Justin Trudeau Denies the Divisiveness of Politics

Strange Musings on Quebec’s Secession

On Sunday, 12 February 2012, Justin Trudeau announced in a French-language interview that he would support the secession of Quebec in order to oppose and protect Quebec from the alleged right-wing policies of the Harper government. Trudeau made the following comments around the 13-minute mark:

When Quebec is not involved in the governance of this country, this country becomes more right-wing. And it’s not necessarily that Canadians don’t have the same values as Quebeckers. It’s that there’s a way of seeing social responsibility, openness toward others, a cultural pride here in Quebec, which is necessary for Canada […]. And I’ve always said that if the time comes when I believe that Canada becomes truly the Canada of Stephen Harper – we turn against abortion, against gay marriage, and return to the past in 10,000 different ways – perhaps I would muse about wanting to make Quebec a country. […] Absolutely, if I no longer knew Canada [as conforming to] my values.

[My translation].*

(As an aside, most English-language media outlets translated Trudeau’s main declaration “Peut-être je me songerais à vouloir faire le Québec un pays” as “Maybe I would think that Quebec should become a country”. But that inaccurate translation misrepresents “se songer”, which really means “to muse” or “to consider”, a far more conditional and hypothetical declaration than “to think”. This is why I don’t think that Trudeau is disloyal; he’s just too emotive and apparently incapable of articulating a rational argument).

Ignorance of Loyal Opposition and of the Government versus the State

Herein lies Justin Trudeau’s warped conception of loyal opposition. Loyal opposition means responsible political opposition toward the government’s policies but loyalty to the Crown, and therefore to the country; however, Trudeau wants Quebec to secede – not out of opposition to the Canadian State – but in direct response to the Harper government’s policies.  Normally, if one disagrees with the policies of the government of the day – they’re too right-wing, too left-wing, or whatever – then one should work toward ousting the government in the next election and replacing it with another government more in line with one’s own views.

Justin Trudeau: hoisted on his own petard?

Trudeau, however, seems to suggest something else entirely different in this interview. Essentially, his assertion (because he’s not really dealing in evidentiary argumentation) rests on the premise that if Quebeckers oppose the alleged right-wing policies of the Harper government and the Conservative Party of Canada, they should consider secession as a legitimate response rather than electing a new, more left-wing government in which Quebec would receive more Cabinet representation. Alternatively, even from the standpoint of a principled secessionist, Trudeau’s argument insults the intelligence of Quebeckers: Trudeau asserts that Quebeckers should not elect to secede from the Canadian federation and become a sovereign State because they oppose the Canadian federal State, but merely because they disagree with the government of the day. Justin Trudeau confuses opposition to the government’s policies with opposition to the State itself; worse still, his remarks imply that he doesn’t even understand the crucial distinction between the government and the State. I doubt that Trudeau truly opposes the Canadian State (the country); he just vehemently opposes the Harper government and seems incapable of articulating a coherent argument to explain why. After all, why would you work toward articulating a coherent argument when good looks and a famous last name have given you everything that you need or want?

By Justin Trudeau’s logic, Alberta, and perhaps other Western provinces, should have seceded under the Second Trudeau Government (1980-1984) because they vehemently opposed that government’s policies, like the National Energy Program. In reality, of course, Westerners simply voted overwhelming for the Conservatives in 1984. And when they became dissatisfied with the Mulroney government and the Progressive Conservative Party, they turned toward the Reform Party of Preston Manning, the Canadian Alliance of Stockwell Day, and the Conservative Party of Stephen Harper. They opposed the government’s policies but remained loyal to the country. (To illustrate this principle that voters should never confuse opposition to institutions and the State with opposition to the government and its policies, many Western Canadians supported the reform of the Senate into an elected chamber in the 1980s and 1990s while their party occupied the opposition benches; however, after the Harper government took office and took control of the immense Crown prerogatives at its disposal, the clamour for an elected Senate has abated).

Trudeau Denies the Divisive Nature of Politics

Justin Trudeau issued a brief statement on 14 February 2012, in his typical hyperbolic theatrical style, and left the microphone amidst the clamour of anxious and frustrated journalists. He insisted stridently that his political opponents cannot interpret his “musings” on Quebec’s secession in response to the Harper government as disloyalty to Canada.

Trudeau asked rhetorically and asserted:

Why do millions of Quebeckers not see themselves in this government? […] Because they do not like – they do not see – the Canada that we build over decades reflected – not in the policies of this government – but in the values that this government is putting forward.

To answer Trudeau’s rhetorical question, “Quebeckers do not see themselves in this government” because they choose to elect primarily candidates representing the New Democratic Party, Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, rather than electing Conservatives, who formed Her Majesty’s Canadian Government. If Quebeckers had elected more Conservatives, they would enjoy a commensurately larger representation in Cabinet, and, it stands to reason, a better “reflection of their values” in Government.

Even more extraordinarily, Trudeau asserted – he most certainly did not “argue”, because arguments require evidence – that the Harper government opposes the rule of law and what he considers “the rights of the individual” and basic freedoms:

Freedom from fear, freedom from crime, freedom to love who[m] you want and to not be judged for it [i.e., “same-sex marriage”], freedom to do what you want with your body [i.e., “abortion”]. These freedoms are the very things that Stephen Harper and his government are trying to take away!

Trudeau of course declined to offer any evidence to support these hyperbolic, fantastical assertions. To allude to one of the Liberals’ favourite lines of attack against the Harper government, allow me to ask my own rhetorical question: when will Justin Trudeau support “evidence-based” argumentation? In addition, those remarks reveal that Trudeau almost certainly rejects the classical liberal definition of liberty as the absence of external constraints (also known as “negative liberty” and generally expressed as “freedom to”) and instead adopts the social democratic concept of “positive liberty” through this phrasing of “freedom from”, which implies that an activist State must guarantee certain outcomes.

Trudeau concluded his opening salvo in English by asserting that his opposition to the Harper government “has nothing to do with policy,” even though he’s “upset at the direction that this government is taking the country” — which by definition means that he disagrees with the Harper government’s policies. He also asserted that “there are millions of Canadians who don’t see, in the direction that this government is taking, a direction that is consistent with Canada.” Presumably, Trudeau meant that his opposition to the Harper government rests on “values” – the values that only the Liberal Party can apparently defend (and perhaps under his leadership). These contradictory assertions betray a fundamental misunderstanding of what constitutes policy. What Trudeau mistakenly differentiates as “policy” versus”values” are in practical governmental terms, and in fact, both examples of policies against which any serious, loyal opposition party would campaign in the next election in order to replace the government.  Trudeau clearly based his assertions on what he perceives, incorrectly, as the Harper government’s policies, in this case, repealing same-sex marriage and restricting access to abortion.

Amidst all his theatrical hyperbole, Trudeau lost sight of the argument that he tried to make: Canadians should elect a new government, a Liberal government, in order to replace the Conservatives and the Harper government’s policies with a “progressive alternative.”

Trudeau then switched into French and accused the Harper government of promoting “an anti-intellectual Canada”. I can only conclude that it is Justin Trudeau, content in making hyperbolic emotive assertions in place of rational evidentiary arguments, who promotes anti-intellectualism. In conclusion, Trudeau probably is loyal to Canada, but he seems incapable of abiding by his father’s maxim of “reason before passion” and thus submits his ignorance of Westminster parliamentarism and his virulent political activism in place of a logical argument against the Harper government’s policies (and alleged policies). For shame. His father would be sorely disappointed.

Justin Trudeau cannot even make a coherent argument why the Liberals should replace the Harper government. In that sense, he cannot even act as a responsible Leader of the Official Opposition and leader of an alternative government – let alone as Prime Minister. In any case, Canada restricts the hereditary principle to the Head of State; our Head of Government should not also head a familial dynasty.

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About J.W.J. Bowden

My area of academic expertise lies in Canadian political institutions, especially the Crown, political executive, and conventions of Responsible Government; since 2011, I have made a valuable contribution to the scholarship by having been published and cited extensively. I’m also a contributing editor to the Dorchester Review and a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Parliamentary and Political Law.
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5 Responses to Justin Trudeau Denies the Divisiveness of Politics

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  3. Pingback: The Prime Minister Does Not “Represent All Canadians” – the House of Commons Does | By James W.J. Bowden

  4. Alex S says:

    Disloyalty or ignorance – can’t it be both?


    • Certainly, my question could be posed as either an inclusive «or» or as an exclusive «or».

      I think that Trudeau is probably loyal to Canada, but his emotive hyperbolic assertions, inability to form a coherent logical argument, conflating of the State and government, and ignorance of the role of loyal opposition combine to mask his loyalties.


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