As a humorist, I must confess I was rooting for Justin Trudeau. He’s the gift that just keeps on giving.
Remember George W. Bush and how we laughed at his mangled syntax and inarticulate lack of gravitas? Words like “misunderestimate.” Good times, good times. Or remember when he said one of the most important traits of being a leader is “responsibilzing”? Oh wait. That wasn’t Dubya, that was Justin Trudeau. Or when he used the word “peoplekind” because it was more “inclusive”? Wait, that was Justin, too.
Justin assured us that budgets balance themselves (turns out, no), said, with typical Justin modesty, “I won the birth lottery” (no argument there), and insisted that lower-income Canadians don’t benefit from tax cuts because lower-income Canadians “don’t pay taxes.” Justin Trudeau! The poster boy of white privilege! Champion of the working class!
I love it. For a humorist, Justin offers a dazzling buffet of choices. With such a rich trove of material available, I decided to compile a book (Trudeau on Trudeau: The Deep Thoughts of Canada’s 23rd Prime Minister. Simon & Schuster. Available in all the better bookstores). Problem was, he kept coming up with things to say even after the book was edited and ready to go! With the printer standing by, drumming their fingers impatiently, I was constantly scrambling to squeeze in Justin’s latest bon mots. Did he really say that his family used “paper drink-box water bottles sorts of things” in order to save the planet? Yes, he did. Did he really compare Canada’s Indigenous people to children — and then immediately insist that he hadn’t? Yup.
You would think there would be a glut of Justin Trudeau joke books and “best-of” compilations on the market. But no. Near as I can tell, I have the field to myself. Everyone else seems to be running interference for this guy. It’s the weirdest thing. It started when I first approached publishers. Only S&S saw the gap in the market. Everyone else was, let’s say, a tad jittery about publishing a book poking fun at Our Glorious Leader. I had one editorial director say, in the sort of self-censoring hushed tones one finds in surveillance states: “Oh, there’s a market for it, for sure, but …” eyes darting furtively “… we don’t think it’s really a good move for us to publish it.”
It gets better. I wanted to quote a Grand Chief taking Justin to task for Justin’s mockery of a Grassy Narrows protester at a swanky $1,500-a-plate fundraiser in Toronto. All I wanted to do was quote the interview, which ran on a certain national broadcaster. Permission denied. The reason? It would “damage their brand.” Let that sink in for a moment. I was denied permission to quote an interview that ran publicly on the news. A scathing interview, I should note. Solution? I paraphrased the comments instead.
More pushback followed. This time regarding photographs. Nope, not the ones you’re thinking of. Not the most recent Mr. Dressup pictures that came to light. New and improved! This time with, and I’m quoting him here, “dark makeup” added! These were readily available images. I should note: photo permissions are a usually a straightforward process. You pay a fee; agree to acknowledge the source, done. Not this time. It was weird. Most of the photos we wanted to use were blocked. Remember the photograph of Justin being photographed while signing photographs … of himself? Permission declined. Or that famous one of him making a heart-shape sign over his chest, used everywhere, including on the cover of a gushy pro-Justin book? We were not allowed to use that.
The infamous image of Justin on stage at a Kokanee beer fest — the same fest where allegations of groping first arose? Permission declined. At one point, we miraculously managed to arrange permission for one particularly hilarious photo of Justin, shirt open, staring into the camera, all dreamy and pouty-faced. But then the photographer found out that my book wouldn’t be praising Justin but making fun of him. Permission withdrawn. Once or twice, not a problem. But there was a pattern here that my publisher had never seen before.
Remember the flowery “Ladies Only” invitation, the one where Justin famously said he admired China’s “basic dictatorship”? We weren’t allowed to reproduce that image either, even though it and all the others I mention are easily available online, as a quick Google image search will confirm. This happened again and again. It was like Justin was some sort of giant man-baby who needed to be protected at all times.
Christopher Hitchens noted that when you have “a country where the media attack the Opposition rather than the government,” you’re in trouble. All I wanted to do was put together a funny book of quotes and commentary about Canada’s very own Zoolander of the North. The resistance I faced was unsettling, not only in terms of photos but in other areas I am not really at legal liberty to discuss. But let me repeat: these are Justin’s own words I am using.
It felt as though I had slipped through the Looking Glass into a world of Justin-speak, or that I was trapped in a real-life version of emperor’s new clothes. Either way, it has been a surreal experience. As Justin Himself put it: “We have to rethink elements as basic as space and time, to go all science fictiony on you.” Wise words, wise words.
Among the material that didn’t make it into the book is the following, appearing here for the first time. The book was already at the printers, and even though I begged my publisher to shout “Hold the presses!’ in a old-timey newspaper voice, it couldn’t be squeezed in. Here it is now, the Lost Chapter:
On unparliamentary language
Following a trade mission to China, Chrystia Freeland, Trudeau’s Minister of International Trade, talked about how proud she was that the Chinese had given Justin a “fond nickname.” Namely: “little potato.” Later on, with Chinese-Canadian relations in crisis, Conservative MP Pierre Poillievre began a question in the House in the following manner: “When leaders in China dismissed this prime minister as — quote — ‘little potato,’ he thought they meant it as a compliment, but …”
At which point Poillievre was cut off and rebuked by the Speaker for using unparliamentary language.
So MP Candace Bergen sought to clarify the Speaker’s ruling, wryly managing to squeeze in two more uses of the term: “You rose, Mr. Speaker, in your role, to say that what you can’t do directly, you can’t do indirectly … I’m assuming you mean insulting the prime minister by calling him ‘little potato,’ so I would like some clarity. We were not actually calling him ‘little potato,’ we were, however, repeating what …”
At which point she was rebuked as well. One mustn’t mock Our Glorious Leader!
So, as a public service to our readers, I have compiled the following other terms that are absolutely verboten when referring to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau:
• diminutive yam
• insignificant parsnip
• tiny turnip
• minor tuber
• particularly unimpressive root vegetable.
Thank you, comrades. That is all.
Author and humorist Ian Ferguson lives in Victoria.