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Justin Trudeau's war
With the Canadian prime minister likening his (failing) Bill C-18 shakedown to one of Canada's finest hours, the writer bids a fond farewell to arms to a once-serious nation.
In the mid-summer of that year he lived in the replacement cottage for a dilapidated house in a town that fun forgot that looked across the Ottawa River into Hull; a place for which the less that’s said the better.
In the Rideau Canal, there were boats and paddleboards, their public sector worker captains dry and purple-haired in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in channels that did not freeze well enough for skating in the year previous, which would inevitably lead to more taxes on the working poor.
Media lobby troops went by the house and down roads once lined with eighteen-wheelers and bouncy castles, and the dust they raised further powdered the air thick with wildfire smoke from the north, which would also inevitably lead to more taxes on the working poor.
There was fighting in the barely-read newspapers and at night one could see the flashes from sanctimonious and hyperbolic remarks that played out across laptops and cellphone screens. In the dark it was like summer lightning, only dumber and entirely artificial.
There were big guns too that passed in the day drawn by small men in smaller suits, their policy aims being that of “if you don’t give us your money, you’re not respecting this law that hasn’t even come into effect.”
Their fighting had not been successful, and in the fall when the rains came and the leaves fell from White Birch trees, the tech giants would remain indifferent to government news, and those who had log-rolled on its behalf.
The prime minister’s motorcade passed along a stretch of Wellington embarrassingly left empty for a year. Against the better judgment of the rough men who stood ready to protect the PM from an increasingly hostile sociopolitical landscape he so loved to inflame, Trudeau rolled down his window and waved and squinted vivaciously at the middle fingers and the smattering of wine aunt support he received in return.
With his trusty cameraman in tow, he liked to be seen rolling up his sleeves and out in the world nearly every day, and consistently things went very badly.
There was a grocery store to visit; where he’d announce food stamps for a third of the populace, and try to play it off as a victory. The day was to be but the first of many victories, in fact. Until he opened his mouth.
It was a hot day as he sat in the air-conditioning of the armoured Chevy Suburban and thought about nothing. There were stragglers going by — men who could not keep up with the pace of a nation that couldn’t even keep pace with its own startling population growth. There were no houses, not enough doctors, and opportunities for but an increasingly scarce few. They were sweaty, dusty, and tired. Some looked pretty bad. He hoped they’d reach their safe injection site soon.
There they’d be safe.
The supermarket was crowded with exorbitant inflationary prices removed from the shelves by the friendly Liberal donor.
That would be bad optics.
Trudeau parked himself behind the podium and said the things he always said in the meaningless ways he always said them. A few reporters smiled and scribbled notes of no meaning. The cameras flashed. Hands were shaken. All the while, nine-dollar cartons of eggs surveyed the scene inanimately.
Here at the supermarket he was sheltered from independent media fire, but he hoped the legacy press would not jam him. The war with the big-tech giants had started as they all had. In Liberal Canada, a non-real business climate made up of a few Laurentian corporations hiding under a trenchcoat, even the prime minister did as his paymasters told.
Even when they called Beijing home.
His major had been a little man with the exterior of a ‘Costco Kenny Rogers.’ Pablo Rodriguez had been in the wars with Justin Trudeau and wore his cabinet appointment as proof of his loyalty. He had been told that if the C-18 fighting had gone well that he would be rewarded even further by the PM. So far, it seemingly hadn’t.
The Rabba Fine Foods was long with windows facing the street, and the PM found himself wondering about the islands in the stream that sat between he and his embattled heritage minister, and if they were indeed cowards of the county, as the independent and deplorable press were frequent to suggest.
Lost in what passed for thought, Trudeau had known when to walk away, but not when to run. Through the din of the press gallery he heard the cough from a clearing voice, followed by questions from the Globe and Mail, where the allegations had always been false.
“Prime Minister, Meta and Google have announced they won’t be paying the tens of millions you’re demanding for free links to Canadian news on their platforms. You were warned about this by quite a few experts, including Canada Research chairs and former CRTC executives. I get standing up to big tech, but isn’t this kind of ridiculous?”
He heard the machine guns and the rifles firing all along the Ottawa River. There was a great honking and he saw the fireworks go up and burst and float whitely above the city. He heard the children in the bouncy castle laugh an awful laugh. The sidewalks were all grotesquely and kindly shovelled. All in one moment, the trauma from threats wholly imagined returned.
He stammered and shook. Democracy needed defending.
Everyone clapped, or so he continued to imagine.
In the internet streets men and women of more self-respecting stock puts palms to faces and thought of a once-serious nation with once-serious adults at the helm.
Unbeknownst to the prime minister at the time, the fighting would continue but the C-18 war had been lost.
Canada had a fine summer. We would live through the months of July and August even though the air wasn’t very fine and we were happy, all things considered.
As fall approached there were clouds over the lakes and in the river valley and outside of the House of Commons where many members continued to mail in their work over Zoom under the auspice of Public Health.
One morning Trudeau awoke at about six o’clock to a message from Pablo Rodriguez that stirred him from his bed at Rideau Cottage.
“Are you all right, Pablo?”
“I’ve been having some pains, Justin.”
The two spoke with hushed tones beneath The National War Memorial, the muted light about to give way to sunrise and rain.
He thought Pablo was dead. He looked dead.
“What’s the matter with the bill?” Trudeau asked.
“Didn’t you hear?”
“It’s dead. They won’t take the deal. Something about arguing in bad faith. They wouldn’t get over it. Neither Google nor Meta. As of this morning, we now have the same internet firewall as China, North Korea…”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing, Pablo.”
Costco Kenny Rogers looked back at the PM in bleary-eyed shock.
“You don’t mean that, sir.”
“Yes, it’s such a shame. It would have been such a fine deal for our partners — in theory. I thought you knew?”
“We wanted it to fail?”
“I wanted it to fail.”
Justin Trudeau pulled his phone out of his pocket and attempted to open the Globe and Mail on Google. Nothing. Perfect.
The heritage minister found himself at a loss.
“Don’t be so hard on yourself, Pablo. Can I give you a lift home?”
“No, thank you.”
For once in his career, he had nothing left to say.
“It was the only thing to do, you saw our poll numb—”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
Once the two parted ways, Pablo found himself thinking about how saying goodbye to the prime minister had felt like saying goodbye to a statue. After a long while spent staring out into the middle distance, he left the steps of the memorial and walked back to his hill office in the rain.
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