Youd never guess the Canadian prime minister was fighting for his political life, says comedy writer Jack Bernhardt
It must be great being Canadian. Instead of Greggs, theyve got Tim Hortons. Instead of the cartoonist Matt, theyve got Kate Beaton. Instead of an economy on the edge of a cliff edge and the prospect of mass chaos, theyve got moose. And best of all, instead of a malfunctioning robot who veers between doing impressions of insurance-obsessed mongooses and Mussolini, theyve got Justin Trudeau! Perfect, beautiful Justin Trudeau, the woke Ken doll of the G8 who last week apologised for eating a chocolate bar in the Canadian parliament! What a little scamp! While we have to deal with warring MPs and a failing democracy, the worst scandal the Canadians have to deal with is over a Twix!
Oh, and a huge corruption case that threatens to bring down the prime minister, the government and one of the biggest contractors in the country.
If you actually look at Canadian politics, and try to ignore the UK medias perception of Justin Trudeau they see him as a Calvin Klein model whos pretty good at Sporcle quizzes a darker picture emerges. In February the Canadian attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, quit her post after allegations that she was improperly pressured into dropping charges against SNC-Lavalin, a major Canadian engineering firm. A string of resignations followed including former cabinet minister Jane Philpott, who said last Thursday that there was much more to be told on the scandal, with the implication that Trudeau himself had personally lobbied the attorney general to drop the case.
As Canadian stories go, its steamier and meatier than a bucket of poutine but at the time of writing the only reference to the scandal (or indeed any Canadian politics) on the front page of the BBC US & Canada section is a video of Trudeau apologising for the incident I will henceforth refer to as Chocogate. I understand why Chocogate was a popular story, as it combines two of Canadas greatest loves chocolate and apologising but really it seems like the BBC has buried the lede. Its like reporting the assassination of Abraham Lincoln with the headline Mrs Lincolns enjoyment of Mars bar ruined by nearby gunshot.
Part of this is to do with Trudeaus own handling of the media: he uses them in a similarly cynical way to Donald Trump or Theresa May. Thats not to say hes as bad or as dangerous indeed, no MP in Canada has said theyve received death threats because of the way Trudeau ate a Caramac but he can distract the media just as effectively. What Trump does through outrage and May does through abject fascinating incompetence, Trudeau does through charm, and its a charm that works best on the outside world.
Im not suggesting this is some big cover-up a global conspiracy to make sure that Justin Trudeau is remembered as the guy with silly socks rather than a corrupt politician who bullies his cabinet on behalf of big business. Its more that, in the UK, Canada and, indeed, most other countries doesnt seem to be worth talking about, unless were using it to compare with ourselves. Since 2016 Trudeau has been one of the go-to good guys, held up as the perfect political antidote to everything that is wrong with our own politicians. While Michael Gove was doing down experts, Trudeau was explaining quantum computing in a painfully staged press conference. While Donald Trump refused to visit a cemetery because of a few showers, Trudeau was giving a speech without an umbrella. While Boris Johnson was, well, being Boris Johnson, Trudeau was declaring himself a feminist and promoting women to key positions in his cabinet.
Canada gets lazily portrayed as a utopia with perfect politics because flaws arent useful to the narrative. Canada exists in our imagination only through a series of superficial, shareable videos of Trudeau hugging pandas, just so we can look at them and complain that our prime minister never hugs a panda. The upshot of this means that when serious allegations emerge, we ignore them because if we have to engage with them, it shatters our simplistic concepts of Good Politics (Obama! John Oliver! That Gillette Advert!) and Bad Politics (Brexit! Trump! That Pepsi Advert!).
Its a trend we tend to repeat with global stories look at the binary attitude some remainers have towards Emmanuel Macron or Angela Merkel, extolling their virtues while ignoring the formers brutal austerity policies, or the latters startling political decline. New Zealands prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has been rightly praised for her response to the Christchurch terrorist attack, but the instinct of the media has still been to compare her actions to our own leaders, rather than to analyse what she did right on her own terms.
Theres a danger that we dont see other countries and other leaders as anything other than funhouse mirrors to reflect ourselves distorting stereotypes and eradicating nuance to define our own identity, a kind of British and American exceptionalism that appears deferential to other countries but is actually oddly insulting.
At times like these, its tempting to cherrypick the best aspects of the politicians of the rest of the world and build a Frankenstein prime minister the cheekbones of Justin Trudeau, the tech-savviness of Emmanuel Macron, the dancing ability of anyone but Theresa May. But the real world doesnt work like that. Life isnt a stage-managed photoshoot. There are always bigger scandals than chocolate.
Jack Bernhardt is a comedy writer and occasional performer
Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us