Bloomberg News, reporting Friday on Ottawa’s efforts to resolve its dispute with Saudi Arabia, noted in passing: “The spat is the latest sign of global weariness with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has a habit of virtue-signalling abroad.”
It was a notable remark, mentioned without supporting evidence, as if everyone already knew that Canada’s prime minister was a bit of a scold. Could it be true? The same prime minister who burst onto the international stage just three years ago with his rock-star good looks, gaggles of giggling selfie-seekers and fawning, cover-of-the-Rolling Stone magazine treatment?
Just 36 months later, it appears, he’s become something of an annoyance. “Why can’t he be our President?” has become “Will you please stop nagging?” According to Bloomberg, the effort to smooth relations with the Saudis could take place at the United Nations this week, with Canada suggesting talks between respective foreign ministers. For Canada, that would be Chrystia Freeland, as if she doesn’t have enough on her hands with the prolonged, ever-contentious negotiations on NAFTA, which, we’re told, may now extend into October to avoid Ottawa doing a deal affecting the dairy industry until after the Quebec election.
Freeland helped precipitate the Riyadh problem with one of Canada’s patented finger-waving statements, chastising it for a substandard human rights record. This is such a commonplace practice with Ottawa that Freeland was caught off guard when the Saudis, now under the direction of Mohammad bin Salman — at 33 their own ambitious young princeling — took serious offence. The blowback, including a freeze on investments and a lecture for the Liberals on their impudence, was enough to rattle diplomats and inspire the effort to quietly settle the affair.
Canadians love it when the rest of the world takes notice of us, especially if it’s with a tinge of envy. But it doesn’t go over so well when the attention is less positive, and Trudeau has racked up an unimpressive record of fumbles that has evidently begun to outweigh the admiration of the selfie crowd. Embarrassments in China, Vietnam, India; grandstanding in New York and Paris; the ill-received treatment of Donald Trump at a Group of Seven summit, after which the thin-skinned president tweeted about Canada’s “meek and mild” PM being “very dishonest & weak.” Not that Trump doesn’t richly deserve any opposition he gets, but Trudeau has noticeably let Freeland bear most of the U.S. flak of late.