Althia Raj: Justin Trudeau’s needling of Pierre Poilievre reveals his political instincts are nonetheless sharp

Justin Trudeau is not any ideologue. The prime minister received three elections as a result of he is aware of when to reap the benefits of a possibility and when to remain quiet — even on the identical challenge — when the political winds blow in a special route.

His criticism in La Presse final weekend concerning the provinces’ pre-emptive use of the however clause is simply the newest instance of his risk-averse tendencies and killer political instincts.

Regardless of an over-the-top response from Premier François Legault, who accused Trudeau of a “full frontal assault” on Quebec’s capability to guard its collective rights, the prime minister’s statements had been unlikely directed at him or Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who has twice used the clause pre-emptively.

That is actually about Conservative Chief Pierre Poilievre.

Trudeau informed the Montreal newspaper he’s involved governments are “trivializing the suspension of elementary rights” by invoking a constitutional provision that enables legislatures (the bulk) to go legal guidelines that circumvent assured Constitution rights (usually minority rights).

“Through the use of the however clause on this vogue, we’ve diminished the political prices of suspending elementary rights,” he mentioned. And with populism on the rise, the prime minister asserted, severe reflection is required to make sure the however clause stays “a device of final resort.”

He’s proper, in fact. However his feedback aren’t new. He made related feedback final November, when Ford invoked the however clause to forestall 1000’s of academic assist staff from placing. Federal Justice Minister David Lametti spoke final spring a couple of potential reference to the Supreme Court docket after the Quebec Nationwide Meeting handed Invoice 96, sweeping laws that curtails anglophone rights and different minority language use within the province. Trudeau additionally announced final 12 months that his authorities would intervene on the Supreme Court docket when Quebec’s Invoice 21 — a legislation that bans these carrying spiritual symbols from holding sure public sector positions, corresponding to trainer or police officer — is appealed.

Trudeau got here to this place slowly. In the course of the 2019 election marketing campaign, he sought to create distance between himself and the NDP by stating the Liberals had been the one social gathering which wasn’t closing the door on a potential intervention in opposition to Invoice 21.

However as the applying of Invoice 21 grew to become extra controversial inside and outdoors of Quebec, the prime minister’s place shifted on it and on Invoice 96.

Federal Liberals feared that appearing too boldly in opposition to these widespread items of laws would backfire in Quebec. That’s why Trudeau sought to say as little as potential through the 2019 marketing campaign and within the lead-up to the 2021 election — when his cupboard, to the dismay of Quebec Liberal MPs in ridings with massive anglophone and minority populations — voted in favour of a Bloc Québécois movement echoing Invoice 96 and affirming Legault’s proper to amend the structure to acknowledge a French-language Quebec nation.

Trudeau’s efforts might need paid off within the type of a majority authorities in 2021 if a debate moderator hadn’t accused Quebecers of being racist within the preamble to a query directed on the Bloc Québécois chief. A number of Liberal insiders believe offended Quebecers stormed out to the polls that weekend and voted for the Bloc.

Months later, when a Chelsea, Que. trainer was faraway from her place for carrying a hijab, the problem garnered headlines as soon as once more, however this time political winds had been shifting.

The Conservatives had suffered one other election loss. Then-leader Erin O’Toole had tried to observe Andrew Scheer’s technique of courting Quebecers with a non-intervention coverage on the subject of Invoice 21, and the outcomes had been disappointing. Some caucus members argued these positions had been inflicting the social gathering extra issues in vote-rich GTA ridings than reaping rewards in Quebec. O’Toole was unwilling to promote out his Quebec MPs and shift his place — a transfer which will have accelerated his demise as social gathering chief.

However Trudeau clearly noticed the writing on the wall — he couldn’t afford to be outmanoeuvred on human rights points by a brand new Conservative chief within the GTA, the place future governments might be received or misplaced.

In Might, earlier than the Conservatives’ French-language management debate, the Liberals introduced the federal authorities can be ready to battle each Invoice 21 and Invoice 96 on the Supreme Court docket.

Poilievre, whose Quebec lieutenant Pierre-Paul Hus had beforehand boasted his candidate was the one Conservative candidate promising non-intervention, shifted his stance. He told the crowd gathered in Laval he “wouldn’t reverse the federal resolution.”

So it ought to come as no shock that in an interview final week, the prime minister would need to remind Quebecers — and Poilievre’s personal Conservative caucus, which strongly opposes Invoice 21 — that the Tory chief is probably not what he appears. A day earlier, on Radio-Canada, Poilievre was requested whether or not he’d intervene in opposition to Invoice 96 and the way he deliberate to “seduce Quebecers.”

“I respect Quebec’s autonomy,” Poilievre responded. “I don’t need to insert myself of their choices. Quebecers are capable of be masters of their very own home.”

What higher manner for Trudeau to attract a distinction between himself and the brand new Conservative chief than to clarify for all Canadians what’s at stake? That’s a calculation now made even simpler because of Ford’s try to make use of the however clause to assault labour rights, a transfer decried loudly in Quebec.

Typically the precise coverage resolution occurs to be the precise political one, too.

Althia Raj is an Ottawa-based nationwide politics columnist for the Star. Comply with her on Twitter: @althiaraj

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