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Opinion: Ill-timed Tofino holiday augurs early retirement for Trudeau

The PM vacationed with his family in Tofino on Sept. 30, the first-ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is facing criticism his B.C. vacation on Truth and Reconciliation Day.

To you and me, the decision by a national leader to hold a national day to build momentum for Indigenous reconciliation would mean that the national leader would, in fact, very obviously lead that national day.

He would publicly hold forth to Canada, not furtively retreat to Tofino.

But Justin Trudeau operates on a different algorithm in how he acts to various inputs. The prime minister has a differently programmed operating system than most of us.

On this we can now count.

He does dumb things on a spur, gets caught, obfuscates for a time, maybe a long time, then tries to produce an apology he claims is heartfelt or tries to put enough distance from those dumb things that we might forget without having to forgive.

It’s an elaborate dance we have accommodated for his six years as leader, mainly because we haven’t found anyone to replace him yet. Underline the word yet.

But last week’s callous, cold, calculated decision to not wait just one freaking day to get on with a post-election holiday – for reasons we will never know and that he knows we would never accept – had a this-takes-the-cake, straw-breaking-the-camel’s-back feel to it.

It was a deceit and a conceit.

The deceit was that his office lied he was in private meetings until journalists figured out that his plane was heading to British Columbia – not to Kamloops for a long overdue visit to leaders near the graves of residential school victims, but to another part of the province that had nothing to do with his professional duties.

As the nation held hundreds of solemn events to call for greater understanding and support of Indigenous peoples and their culture, the prime minister was jetting his family to a frolic on the windswept home of Long Beach and the country’s top surfer culture.

Days, not hours, not minutes later, he took a few seconds to issue a statement. No facing of the cameras. No calls to the national or regional Indigenous leadership.

Indeed, on reconciliation day his office said he had talked to residential school survivors; if so, they haven’t surfaced to say he reached out. He attended an event the night before the national day he hatched in haste this year with no national discussion about when and how, then got airborne to abandon those expecting him to be a central character in this inaugural day.

A greater disconnect would be hard to script. That he found a way without his aides quitting in disgust, without his spouse saying the trip could wait 24 hours, tells us much. That’s the conceit part.

For most politicians, this would be the end. Disgrace and shame would descend.

But Trudeau is on his 37th cat-life, it seems, when most of us would be grateful even for nine.

It is, though, one more reason to conclude that he will not stay much longer. He rolled up his sleeves, literally, to meet the two Michaels upon their return from unwarranted Chinese detention, but figuratively you can sense he will be dialing it back then dialing it out. Probably with encouragement within the party.

He recognized that his brand had faded this campaign, he chose to replace sunny ways with surly ones at times, and while it staved off defeat, it didn’t furnish the sort of victory that gives the rank-and-file confidence.

Indigenous leaders now ask for deeds, not just words, and Trudeau has known from the start of declaring this was his most important relationship that it was also going to be his most difficult. Every day he spends holidaying instead of working the phones and Zoom with the leadership of those who rightly feel taken in by his sanctimony and piousness is itself a statement on how valued this relationship actually is and how committed he is to its success.

How he responds now will be telling on whether he is bailing out or merely bailing water. Do we bet on the prime minister or on the surfer dude?

Kirk LaPointe is publisher and editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.