Doorstep Postings: Justin Trudeau waves the red flag at Melissa Lantsman

Welcome back to the series of opinion columns written by Josh Lieblein for The CJN. While recent columns have focused on the Ontario provincial election, this incident merited special attention…

You might have been under the impression that it was the job of a Prime Minister to keep a level head in a crisis. This being Canada, you might also have expected a degree of collegiality, lip service to working across the aisles, and all the rest of that fluffy stuff. 

You may have persisted in that impression despite the countless times since he was elected where the PM did something that was arguably meant to inflame his opponents. The constant showboating in foreign media. The flippancy with which he dismissed critics from within his own caucus. The downplaying of scandals. The slightly-more-than-lip-service paid to feminism, to transparency, to reconciliation with First Nations. There was always an apology, a speech full of breathy words, a fig leaf provided so we could all tell ourselves that he didn’t really mean it.  

Trudeau may yet walk back his implication that Jewish MP Melissa Lantsman and her Conservative Party of Canada stand with people who wave swastikas. But, as I write this, it’s been close to a day. He’s been asked multiple times to do so, and nothing’s forthcoming.

And with every moment that passes without this ritual being completed, the possibility grows that the mask is finally off. It is looking more and more plausible that the trucker protest has finally given the PM a pretext to say Screw civility, plant his flag in the ground and refuse to back down. You’re either with the Liberals or you’re with the terrorists—er, I mean, the Nazis—even if you do happen to be Jewish. Time to pick a side. 

Despite the efforts of some to insist that Liberals won’t stand for this absolutism, I really don’t think they understand the state of play here. Already, the PM’s supporters are gleefully pointing out that yes, there was a swastika, and yes, the CPC did stand with a protest where the flag was waved. Others are digging up Lantsman’s old tweets. They’re asking why she didn’t condemn the swastika flag-waving and the standing-with. Still others are puzzled about the CPC’s sudden foray into identity politics. 

For their part, the CPC believe they have led Trudeau into another brilliant trap. They’ll dine out on this one for weeks, like they did on blackface, on SNC-Lavalin, on Trudeau’s treatment of Jody Wilson-Raybould. The fundraising emails are being gleefully drafted as we speak. Lantsman herself got a media hit on Fox News and the exchange has been loudly featured in the Daily Mail. We shall see how all of this plays to a Canadian audience. 

Meanwhile, I imagine that if you’re currently feeling unsafe because of the protests, none of this theatre comforts you in the slightest. Because we’d rather own each other on social media and in the House of Commons, the Ottawa police service has crumbled into a fracas of resignations and accusations. Our leaders snap to attention when ordered to clear border crossings by the Americans. And, oh yeah—there’s all the other crises piled atop one another from the past few years.  

But now, you may be able to participate in a new and exciting culture war, with all the joyful release that brings. At long last, the swastika is now just another political football that people throw around! Hooray! 

Still, if you’re a fan of the old way of doing things, where we pretended that this wasn’t just some big game of king of the hill, and that Canada was somehow immune from this sort of partisan grubbiness, and where things actually got done every once in a while, then you may have some grieving to do in the near future. 

Josh Lieblein can be reached at [email protected] for your response to Doorstep Postings.