First Reading is a daily newsletter keeping you posted on the travails of Canadian politicos, all curated by the National Post’s own Tristin Hopper. To get an early version sent direct to your inbox every Monday to Thursday at 6 p.m. ET (and 9 a.m. on Saturdays), sign up here.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is now on the final leg of his European tour intended to strengthen NATO and otherwise check up on a continent descending into war. But it’s a worthwhile question to ask what Trudeau has actually accomplished in the Old World. Here’s a summary of what the prime minister hasn’t done ….
- He’s not pledging any new defence aid for NATO. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg had barely wrapped up his in-person meeting with Trudeau when he was publicly telling a security conference in Ottawa that Canada needed to “step up” its NATO spending.
- He doesn’t really have an agenda to push. If Trudeau was trying to push something controversial for Ukraine – such as a more active role for NATO – it would make sense that he’d be trying to win over European leaders in person. But Trudeau is remaining pretty middle-of-the-road on the response thus far, and has even defended NATO reticence to be seen intervening.
- He’s definitely not trying to sell them Canadian energy. The Ukraine crisis sent all of Europe scrambling for non-Russian sources of energy, be it nuclear, natural gas or petroleum. Canada has all three of these in spades, and yet whenever he’s asked about energy, Trudeau has given non-committal answers about “renewables” (although his natural resources minister, Jonathan Wilkinson, had been sounding a different tune).
And it’s worth noting that every other main player in the Ukraine crisis has strenuously avoided leaving their capital city. Ever since the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24, Trudeau is really the only NATO leader who has journeyed outside his own borders.
Meanwhile, Trudeau’s Europe trip has featured an awful lot of photo ops …
- The Canadian delegation posted photos of themselves seeming to walk busily past Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate. The monument isn’t really between any offices that the group would have been visiting, so the image was almost certainly staged.
- At a summit with U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris in Warsaw, Trudeau could be seen sporting his signature loud socks.
- While there isn’t a huge Canadian military presence in Europe right now, Trudeau did get some excellent photos of him with the Canadian Armed Forces’ deployment to Latvia.
- And, of course, perfectly composed images now abound of Trudeau deep in conversation with a who’s who of European presidents, chancellors and prime ministers.
All that said, there are perfectly legitimate reasons for Trudeau to simply show his face around Europe at a time of crisis. National Post columnist Matt Gurney called it “showing the flag”; Trudeau entrenches Canada’s usual friendships and alliances just by “being present.” After all, Stephen Harper did this kind of stuff all the time: Harper’s annual Arctic tour was similarly little more than a series of photo ops with the subtext of sticking it to Vladimir Putin.
An opposing take comes courtesy of Terry Glavin. He called the whole tour “Operation Photo Opportunity.”
CONSERVATIVE LEADERSHIP RACE
Jean Charest, the 63-year-old former Quebec premier who hasn’t touched federal politics since the days of Brian Mulroney, is now officially a candidate for the Conservative Party of Canada. In a not-tremendously-high-energy video posted to Twitter, Charest invited Conservatives to line up behind his “built to win” team.
Here’s Charests’ scorecard going into the race …
- He’s a committed federalist who probably helped to stop Quebec from seceding in the 1990s.
- He was a big wheel in the Brian Mulroney government. Which, remember, was the last government of any kind in Canada to win an election with more than 50 per cent of the popular vote.
- He doesn’t really have any beliefs that would scare Toronto voters. Let’s just say he uses the word “fiscal conservatism” a lot.
- He did run a provincial government for nine years.
- He has indeed raised taxes in basically every government post he’s held.
- He’s the standard-bearer incarnate for a Progressive Conservative party that many modern-day Conservatives devoted their lives to destroying via the upstart Reform Party.
- Stephen Harper, the only Conservative prime minister of the last 30 years, hates him.
Patrick Brown – who just finished clearing his name of the sexual misconduct allegations that tanked his career as Ontario’s Progressive Conservative leader – is also throwing his hat in the ring. Reportedly, he has a kind of “understanding” with Charest under which they’ll both eventually team up to swing the race for a “moderate” leader.
And Roman Baber is running. He’s the Ontario MPP who got kicked out of the caucus of Doug Ford for opposing Ontario’s hardline approach to pandemic lockdowns. Although his anti-mandate views have garnered the most headlines of late, Baber also thinks Conservatives don’t talk enough about “transit, housing and health care.”
These are all in addition to Leslyn Lewis, who declared this week, and Pierre Poilievre, who became the race’s first candidate way back on Feb. 5. Poilievre is by far the frontrunner, according to a recent Leger poll. Forty-one per cent of Conservatives polled saw Poilievre as their best choice for leader. While Charest was in second place, he got a thumbs up from just 10 per cent of respondents.
Want to know who former NDP Leader Tom Mulcair thinks is going to win? Charest, who used to be his boss back when Mulcair was in the Quebec Liberal cabinet. With Charest being framed as far too much of a lefty to run the Tories, it’s notable that Mulcair faced the exact opposite accusation when he ran the NDP. Mulcair didn’t score a lot of points with Dippers when video emerged of him praising Margaret Thatcher, for instance.
Fun fact: Forty per cent of the Conservative leadership candidates thus far are immigrants. Lewis was born in Jamaica and Baber was born in the Soviet Union. Unlike some other North American countries, Canada doesn’t have a weird law on the books restricting our top political job only to “natural born Citizens.”
IN OTHER NEWS
The COVID-19 pandemic has turned Canadians into hateful, isolated monsters, according to a new poll from the Angus Reid Institute. The poll found near-universal endorsement of the notion that two years of the pandemic (and its accompanying lockdowns) made Canadians more irritable, brought out the worst in people and has generally pulled the country apart.
Statistics Canada collected sewage from five major Canadian cities and then tested the samples to see which had the most drugs. Halifax easily led the pack when it came to cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy, while Vancouver dominated the rankings for harder drugs such as methamphetamine, morphine and fentanyl. Edmonton’s wastewater, meanwhile, had by far the highest concentrations of pain meds such as oxycodone and codeine.
B.C. businessman Vikram Bajwa has pledged $1 million to whoever in Russia feels like arresting Vladimir Putin as a war criminal. He’s also asking others to top up his “arrest Putin” bounty until it reaches $50 million. Last week, Russian entrepreneur Alex Konanykhim pledged the same amount to whoever could orchestrate Putin’s arrest.
The National Post’s Adam Zivo is in Poland to get an on-the-ground look at the massive wave of Ukrainian refugees flowing into the country over its eastern border. On his way to Europe, Zivo rubbed shoulders with about 15 members of the “Canadian Ukrainian Brigade,” a group of middle-aged men in combat fatigues heading for the front lines.
Get all of these insights and more into your inbox every weekday at 6 p.m. ET by signing up for the First Reading newsletter here.