Having worked in politics and with politicians for a decade, there are some things you learn on the job that you might not have thought that you would have going into it. One such thing that I discovered over my time is that politicians, like everyday people, have quirks, ticks, things they say or expressions they give off that are just part of who they are. Sometimes those can be really good, and you try to work with those to help the politician in question. But sometimes, those can be really, really bad, to the point that you do whatever you can to try to stop them, change them or avoid putting the politician in question in a spot where they can be highlighted. The bad ones can lay bare all of the worst criticisms of that person and do so in such an effective way that an opponent could never dream of pulling off.

Last night we saw a glaring example of this from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Toronto. He was at a Liberal Party fundraiser, with a $1,500 minimum donation required to get in the door, so you know this was already rarified air. And at that event, the PM got interrupted by protesters, which for an PM is nothing new. This is especially true, as many of the PMs events lately have been getting interrupted by protesters for a variety of reasons. So, you’d think that Mr. Trudeau would be used to this, used to dealing with it and would do so in a respectful way, right? Well last night one of those quirks about this PM came flying out of his mouth, and in so doing, highlighted the worst:

When I first saw this video last night, my initial reaction involved a lot of four-letter words that I had to muffle so my young daughter didn’t hear Daddy swearing. This was just so bad, so wrong, so galling on so many levels. For starters, the PM never fails to miss a chance to tell us that the most important relationship to his government is that with Indigenous Peoples, so you’d think that he’d leave the smarmy sarcasm in his back pocket in his situation.

Secondly, what makes this even worse is the issue that the protestor was protesting about; the mercury poisoning of the Wabigoon River, which brought Minamata Disease to the communities of Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong in Treaty Three territory. For those that don’t know what Minamata’s is, that is a neurological syndrome caused by mercury poisoning. This poisoning of the Wabigoon, leading to the poisoning of the fish in the river that sustained the communities and their economies, happened back in the time of Pierre Trudeau, and is still having long lasting effects to this very day. Generations of people from the community are living with the health effects of this action. Last year it was reported that residents of Grassy are up to six times more likely to suffer from a wide range of debilitating health problems like these:

  • Almost six times more likely to have a neuropsychological disorder.
  • Five times more likely to have stomach and intestinal problems.
  • Four times more likely to suffer from a range of problems, including hearing loss and joint pain in people over 30 years old.
  • Three times more likely to have blindness or vision problems.

On top of that, a 2015 study showed that more than 90% of the residents of Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong were showing signs of mercury poisoning. Image if that had happened in any other community in Canada and what the outcry would have been. Then add the fact that the Province of Ontario hid the truth about the mercury in the river for decades, saying that everything was fine. Now add to that the fact that the Liberal government promised funds in 2017 for a treatment centre, only to find that nearly two years later, a grand total of 1% of the funding promised has flowed through for the project. That is the context in which that protestor was there last night, that is why they were upset and that’s what the PM mocked when he jokingly thanked them for their donation, while a room of well to do donors applauded. And that’s the way he reacted to the people he has the most important relationship with? So probably unsurprisingly that video has gone viral, and has brought out a lot of reaction, of which I’ll just share some below:

After the last two months the PM has had, you really have to wonder where his head is at because that video and those words are the kinds of things that do amazing damage to whatever is left of his brand. That video showed the worst of the smugness and hoity arrogance that he has been accused of having in the past. For all the Conservatives cries about trust funds and silver spoons, those words have had and will have nothing close to the effect on voters as that video will. People have liked Justin Trudeau for a long time because they felt he was different, he was woke, he was better than what we have seen in the past. But over the last two months, he’s managed to take a wrecking ball to all of that, in an amazingly effective way.

Those words last night not only sound arrogant and smarmy to many Canadians, but for Indigenous Peoples, they sound so much like those of his father, in tone and context. For Indigenous peoples, getting past the idea of voting for the son of the man who brought forward the White Paper was already a hard thing to do. Yet somehow in 2015 Justin Trudeau managed to do that, because he convinced people he was different, that he wasn’t his Dad and he had learned from the past. But that words we heard uttered from that guy we last night could have easily been mistaken for one of Pierre’s very own, right up there with “fuddle duddle” and “just watch me”. In the end, I am just gobsmacked by the events, the words, the disrespect and the callous disregard for those communities that he showed last night. That might have been one of the worst evenings of Justin Trudeau’s leadership, and one that will have a lasting impact on voters across the country.

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