I don’t normally write about politics because 1) It’s depressing, 2) way too many people do it, and 3) it’s a great way to get people screaming at you. But the events this week surrounding Elbowgate are just too stupid to ignore.
Elbowgate is named for the fact that, in a breach of the snooty decorum of Canada’s parliament, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rose again after being seated for a session, crossed the floor over to Conservative Whip Gordon Brown – who was with a group of NDP MPs – and… accounts vary depending on who is telling the story. Either Trudeau led Brown by the arm to his seat, or Trudeau manhandled Brown like a bully. After viewing the video, it looks to me like it wasn’t exactly helping an old lady crossing the street, but it wasn’t what Donald Trump’s campaign manager is alleged to have done to reporter Michelle Fields. This, however, was not the eponymous elbow. That came from the fact that while Trudeau was herding Brown, he accidentally elbowed NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau in the chest.
It looked like a pretty painful elbow. Justin Trudeau did a bad thing. It was not, however, gender-based violence or the deliberate battery of an MP. And the Conservative and NDP attempts to make it into more than it was backfired, because their outrage made light of some pretty serious issues in an attempt to lower the Prime Minister’s popularity.
Still, this is a wake up call for the Prime Minister. He isn’t just a politician. He is a bonafide celebrity. Like any celebrity, Trudeau is prey to negative twists on his less glorious moments by haters who hate his stupid face. Tom Mulcair seems to especially despise the young Prime Minister for reasons I haven’t yet been able to establish. It’s commonly known that the bad blood between the two seems personal, but the reasons why aren’t public. For the Conservative Party, however, Trudeau is bad for business. He’s good for Liberal fundraising, and that took away the money advantage that the Conservatives enjoyed for quite some time. This isn’t the first time they’ve attempted a petty distortion of facts in an attempt to make Trudeau look artificially bad. Remember those attack ads that started even before the election?
Now, as then, however, Trudeau will likely weather this storm. The gleeful pearl clutching by his enemies did him a huge favour in that they’re handing Trudeau the potential for an unlikely pr win.
Trudeau hasn’t yet learned the first rule of celebrity: never be your own bad cop. He needs to stay arms length from any direct unpleasantness lest he wear the mess. This likely goes against his natural instincts to lead by example, but it’s necessary: Generals aren’t on the front lines for a reason. Furthermore, Trudeau has had a history of getting worked up in the House. As an MP, Trudeau had to apologize, rocking a Movember goatee, for calling Conservative Environment Minister Peter Kent a “piece of shit.”
You’ll note in that video that Parliament is a pretty boisterous place. It can be downright juvenile at times. This is one of the reasons why the NDP and Conservative attempts to make Trudeau seem like a puppy killer just remind Canadians that while Trudeau is not a perfect PM, the Liberals are still the most deserving to lead… Not that this is saying much right now.
Like Hugh Grant after being caught with a hooker, Trudeau is now on another apology tour. The Liberals made the right call withdrawing a controversial bill, called Motion 6, to give them more power, even if they did so for the wrong reasons. The damage control is proving effective: despite the Conservatives’ protests to the contrary, these actions are a change of both tone and substance from the iron fist rule of the Harper regime, and Canadians tend to be forgiving of prime ministers who get physical — it undermines the Canadian stereotype of being milquetoast-level nice.
However, Trudeau’s sensitive feminist man image would have been left notably bruised, had the opposition parties not acted like bigger idiots. Elizabeth May was the only party leader with the sense to put practicality above short term political gain, and emerged as the lone grown up in the whole thing. “I think it’s likely there may have been blame on all sides in leading to the escalation,” May said. That’s about the best summary of events out there.
Rona Ambrose and Nikki Ashton reminded Canadians that those notorious gender cards come in multiple political colours, and Tom Mulcair reminded everyone why he’s not going to be the leader of the NDP for much longer by appearing to lose his temper worse than Trudeau lost his. And Brosseau herself fumbled by trying to play up the “personal attacks” she’s received by reminding Canadians that she once took a vacation in Las Vegas in the middle of an election campaign. The fact that she’s still complaining about the backlash from that makes her seem like a whiner.
At least it would make her seem like a whiner if she were a man. The NDP seems to think that Brosseau being a woman is far more relevant in this situation than it is.
Both the Conservatives and the NDP are overselling their cases, and it’s stupid: Trudeau has a lot of time left in a very strong majority, so crying wolf now weakens future gut punches closer to an election where Canadians elect the best leader, not a perfect one.
Canadians understand someone losing their temper and doing something stupid. They don’t understand claiming that taking hold of someone’s arm is a crime, or the idea that an accident is somehow a sign that parliament is unsafe for women. These overreactions alienate the working class swing voters who decide elections, who are much more familiar with being on the wrong end of political correctness than being the victim of social injustices that primarily impact marginalized communities. False accusations of thought crimes are becoming those “kitchen table” issues the NDP believes they own. The NDP, under Mulcair’s waning leadership, are making fools of themselves.
But the Conservatives are possibly playing this even worse, albeit more subtly. They got thumped in the last election, and Trudeau is still a Luke Skywalker figure who finally defeated Darth Harper. Never mind that it wasn’t long ago that Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau was charged with actual sexual assault, then pled guilty to simple assault and cocaine possession. Brazeau is currently on a mini image-rehabilitation campaign by talking about trying to take his own life. The party can’t ask Canadians to understand that good people sometimes do bad things one minute, then throw a tantrum on Trudeau for behaving like something out of an episode of Dallas the next.
The more noise that Elbowgate makes, the more light it throws on the shenanigans instigated by all three parties. This all may make for a few barn burner fundraising emails, but otherwise its a big load of politicians acting like teenagers and committing premature outrage ejaculation.
Like it or not, politics is still a game of who has the biggest proverbial dick, and by not stooping to everyone else’s level, Elizabeth May won the political penis-measuring contest. Trudeau came out in second place, however, just because the other two parties complained the room was cold.
I’m left to wonder whether this is all a way to avoid tackling, as the Supreme Court has mandated the government must, the thorny issue of assisted dying. Any bill that the government comes up with is going to piss off part of the opposition parties’ base: religious conservatives don’t like it because it interferes with “God’s plan”, and some advocates for the profoundly disabled who tend to vote NDP are concerned about what these laws will mean for the right to life of those for whom they advocate. They can’t, however, openly defy the Supreme Court, so they seem to be hoping to run the clock out to make the Liberals look unable to get things done.
Darth Harper showed, time and again, that it’s better to look like a bully than a weak leader. So it might not have been a bad idea for Trudeau to literally go down swinging. I know I’d rather vote for a guy who accidentally elbowed an MP who happened to be a woman than for either party who doesn’t understand that equality actually means equality, not treating women like we’re inherently less tough than men in politics. Again, Elizabeth May seems to have the biggest stones in Ottawa — Trudeau let himself be goaded into a PR debacle, and the NDP and Conservatives seem to think that the social problem of violence against women can be used for a cheap stunt.
Violence against anyone is wrong. Violence against women is uniquely wrong because the implication is that the victim of the abuse can’t fight back. Accidentally bumping a Member of Parliament is NOT violence against women.
The stupid games that happen while the House is sitting must end, but Elbowgate is more of the same, not the reform all parties claim to want.