I hope you don’t mind that I call you Justin. After all, you told me years ago that you had a different way of doing politics, and I thought that was a refreshing departure from the typical cutthroat political culture that seems to permeate these days. Sunny ways, you dubbed it. Call me Justin, you said.
OK, fine, I thought at the time. True, you had an overly dramatic style of speaking that felt scripted yet still somehow random. But after the Stephen Harper-era; neo-corporate communications style, dark and dirty election campaigns, a myriad of mini scandals and dead-to-rights corruption, I was willing to tolerate the schmaltz. There was even a moment where I can remember thinking, “Am I being a bully right now? I mean, why am I making fun of this guy, because of how he speaks? How horrible AM I??”
Oh but Justin, how times have changed.
You probably don’t remember, but I interviewed you for the first time at the Liberal convention in January 2012. You still had that guy-on-the-cover-of-a-romance-novel haircut, and just before our interview, I witnessed you jump from the standing position onto a four-foot-high CBC stage. At least a dozen reporters saw you do it, and I began reading their reactions. Nobody said anything mean or looked dismayed, but almost all of them appeared to be thinking some variation of the following: what was the point of that? To impress us? To distract us? What would motivate a politician to do that?
I wish I would have thought to ask you about it when we spoke a few minutes later. Still, I had the pleasure of conversing with you about voter apathy, polarization, and the legalization of marijuana.
Full disclosure: I had half an ounce of this amazing skunk weed in my pocket while interviewing you. I would catch a whiff of it every time I directed the microphone back to you, which contrasted nicely when you told me that you did not believe legalizing pot would help build a better society, especially since, as you said, we were trying to get people off of cigarettes and alcohol.
Obviously, I disagreed with you on that, but luckily you did end up flip-flopping and rightly spotlighted legalization as one of the pillars in your victory in 2015. You and your team ran a brilliant campaign in that election, no question. Your image was affable and ironic, given that you managed to come off as a relatable person, despite being one of the most privileged in Canadian history.
I voted for Nathaniel Erskine-Smith in that election, and I’m still glad I did. We both know why I like him. I like any politician that clearly puts the country before the party. And here’s why…
Justin, you never stopped campaigning. Even after winning a majority government, you kept doing photo-ops while jogging or surfing, or just sitting there trying to look pensive in a million photos because your personal photographer was thought to be an integral part of your overall success. In the most basic calculation imaginable, your brain trust thought that ‘nice’ and ‘good looking’ meant there was no such thing as overexposure.
Justin, you have been overexposed since the last election, when those blackface photos were unearthed. You were handed a minority government and survived the scandal, and 5 months later the pandemic began.
And then we got to see what you were made of, how you handled the big boy chair during a crisis, and it’s all starting to fall apart. You botched the initial vaccine procurement, your communications and messaging was incompetent, you grew a beard for strategic reasons (that’s just a guess), you flouted your own COVID regulations, you barely left your residence but still somehow showed up late for virtually every press conference held at that same residence, you have a worsening China problem and have met that challenge with capitulation and appeasement, and then, to top it all off, you chose the middle of the 4th wave of this pandemic to call an early election.
And instead of trying to demonstrate humility, or craft some reasonable justification for calling this election, you go back to the overly dramatic, scripted yet somehow random style of delivering your remarks on the campaign trail, and everyone, including me and you and Liberal voters and people who hate Liberal voters and nice people and bad people, can only see the cringe-inducing schmaltz we can no longer stomach.
You come off as if your campaign is the political manifestation of Sophie’s bedtime song, complete with tone-deaf proclamations, a meandering delivery, and of course dog-whistling. Christ, Justin. You framed the vaccine issue as follows: people who do not want to or are unsure of getting vaccinated are second-class citizens. There was no nuance, no attempt to balance understanding with convincing them that vaccines are safe, no ideas except the fostering of further divisions between the two groups – your version of woke voters, and everyone else.
And you keep going back to that strategy of weaponizing polarization. You said critics of Bill C10 were people who wore tinfoil hats, all because we don’t want you to police the internet, or give the CRTC more power. You know, because we’re fascists and conspiracy theorists.
You sent your Minister for Women and Gender Equality, Maryam Monsef, to deliver a televised message to the Taliban, a group known for killing women and gay people, where she referred to the Taliban as brothers. After the understandably harsh criticism, you doubled down, saying that critics were Islamaphobic. Worse, you then floated this idea that it was a word that translates differently and is not a term of endearment.
You dared people to attack you and thought you could use Minister Monsef and Islam itself as shields when all you had to do was leave out the word “brother” because who needs that distraction during a pandemic election.
Then we find out you are no longer giving COVID updates until after the election. Apparently, the severity and urgency of COVID is clear, just not while you are trying to remain in power. If you end up winning you will probably lecture us again, which is why I am asking you to keep doing exactly what you are doing.
That’s right, Justin. I want you to stay the course.
Keep looking all smug when the camera is an inch away from your face (seriously, what’s with all the extreme close-ups?). Keep raising your voice to try to rally Canadians to stand with you, even though almost none of us believe your passion is genuine. Keep dividing Canadians into Us vs Them through social justice litmus tests and labeling critics as the enemy. Keep trying to lord over internet users at the behest of big telecoms and an Orwellian fixation on how we interact with each other.
Be strong, Justin. We rely on you to maintain a cringe level of at least Jedi Master until Election Day. Oh, and feel free to sprinkle the next few weeks with as many gaffes and backfiring strategies as possible.
We need you to do all this because it will increase the chances of you losing this pointless, self-indulgent, vanity project nobody asked for.
Most of all, we need you to do it because it’s 2021, and you and I both know that democracies are built on arbitrary, improvised answers to otherwise important questions.
Oh, and call it the 2021 SHE-lection from now on. It’s cleaner, and anyone who thinks it’s stupid can be easily placed in a box labeled “Sexism.” Gerald Butts also wants to know how long he has to go on pretending he isn’t advising you.
James Di Fiore
p.s. – remember that time you smoked a joint with Marc Emery and famous Canadian violinist Lara St. John but then denied it because you thought it would hurt you? It was great. More of that!