowhere near balanced.
Despite having “looked straight at Canadians,” despite “being honest as I always (am)” — despite all that utter conviction when making the promise, it is not balanced. If it were a playground seesaw, the deficit end of the plank would be solidly on the ground, even biting a few feet under it, and several feet up, almost perpendicular, would be its opposite.
The budget in 2019 is NOT balanced. It is nowhere near balanced
This cardinal promise of Mr. Trudeau will end up in the political journals next to such classics as Mr. Bush’s “Read my lips: no new taxes,” and Mr. Obama’s beautiful oath during the health-care debate: “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.” The capacity of politicians to end up on the very opposite side of their own words is a versatility not to be found elsewhere in nature.
And now to the scandal or scandal redux of the week. The most awaited sequel since I Still Know What You Did Last Summer. The ethics commissioner, a man of unwonted spine in that capacity has firmly — devastatingly is the adverb of choice — come down on the side of Jody Wilson-Raybould. He has roundly condemned the actions of the prime minister and his various busy minions in the attempt to interfere with prosecutorial independence and the sacred independence of the attorney general. All the words of Mr. Trudeau on this subject since the first denial — “It is false” of the Fife story to the return of Gerry Butts to the back offices of the Liberal hierarchy — have been shown to be nothing but steam on the window, meant to obscure the reality. The justice minister was very right. Mr. Trudeau was very wrong.
Former attorney general and justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould prepares to tertify about the SNC-Lavalin affair before a justice committee hearing on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Feb. 27, 2019. Lars Hagberg/AFP/Getty Images
One sentence of the report bristles with clarity on this point: “The authority of the prime minister and his office was used to circumvent, undermine and ultimately attempt to discredit the decision of the director of public prosecutions as well as the authority of Ms. Wilson-Raybould as the Crown’s chief law officer.”
And here we come to the last variation of the Trudeau voice. This is not a matter of tempo, volume, or unction. It is his dip into his third language. We know of his fluency in English and French. But he has a grasp of another lingo, doublespeak, that reaches artistry. He accepts the commissioner’s (devastating) report, but he “disagrees” with some of its conclusions.
I accept and I disagree.
He has a grasp of another lingo, doublespeak, that reaches artistry
We run into an entire picnic of “having your cake and eating it too” here. Or else, on the famous steed of Stephen Leacock: “Lord Ronald said nothing; he flung himself from the room, flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions.”
Justin Trudeau, doing politics in different voices. There is but a footnote to add.
Mr. Trudeau is adamant he will not apologize to Wilson-Raybould, or for the actions delineated by the ethics commissioner. He will never, he says, apologize for “standing up for Canadian jobs.” Two points: On the “standing up for Canadian jobs” part, he might want to hold off on that one when, if, he next visits Alberta. On the “no apology front,” I’m willing to give Trudeau a break. It’s possible he’s got none — apologies I mean — left. He’s spread them as thick as capelin on a field (a fine old Newfoundland fertilizer with a reek that could paralyze.) He’s simply run out. But I’m sure some new ones are already on order.