Opinion

Central ethos of the Trudeau government is to make all public statements as mushy as possible: Neil Macdonald

"We honour those who survived atrocities at the hands of the Nazi regime, and welcome their courageous stories of hope and perseverance," read the plaque now removed from the new Holocaust memorial in Ottawa. No special mention of Jews.

The trouble is that mushy talk can sometimes leave you in a big mushy hole, splashing around in mush

"We honour those who survived atrocities at the hands of the Nazi regime, and welcome their courageous stories of hope and perseverance," read the plaque now removed from the new Holocaust memorial in Ottawa. No special mention of Jews. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

I don't know who decided what to inscribe on the plaque that has just been removed from the new Holocaust memorial in Ottawa. But I can make a reasonable guess at the logic.

The wording was almost certainly decided by a senior bureaucrat or even a minister who has absorbed the central ethos of the Trudeau government: make all public statements as anodyne, inoffensive and mushy — not to mention as uninformative — as possible.

How does that have anything to do with the Holocaust plaque?

Well, of the at least 11 million (and probably more) people murdered by the Nazis, six million were Jews. But the Nazis also systematically exterminated millions of Ukrainian and Belarusian Slavs, and their relatives, many of whom live in Canada, probably don't appreciate those deaths being overlooked.

The Nazis also massacred more than a million ethnic Poles. Polish Canadians want them remembered. The Nazis systematically killed Gypsies (Romani), and gays, and the disabled, and anyone else considered an untermensch.

In these days of identity politics, it just doesn't do to ignore anyone's historical victimhood, and Justin Trudeau's government is primordially attuned to that fact.

So, whoever decided on the wording of that plaque probably Googled Trudeau's public statement on the first Holocaust Memorial Day after he took office, in which he paid "tribute to the memory of the millions of victims murdered during the Holocaust.

"We honour those who survived atrocities at the hands of the Nazi regime, and welcome their courageous stories of hope and perseverance," it read. No special mention of Jews.

A non-specific plaque

Accordingly, the memorial plaque, unveiled by Justin Trudeau himself, was similarly non-specific, declaring the memorial pays tribute to the "…millions of men, women and children murdered during the Holocaust and honours the survivors who persevered and were able to make their way to Canada after one of the darkest chapters in history."

As a political strategy, the Trudeau approach does makes some sense. But the trouble is that mushy talk can sometimes leave you in a big mushy hole, splashing around in mush.

Jewish groups, which generally consider the Holocaust to be their tragedy, complained that there was no specific mention of Jews. And it does seem weird to discuss the Holocaust without mentioning Jews. The omission made headlines abroad.

Immediately, the government removed the plaque, which is presumably being thoughtfully and inclusively re-worked somewhere.

Now, in the scheme of things, the controversy isn't terribly important.

The new memorial is, after all, shaped like a Star of David. But it is a perfect example of how this government communicates with the public: say nothing, reveal less, and if you can, work in a mention of how "diversity is our strength" or a reference to the "middle class and those who are working so hard to join it."

A recent independent audit of the access to information system concluded that Trudeau's government is actually less transparent than Stephen Harper's, which was just about opaque.

The incarnation of the Trudeau approach, apart from Trudeau himself, is his house leader, Bardish Chagger. She's remarkably expert at delivering sedulously meaningless gushers of scripted treacle. Chagger never wavers; she delivers each non-answer with the same serene, otherwise uninflected smile.

The incarnation of the Trudeau approach, apart from Trudeau himself, is his house leader, Bardish Chagger. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Responding once to Opposition anger about the government's declared intent to unilaterally impose changes to House of Commons operating rules, Chagger said this:

"Until we actually look at the evidence and look at how we can improve this place, we have to actually look at the commitments to Canadians that we are committed to delivering on." She concluded: "Canadians elect us to have these kind of tough conversations."

Chagger evidently sees no irony, or condescension, in invoking the right of Canadians to hear the answers she isn't providing.

I probably shouldn't single out Chagger. She's merely the most enthusiastic of the Prozac-smile Stepford wives and husbands in cabinet.

A fleet of uninteresting ministers

To be fair, a prime minister's options for cabinet spots come from an extremely limited pool. And Trudeau has also decided his cabinet must be half men, half women and ethnically diverse, all criteria that shrink the candidate pool even further.

The result is obedient, mantra-chanting, deeply uninteresting ministers.

Yes, they show up at the mic, unlike their Conservative predecessors, and yes, they respond to questions. But like the Tories, they seldom actually answer.

There's Finance Minister Bill Morneau, a former Bay Street financier who is either too arrogant or too timorous to speak in anything but rehearsed sentences.

Or Navdeep Bains, the air-recycling minister of innovation. He clutters his answers so thickly with mind-glazing boilerplate that by the time he's done, no one remembers the question.

Or Maryam Monsef, the eternally smiling woman Trudeau selected to manage his electoral reform promise.

Or Karina Gould, Monsef's even younger successor, whom Trudeau basically put in charge of breaking the promise. Gould smiles a lot, too.

As Maclean's magazine put it: "When a reporter asked how anyone could trust Liberal election promises if the government is just going to break them, Gould smiled beatifically and thanked her for the question."

Of course she did. And beatific is the right adjective. It's the Trudeau way. Smile, burble some inclusive-sounding tapioca, and declare it to be a different way of doing politics.The disappointing thing is that this government actually did show some early promise. That didn't last long.

Trudeau dedicates National Holocaust Memorial

Politics News

3 years agoVideo
1:20
The PM attended the dedication ceremony at the Canadian War Museum after thunderstorms brought heavy rain and winds to Ottawa 1:20

Earlier this year, Conservative House leader Candice Bergen asked Justin Trudeau a short, simple question about his ethical hiccups: "Has the prime minister met with the ethics commissioner on the current investigation she's conducting, and if so, how many times?"

As Trudeau busied himself with paperwork, evincing a breezy lack of concern, Bardish Chagger shot to her feet. Here is the first 24 seconds of her answer (she speaks very quickly):

"I appreciate the opportunity to once again rise in this House and to remind Canadians exactly what this government has been doing. This government has been responding to the very real challenges that Canadians are facing and we will continue to do that work. Historic investments on infrastructure to help the provinces territories and municipalities create the opportunities in growth that they would like to create. Working better with them families with children through the Canadian child care benefit."

As an aside, she quickly added that the prime minister will answer any questions the commissioner might have, which was not the question, then sat down.

And smiled, beatifically.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

About the Author

Neil Macdonald is a former foreign correspondent and columnist for CBC News who has also worked in newspapers. He speaks English and French fluently, as well as some Arabic.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

now