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The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

Ronald Reagan used to get big laughs with his line about “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help.” But alas the joke’s on the Gipper, because 37 years later far too many people are convinced only the state can do anything worthwhile even though they routinely cackle, or moan, about all the evidence pointing the other way. Including Canadians, out of politeness, gullibility or both.

Here let me mention a couple of items that are noteworthy, as so often, because they are nothing special. Meaning they’re not some deliberate, went-out-of-my-way confirmation bias examples I hunted down with diligent effort. They just showed up in the morning paper on August 31.

First, the federal and Ontario provincial governments were falling over themselves congratulating one another, and themselves, for having provided high-speed rural broadband to fully 66,000 rural Ontario households at a mere $219 million. And I could quibble that in an economy as advanced as our own it’s no boast that they finally did something about a situation that should not exist, to a significant degree did not exist, and that insofar as it did exist they caused.

Canadians infamously pay very high prices for internet, and cell service, and a major reason why is government regulation that protects providers at the expense of consumers. But it’s just possible that this outcome reflects low cunning rather than ineptitude, because of “bureaucratic capture” of regulators by their targets, who have a far more concentrated interest in the policy than its victims.

The real reason for my bringing it up as a ghastly example of smug incompetence is that, as Tristin Hopper pointed out in the National Post, “If those same households were simply to be given satellite internet, meanwhile, the whole project could probably be completed for less than a quarter of its final price tag.”

That’s right. The politicians, and their vast highly paid civil service, found a way to do it badly and quadruple the cost. And then these windbags went into mutual admiration society mode, more proof that another very scary word in English is “non-partisan”. The parties should be fighting each other for our applause, not fighting us for one another’s. It’s why we have them.

Oh, by the way, Hopper also notes that “According to figures released in 2021 by Statistics Canada, just six per cent of Canadians lacked access to a fixed broadband internet connection. When Canadians without internet were polled as to why, 63 per cent reported that they ‘had no need or interest in a home internet connection.’” So to bring in another language, Nikita Khrushchev once said “Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build a bridge even where there is no river.”

And another thing. The same day, in the same newspaper, another story started “Two different federal infrastructure programs have provided funding for more than 43,000 electric vehicle chargers since 2016, but fewer than one in five of them are actually operational, new data show.” So naturally they charged ahead: “The information provided by Natural Resources Canada came as Energy Minister Jonathan Wilkinson visited Quebec City Wednesday to announce another $25 million to fund 1,500 EV chargers in Quebec.”

Governments are good at spending money, of course. Including handing out subsidies for EV battery plants whose total value is now double the annual output of the car industry in Canada. Sorry, not value. Cost. The value is liable to be roughly zero based on the history of industrial subsidies in Canada. Yet no amount of bitter experience with their efforts to “pick winners”, and no amount of politicians swearing off the attempt in disgust, seems able to stop them from doing it, because the companies love it and are happy to give the politicians a platform from which to bloviate.

These examples all share the “squirrel” tendency of politicians to get lunge at shiny high-tech trendy things, and at your wallet to strew cash about on them. But why do we put up with it? Like light rail, which seems high-tech, environmentally and socially conscious and in keeping with hipster urban theory. But almost invariably disappoints. Including because, in Ottawa, they bought European trains not suited to the restraining rails on the U.S. track they also bought… or for our winters. No, really. They were from the government, and here to help, and so full of themselves there was no room for due diligence.

So that was just one day. If we’re willing to consider an entire week, a long time in politics, and again I’m citing Tristin Hopper, the Canadian government forced us all to adopt paper straws for the sake of “the environment” without bothering to check. I don’t mean they got it wrong. I mean, quoting Hopper, “Ottawa has also done little to no research on the environmental impacts or the potential unintended consequences of finding alternatives to single-use plastics. A Government of Canada report on alternatives to plastic straws and checkout bags simply advises retailers to find products that won’t be ‘problematic.’”

Again no due diligence. But maybe science is hard, especially for people who always claim to be following it as they thrash around keeping up with trendy ideas on masks, lockdowns, “climate breakdown” or transgenderism. But here’s one that should be easy: trees.

Back in 2022, in his habitual oh-so-pleased-with-me way, Justin Trudeau praised himself for a 2019 commitment to plant two billion trees. Which shouldn’t have been hard in a country that is basically a giant forest anyway, with about 362 million hectares of forest out of 998.5 million hectares total containing an estimated 300 billion or so of the things which practically plant themselves, but was actually already badly off track.

Since we are a metric country I don’t have to tell you a hectare is 1/100th of a square kilometre, do I? It’s also 2.47 acres. But I do have to tell some people that in 2023 Jonathan Wilkinson, formerly Environment Minister and apparently still thinking he holds that job, suddenly tweeted that actually they were way ahead of their target, prompting Paul Wells to observe that “This triumphant announcement was reported pretty much as great news in most of the country’s news outlets. Here I intend no criticism of my friends in the older news organizations: they were having a busy day” with the Trudeaus’ separation.

Whereupon Wells rubbished his former colleagues because what they all missed, other than Boris Proulx at Le Devoir and thus in French so the rest of them missed it too, was that the Liberals simply added some other trees from another program to the total and claimed it was in the program that couldn’t plant a tree in a forest. Which you really wouldn’t think was hard or, especially in Canada, a novel challenge as rural broadband just might be if it also were not.

It should not need to be added that our various governments are also making a total mess of health care, immigration, housing, inflation and just about everything else. But since I’m on a Tristin Hopper binge today, I will quote his tweet that “Every once in a while, I try to think of a file that hasn’t gotten decisively worse under the Trudeau government. I usually settle on Parks Canada. If they were anything like the other federal agencies, Banff National Park would be overrun by cocaine-addled grizzlies.”

If it’s better with your provincial or municipal government, I’m surprised and jealous. But as soon as I read that tweet I thought the next thing we’re going to hear of is some policy disaster involving Parks Canada. Like where they changed their logo slightly, removing the cross-hatching from the beaver’s tail, after a $99,100 survey found that 75% of Canadians didn’t know what their logo was, but wouldn’t tell us what the change cost.

Now speaking of Russian, someone once claimed that the three scariest words in that language were “Oh, that’s weird.” As one imagines was said at Chernobyl in 1986 as the safety readings went all wonky. But I think they only said “Russian” because they happened to speak it; the point is universal.

That politicians would hold a high opinion of themselves is not surprising given the temptations of pride and our tendency to reward it. But I certainly think oh, that’s weird when Canadians retain their faith in “government” even as they lose faith in politicians and bureaucrats. I guess Reagan would find it funny.

P.S. While I’m on the subject, or rather subjects of government incompetence, public transit and citizen gullibility, Sabrina Maddeaux recently complained, also in the Post, about Toronto city officials telling obvious lies about streetcar noise, just one example among many of brazen obfuscation that somehow doesn’t make us flinch when governments seek power to curtail the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to fight “misinformation”.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

Doubtless there is a place where Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez’ egregious fumbling of the “C-18” attempt to squeeze money out of major social media platforms and drizzle it onto Canadian journalists would still have gotten him fired. As his incompetent lies about Paul Bernardo’s transfer to a medium security prison would have gotten serial comic bungler Marco Mendaciousino sacked. But it is not Justin Trudeau’s Canada.

Instead, in his latest doubling down on a policy problem layered onto an attitude problem, Trudeau has accused Google and Meta of “bullying”. A subject which, to be fair, he knows all about. He is, after all, the guy who personhandled fellow MPs on the floor of Parliament when he wasn’t getting his way on a vote. The one who preaches sunny ways and trendy socks, but snarls about fringe minorities who take up space.

To remind you, the idea behind C-18 was to force Google and Facebook to give some of their money to faltering Canadian media because these internet giants had a lot of it and we did not. There was no issue of their having stolen the money or acquired it under false pretences (except perhaps claiming online advertising works much as in-paper advertising used to, but there caveat emptor applies). The problem was just that the world had changed, and the mass-media business model of selling audiences to advertisers that could not fail for a century could not succeed in the Internet era.

Speaking as a journalist, I hate it. The Ottawa Citizen, where I began my ink-stained-wretch career shortly after email became a thing, long had a licence to print money. And it was nice to be getting some of it. But them days is gone. Throughout the 20th century, if you wanted a new mattress you looked at the ads in the front section of the paper, and for a used crib you looked in the Classifieds. Now you don’t. You look online. Good for you, bad for us.

Maybe bad for you too, since a vigorous free press is important to a democracy however flawed both may have been. And most newspapers were biased to the left, sporadic in their coverage, prone to amusing errors and so on, while politicians were skunks and bullies. But the fading of newspapers has not reduced the latter problem and nobody wants to pay full cost for them.

So if there were some magic way to make the daily paper again a profitable central institution in the life of a city, a province or a country, I’d be inclined to say “Abracadabra”. But there isn’t. And everyone saw that the thuggish, inflexible approach in Bill C-18 was going to cause a disaster.

Or rather, everyone but cabinet. Because one important quality Justin Trudeau possesses in abundance is incapacity to attend to practical matters. From military procurement to productivityplanting trees, ethical conduct, fiscal prudence and drinking water on aboriginal reserves, the man is a deliverologist’s nightmare.

Here I want to quote a fellow newspaper columnist while I still can. Andrew Coyne recently wrote (on Twitter not paper) that he had “Never seen a government that so perfectly fused ruthless partisanship, ideological fanaticism and flower-child naivety.” Coyne added “Usually it’s one or the other” but it put me in mind of the old East Bloc joke: “Smart, honest and a Communist; pick any two.” Yet Trudeau is thoroughly ruthless, relentlessly woke and unaware of original sin, at least where he personally is concerned.

Curiously, he claims to be a Roman Catholic. Since he also claims to be inclusive and transparent it would be unwise to accept his self-assessment at blackface value. And he gleefully undermines Church doctrine on sexuality at every opportunity, which they scandalously tolerate rather than excommunicating him, and clearly has no interest whatsoever in their teachings on humility.

Instead another striking quality in Trudeau, this time metaphorically, is his overweening vanity. He never listens to critics. Like his father, he cannot begin to understand what they are talking about (Trudeau Sr. notoriously didn’t get Press Gallery Dinner jokes at his expense) and doesn’t waste his precious time trying to decipher it. Only enemies could criticize Justin for, say, firing Jody Wilson-Raybould over prosecutorial independence, using COVID as a wedge issue, groping what he thought was some cub reporter and so on and so forth.

None of us is perfect. And I’m told all sins appal God equally. But here on Earth there’s a hierarchy, with Trudeau some way up it. Imagine you are on his staff and you realize he’s charging arrogantly ahead with a blunder or worse. Would you dare tell him?

No, because he’s a bully. It’s his default mode whenever someone dares cross him.

When he’s trying to seem reasonable the ahs and ums stagger from his tied tongue. His apologies are as laughable as his contempt for practicalities is palpable. For instance in October 2022 he blithered that while Canada had missed every greenhouse-gas emissions target it ever set, it would work for sure this time, a mere seven years into his premiership, because “Every other plan was based on targets. Any politician can put forward a target. Can you actually put forward a plan to do it?”

It’s utter gibberish, not least because he himself had already put forward a dud plan in 2016. But he speaks nasty fluently. From pillorying the convoy as a fringe minority to his recent eruption at New Brunswick’s premier for thinking parents should be told if their kid shows interest in changing genders that “Far-right political actors are trying to outdo themselves with the types of cruelty and isolation they can inflict on these already vulnerable people”, his abusive tirades flow smoothly and coherently.

I realize politicians who fold at any significant sign of opposition are not persons of state. You want leaders with principles laid atop courage. But their ostensible principles should bear some important resemblance to their real ones, and their real ones should include thinking before acting, or speaking, and enough humility to take criticism seriously, recognize when you’ve made a tactical or even ideological blunder, and walk it back graciously.

I might mention here that Neville Chamberlain, whose Munich deal with Hitler rightly brought him the wrong kind of immortality, came back to Britain and speeded up rearmament efforts, and on being replaced by Churchill issued a genuinely moving public declaration that “you and I must rally behind our new leader, and with our united strength, and with unshakable courage fight, and work until this wild beast, which has sprung out of his lair upon us, has been finally disarmed and overthrown.” Which he did until his death from aggressive bowel cancer just six months later.

Chamberlain is not exactly my model statesman. But his character, and especially his reaction to having engineered a disaster, are rarely seen today.

There might be places where prime ministers showed dignity, and ministers who were belligerently obtuse even as their policies collapsed around them would be shown the door instead of those who upheld integrity when the boss did not being shown the window. But Trutopia isn’t one of them.

Instead it rots from the swelled head.


The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.