But has Justin Trudeau become its first PoW?
In these dangerous times, it occasionally seems that way. The Liberal prime minister, previously a proud peacenik, has seemingly evolved into a hard-as-nails hawk. It is a transformation that has been as surprising as it has been dramatic.
Before becoming prime minister, Trudeau was the most pacifistic leader his party had seen in a generation. He mocked our military effort against the Islamic State, likening it to “trying to whip out our CF-18s and show how big they are.” He promised to withdraw from the international coalition fighting the Islamic State. He refused to acknowledge that ISIS was engaged in genocide on a massive scale.
This, despite the fact that the United Nations had provided convincing proof that ISIS was, indeed, engaged in genocide. This, despite the fact that that ISIS had revealed itself to be a well-funded, well-organized malevolent cult – a murderous force arguably unlike any since Hitler’s regime. This, despite the fact that ISIS itself had proudly documented beheadings, crucifixions, mass rapes, enslavements, torture, and the murder of Canadian citizens.
This, too, despite the historical fact that it was the Liberal Party of Canada that had deployed Canadian Forces in the fight against the aforementioned Hitler regime in the Second World War and later sent our troops overseas to prevent genocide in Bosnia, and to contain terror in Afghanistan. This, despite the fact Trudeau’s anti-combat rhetoric had alienated many, many senior Liberals – like Irwin Cotler, Bob Rae, Lloyd Axworthy, Romeo Dallaire (and much-lesser Grits, like this writer, who decided against running under the Liberal banner as a result).
There were only two possible justifications for Trudeau’s position: 1. He actually believed what he was saying, all the evidence to the contrary, and he thought Canada’s role should be solely humanitarian, or, 2. It was a cynical ploy to attract wayward New Democrat votes – because the NDP has never really supported any military action by Canada, ever.
Whatever the rationale, one thing is certain: the pre-election Trudeau bears little resemblance to the post-election one. He is a man transformed.
Almost immediately after being sworn in, Trudeau sent an email to everyone on the Department of National Defence internal computer system, stating that CAF (Canadian Armed Forces) had his “full support to reinvest in Canada’s military, making it stronger and leaner, more agile, and better equipped, with the right support systems for military personnel and their families.” That was not the rhetoric of a peacenik.
Within weeks, Trudeau tripled the number of Canadian special forces on the ground, training Kurdish forces fighting ISIS, in effect, placing many more Canadians in harm’s way than Harper did. He sent Canadian troops into other hot spots in the region. He started to spend $1.6 billion to support Canada’s military effort there.
Not long afterwards, Trudeau agreed to deploy 1,000 Canadian troops to Eastern Europe as a NATO bulwark against Russian expansionism. He said he planned to send CF-18 fighter jets to Europe to guard against “foreign threats.” And he has re-committed to the deployment of Canadian frigates in the region, attached to a NATO fleet. In case anyone doubted his bona fides, Trudeau toured the Ukraine a few days ago, touting the help Canadian Forces are giving to Ukrainian troops – and he attacked Russia, calling the actions of Vladimir Putin’s regime illegitimate, irresponsible, undemocratic and illegal. Among other things.
Oh, and the much-criticized C-51 anti-terror law? Still on the books. And selling arms to the serial human rights abusers who run Saudi Arabia? Still happening.
Plenty have noticed the change in the Liberal leader. Postmedia’s Matthew Fisher now refers to Trudeau as “Canada’s unlikely Cold war warrior” and even “a warmonger.” The Toronto Star’s Tom Walkom notes, disapprovingly, that Trudeau “is sinking more, not less, into war.” And Trudeau’s military commitments are “stretch[ing] the Canadian military to the limit,” says the Globe and Mail’s John Ibbitson.
None of this is bound to please those New Democrat voters Trudeau captured in 2015. By embracing a more pugilistic foreign and defence policy, Trudeau risks alienating the very people who helped propel him to power.
But – the Saudi arms dealing notwithstanding – the change in Trudeau’s worldview is a welcome one, and overdue. It seems that our prime minister has finally come to accept that Canadians are not only proud peacekeepers.
We are, and always have been, proud peace-makers, too.
Warren Kinsella is a Canadian journalist, political adviser and commentator.