According to Greek mythology, Icarus flew too close to the sun and plunged to his death after his wings melted. In his iconic poem, Williams Carlos Williams depicts Icarus’ fall as an afterthought: “Unsignificantly/ off the coast/ there was/ a splash quite unnoticed/ this was/ Icarus drowning.” The fall of Canada’s Icarus has created a splash that has been noticed.
When Justin Trudeau came to office in 2015, he promised to climb to new heights on his “sunny ways” wings. He promised a return to “positive politics” and promised various groups of Canadians what he thought they wanted to hear. He promised electoral reform to woo voters and the left. He pledged to restore Veteran pensions to woo voters on the right. Trudeau promised to be Canada’s first feminist prime minister and that he would achieve reconciliation with Indigenous Canadians. He promised to be all things to all people.
Like Icarus, however, Trudeau discovered his mortality the hard way. Trudeau made promises to win, but not to deliver on. On electoral reform, Trudeau abandoned his declaration that the 2015 election would be the last conducted under the first-past-the-post system. On veterans’ pensions reform, the government marketed a Pensions for Life program that is nothing of the sort.
Instead of making governance more transparent, Trudeau has ignored and shown disdain for different voices, revealing the emptiness of his sunny ways promise. The Liberal government has continued to force through omnibus bills after promising to never do that. Though the Prime Minister calls himself a feminist, we learned that he bullied or ignored his party’s brightest and most competent female MPs.
In the SNC-Lavalin Affair, for example, Canadians found out that Trudeau sought to coerce Jody Wilson-Raybould to ignore her ministerial responsibilities and to do his bidding. He yelled at Whitby MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes when she shared with him her desire not to run for re-election. Trudeau also showed his lack of commitment for Indigenous reconciliation when he ejected Wilson-Raybould and MP Jane Philpott—the two strongest voices on that file—from the Liberal caucus. The only sunny finding from the SNC scandal is the realization that there are many MPs within the Liberal Party who are willing to stand on principle and against Trudeau.
Across the board, Trudeau has demonstrated his focus on style over substance. While bedazzling Canadians with empty promises and progressive rhetoric, Trudeau has proven unable to deliver. The federal budget is no closer to being balanced. Instead of prioritizing pipeline construction and sustainable economic development that would benefit Indigenous and resource communities across the country, Trudeau has proven unable to get the job done. And though Icarus falls in silence in Williams’ poem, Trudeau’s fall has been anything but silent. Trudeau’s failure to respect the rule of law has negatively impacted Canada’s standing in the world and has led to examination by the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD).
I recently had the pleasure of speaking at a debate organized by the Churchill Society for the Advancement of Parliamentary Democracy. Churchill knew the value of rhetoric, but more importantly, the power of hard work and commitment. Historian Sir Martin Gilbert notes that Churchill was fond of the motto that “the heights achieved by men and kept/ were not achieved by sudden flight/ but they, while their companions slept/ were toiling upwards through the night.”
In our debate, I said the 2019 election would be about authenticity. It doesn’t matter how many promises you make if you do not follow through with them. There has been no “sudden flight” with the Trudeau government but a steady fall from grace as people realized the Prime Minister was not the authentic brand they advertised. In the lead-up to the October election, the Trudeau Liberals will make a whole new set of pledges. The difference is that this time, Canadians understand what happens when you fly too close to the sun.