I squinted through the windshield last week at a howling Calgary snowstorm as I crawled along an icy highway, my trusty Suburban locked in 4-wheel drive and defroster set to full-throttle. A giant roadside sign demanded my attention, glowing in orange admonition: “Caution: Winter Driving Conditions”.
A helpful tip, that. Let no one accuse “His Purpleship” the Mayor of leaving a taxpayer’s dime unspent in the care of his subjects.
We are easily fooled, after all.
Modern humans are either the capstone to billions of years of evolutionary improvement or the divine creation of an all-powerful God.
But no matter which theory you favour, we are undeniably invested with astounding powers of intellect and reason, endowed with mental capacities light-years beyond those of all other species combined.
And yet we’re so readily duped.
In the run-up to Christmas, by way of small example, I was hoodwinked into thinking winter was cancelled. A prolonged stretch of glorious weather melted away all but traces of earlier snowfall, exposing a startled brown landscape that began, after a baffled pause, to produce unseasonal patches of green.
The clincher came when I witnessed an enormous gaggle of Canadian geese flying in perfect formation directly and confusedly north.
That spectacle surfaced the synchronous memory of another high flyer, professional golfer Tiger Woods, dazed and concussed after being righteously assaulted with a golf club wielded by his jilted supermodel spouse. In dire straits and desperate, the “Sultan of Swing” swung his way north aboard his private jet en route to the 2009 Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, in a misguided quest to curtail his, er, emissions.
Ok, so that last bit isn’t true. But what’s an opinion piece these days without a bit of fake news?
It is true, though, that the Sultan and his swing have never recovered. And unlike the aforementioned geese, poor Tiger forfeited rather more than a few frost-bitten tail feathers as penance for his colossal poor judgment.
But I digress. Besotted with the prospect of winter fore-shortened and with spring daisies blooming in my fevered imagination, I foolishly opened my mouth to boast about the winter that wasn’t.
You can predict what happened next. Within hours the mercury plummeted, heralding a blast of winter both epic and enduring. New Year’s Eve dawned with bone-cracking chill at 37 degrees below zero, minus 47 degrees with the wind-chill.
I shoveled mountains of snow from my driveway that morning, eyelashes and nostrils freezing together with every blink and breath, red blood cells fleeing in horror to my core. As I headed over to clear the front drive next door, I struggled in vain to maintain warm thoughts of my neighbour (he was in Vegas, the scoundrel).
The personal re-warming session that followed was roughly on par with the Manhattan project; the term “man-cold” has more than one fearsome connotation, needless to say.
The phenomenon just described is well-known in my day-to-day trade, wherein the utterance of “it sure is quiet” is wholly verboten. That phrase (or any approximation thereof) spoken aloud in the emergency department triggers a tsunami of sick and injured and dying patients as surely as the sun rises in the east. Pity the unfortunate loose-lipped individual who lets those words slip.
It’s not an actual phenomenon, of course. We’re easily deluded partly because in some circumstances we want to be deluded. We want to believe that winter can be cancelled and that our emergency departments can remain peaceful oases, much as some children want to maintain their belief in the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny and Santa Claus despite mounting evidence to the contrary. But eventually and inevitably reality intrudes.
I’m convinced it’s the same wishful thinking that underpins the enduring popularity of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Canadians want to believe that our celebrity prime minister is as much substance as sizzle, that his “sunny ways” will illuminate their lives and shred all their problems - and thus far they’ve been willing to ignore his actual record.
And an abysmal record it is, as noted last week by the National Post’s inimitable Rex Murphy. By almost every metric Mr. Trudeau had a terrible 2017, punctuated by his sputtering and stuttering “deer in the headlamps” response in the House of Commons foyer to questions on his ethics violations.
Almost every major governmental initiative has succumbed to managerial mayhem, submerged beneath a jumble of bumbles, followed by untidy retreat.
Sadly, the Trudeau government’s signature 2017 legislative “achievement” has been to legalize recreational marijuana use, an initiative pitched straight-facedly as essential to “protecting our youth”, but which instead simply normalizes cannabis use while birthing a multi-billion-dollar tax-generating industry to support it.
The fact that the law as passed gives kids between the ages of twelve (!) and seventeen the legal right to possess five grams of marijuana has received no attention at all; and if there is an active government-funded campaign to warn the Canadian public of the dangers of using marijuana, I’ve apparently missed it.
Protecting our youth, indeed.
And yet, inexplicably, despite this annus horribilis Mr. Trudeau and his government continue to enjoy the support of a plurality of Canadians, almost twelve points ahead of the Conservative party in the latest polls.
This is partly down to the ceaseless tempest and turmoil south of the border, surely, as President “my nuclear button is bigger than yours” Trump upends all conventions in the process of rudely and crudely governing the most powerful nation on earth by Tweet-storm.
Mr. Trudeau seems by comparison splendidly suave and sophisticated, composed and charming, a gift from the gods for the hordes of Canadians appalled by all things Trump.
And in a stroke of good timing, Justin Trudeau arrived as messiah to a Canadian people weary of Stephen Harper, tired of a man perceived (fairly or not) as closed and secretive, dark and autocratic. The fact that Mr. Harper ably stewarded the country for years through perilous economic times mattered not one whit: Canadians were ready for glitz and glam.
Style, panache and charisma have kept Mr. Trudeau aloft for an astonishing stretch. But it’s been easier to locate black swans than to find examples of prime ministerial competence; one presumes a crash landing is coming.
Because eventually and inevitably reality intrudes.
It’s an open question as to how long he can go without paying the piper, with less than two years to go before the next federal election. Another, more ominous, question is how much damage our country must suffer before Canadians come to their senses.
My view of events is filtered as usual through a medical lens. We all admire physicians who attend to their patients with charm, eloquence, empathy and grace. But an impeccable bedside manner matters not one smidgen if skilful care and correct diagnoses are not administered.
A surgeon who removes a patient’s pancreas after planning to carve out his appendix is not long for the profession, charming or not. Medicine demands competence from start to finish; a winsome manner serves merely as adjunct.
It’s worth noting that the Chief of Medicine in any jurisdiction is unfailingly a physician of long experience and exceptional ability, selected from a roster of applicants after careful deliberation. Amateurs need not apply.
“Chief of Country” is an extraordinarily tough gig, a pressure-cooker of a job, akin to herding fractious cats while being stalked by slavering pit bulls. Yet backed by a resume so thin as to be see-through, Mr. Trudeau was awarded the prime minister’s chair. Amateurs welcome, apparently.
We are so easily fooled.
It’s further worth noting that Mr. Trudeau, after capturing the imagination of millennials, owes his majority to overwhelming support from young voters.
Samuel Johnson’s timeless words on the innocence of youth are bang-on: "He who has seen only the superficies of life believes everything to be what it appears, and rarely suspects that external splendour conceals any latent sorrow or vexation."
But even our greenest voters cannot be deceived forever.
“We are all born ignorant,” said Benjamin Franklin, “but one must work hard to remain stupid.”
And when reality finally bites, the bloom will come off the Liberal rose faster than winter slammed into Calgary in December.