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RED DEER, Alta. Nov. 29, 2015/ Troy Media/ — Our new prime minister continues to work through a series of international meetings before he can settle down in Ottawa and worry more about Canada.
Every step along the way matters.
Justin Trudeau met the Queen as prime minister for the first time on Wednesday. Then there last week’s meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government in Malta. After that, he barely has time to debrief before attending the Paris round of international talks on climate change.
And don’t forget the crowds of groupies in Manila, at the 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum earlier this month, all looking for a selfie with Canada’s “hottie” prime minister.
Attending all these global events, while dealing with the complexities of setting up a new government at home, would make anyone’s head spin.
Still, Trudeau says even a neophyte national leader like ours has a role to play on the world stage. According to The Associated Press, he said U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel “were very pleased that I was going to the Commonwealth, because they wanted me to make a real effort to talk about climate change” ahead of the UN climate conference in Paris this week. Trudeau pledged $2.65 billion to a Commonwealth climate-change fund at the summit on Friday.
The agenda for the Commonwealth group included the current top-of-mind issues: climate change, international terrorism, the refugee crisis. Add to that promoting the purported reasons for the Commonwealth’s existence: democracy, equality, rule of law.
On the latter fronts, the Commonwealth hasn’t really performed well.
The Commonwealth is comprised of 53 nations, mostly former British colonies, with a combined population of 2.2 billion people. As a trading group, that represents a lot of potential market, but Commonwealth nations also take up about 20 per cent of the world’s international economic support payments.
And for all the talk of the “civilizing influence” of Britain on these nations, that influence is questionable.
Following a protest at the Commonwealth’s London headquarters, Peter Tatchell, a gay rights campaigner, said 40 of the 53 Commonwealth nations still criminalize homosexuality. Uganda, Cameroon, Nigeria and Brunei actively persecute gays, with murder, imprisonment and torture part of their anti-gay practices.
Equality and rule of law are not always a given in Commonwealth nations, either. In fact, this year’s meeting is being held in Malta because Mauritius refused its turn to host, and boycotted the previous meeting in Sri Lanka, in protest of Sri Lanka’s abhorrent record on human rights.
So what’s the point of listing the issues confronting Canada at all these big events?
It’s the change of expectations being put on government at home. For the last 10 years – a very long time in politics – Canadians have been led to expect less and less of the federal government. Doing less has been official government policy for a very long portion of the electorate’s memory.
That pendulum has reversed. Trudeau senses Canadians want government to do more, to be more than the mere holder of the national economy. And attending these international events in the early days of taking office must surely affect that sense.
Just recall your own feelings upon returning from a major gathering for your business or volunteer group. I’ve been to more than a few of these and if you participate at all, you come home with a buzz of new ideas and energies.
Now, multiply that by becoming prime minister, being mobbed for selfies in Manila, being presented to the Queen, attending a Commonwealth summit with the endorsement of two of the world’s most powerful politicians behind you, and then going to another global summit with a tectonic shift in expectations for some big decisions – all within a few weeks.
That has to affect the next few discussions at cabinet.
It’s exhausting enough to get a new government going for a rookie prime minister and cabinet members, plus a host of first-time MPs.
Now try it after being in the room with Swaziland King Mswati III – who has 15 wives, all of whom he got pregnant before marrying – and being expected to discuss with him British notions of equality.
And then being asked to do big things to help to save the planet.
This is not something Canadians have seen before. If we have not recognized a change of eras by now, wait to see what happens next.
Greg Neiman is a freelance editor, columnist and blogger living in Red Deer, Alta. Greg is included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.
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