By: John Ivision, National Post
UNITED NATIONS — “We’re Canadians. And we’re here to help.”
Justin Trudeau concluded his strange little speech to the United Nations General Assembly with a line that veered dangerously close to satirical fodder. As Ronald Reagan once noted, the most dangerous words in the English language are: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”
But the UN is not a hotbed of satire. The line may have reinforced every goofy stereotype about Canadian boy scouts but the audience loved it.
Trudeau was welcomed by cheers; his George Bailey-style aw-shucks earnestness persuaded the audience to pay attention — no small feat in a hall that is all but deserted when the undercard is playing.
That was just as well because the speech was as thin as soup made from the carcass of a starving pigeon.
Trudeau’s pitch about focusing on what brings us together, rather than on what divides us, is yesterday’s news in Canada.
But for a General Assembly audience, from whom Trudeau hopes to extricate a Security Council seat, it is fresh fare.
The Canadian prime minister took advantage of having a star-struck crowd by piling on the homilies about Canada being strong not in spite of its differences but because of them.
The target was the rising nativism in the U.S. and Europe, where anxieties about differences in society are being exploited by manipulative politicians.
“We believe we should confront anxiety with a clear plan to deal with its root cause,” Trudeau said.
It was too bad the prime minister was 17th on the list of speakers to the General Assembly. It meant President Barack Obama stole all his best lines.
The morning started off with Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli wowing the crowd with a sparkling version of Nessun Dorma.
Obama was late — presumably stuck in Manhattan’s vehicular quagmire, which doesn’t even respect the pointless extravagance of a presidential motorcade.
When he finally arrived, he plunged into the same sea of liberal platitudes that Trudeau swims in.
You can almost imagine the prime minister’s team being forced into an 11th hour re-write.
“Obama’s just said we can all press forward with a better model of integration and co-operation or regress into a world divided by age-old divisions of race and religion. Crap — strike that section.”
So we were left with a modest speech — and it had much to be modest about
The lesson from both Obama and Trudeau is that if everyone just did more nice things, and not so many awful things, things would be much nicer.
Apart from that, it was thin gruel. Canada is re-engaging in global affairs through institutions like the UN, the prime minister said.
But there was no mention of the deployment of Canadian troops in Africa, for which 600 or so soldiers have been earmarked, even if the government says it doesn’t yet know where they are going.
You might have thought this was the perfect opportunity for Trudeau to have sealed the deal on the Security Council seat. Nothing says “we’re back” like the promise of hard power — as British Prime Minister Theresa May proved by mentioning deployments in South Sudan and Somalia.
But, having made the commitment, the government seems to be getting cold feet, particularly after the defence minister’s fact-finding trip to Africa revealed conditions in countries like Mali are precisely as helter-skelter as everyone said they are.
In his closing press conference, Trudeau is making “careful deliberations” about where Canada can make the most impact.
Andrew Coyne: Canada’s openness a product of our history, geography more than a particular Liberal trait
John Ivison: Trudeau’s renewed enthusiasm for the UN can be welcomed — cautiously
Matthew Fisher: Trudeau heads to UN with potentially dangerous African mission still undefined
Good idea. The utility of winning a seat on the Security Council is much reduced if the government’s popularity is plunging because of an ill-fated foreign adventure.
So we were left with a modest speech — and it had much to be modest about.
Yet it hardly mattered — the General Assembly appearance wasn’t about what Justin Trudeau said; it was about how he made the UN delegates feel.
As Trudeau put it: “There is an appetite for Canada’s approach and Canada’s solutions, promoting diversity as a strength. … Canada has a narrative the world needs — we’re happy to share.”
Nobody in the audience was any the wiser about how, in fact, Canada might make progress on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, or what it might do with a Security Council seat.
All they learned was the pleasant-looking young man now running Canada has a nice smile and promises that his country will help to make the world a better place.
For Trudeau, it was mission accomplished.