I am a speech writer, and I know what words to use to catch the audience’s specific emotions – happiness, anger, enthusiasm, indifference, etc. but I have never, in my twenty years or so, writing speeches for different people and different careers, have I ever been ambiguous. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s UN speech was not only ambiguous, it left the entire world, including Canada, staring at their televisions, with their jaws dropping and saying, “What was he thinking?”
First of all, it was a United Nations gathering of leaders, all concerned about the state of affairs of the whole world – North Korea, the Rohingya, or United Nations reform, to name three topics that figured into the speeches of dozens of leaders at the general assembly. Trudeau’s speech, however, was about Canada’s embarrassing history, in particular residential schools, and how the administrators of those schools treated Aboriginal children. Trudeau thought that his speech would further concretize Canada’s endorsement of the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Rights, but he was reminded by reporter after his speech that his justice minister, the former B.C. chief Jody Wilson-Raybould, said the UN declaration was “unworkable” and that Canada was not happy about it.
Second, his speech was self-serving. The PM’s “humblebrag speech” sounded much like he was still on a campaign trail (which pretty much marks his governance, as he, until now, kisses orphans and takes selfies wherever he goes). The problem is, he was addressing the UN, not Canadian teenagers and young people who will vote for him and his bedimpled smile. He continued to brag his government’s efforts to correct past wrongs, one of which was not truthful, since despite his claim that his government is a “full supporter” of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, it has actually repeatedly hedged about clauses that appear to give native people the right to declare unilateral independence, and to veto development that was not beneficial for them.
Third, he continued washing his dirty laundry in public, trying his best to discredit his predecessor Prime Minister Stephen Harper, by saying that his government’s controversial proposal to close tax loopholes for small business corporations was underway – not that the UN really needed to hear about that.
What the UN was really waiting for in Trudeau’s speech, which he did not deliver, was his government’s stand about Canada’s role in the UN peacekeeping mission. Many of Canada’s allies are becoming increasingly frustrated with its dilly-dallying on delivering on this promise. Even in a press conference after his speech, Trudeau had no answers about when a decision might be made.
Environmental activists have also grown increasingly frustrated at the Trudeau government’s snail pace on the climate change file. Despite the conferences, workshops, plenaries and meetings, Canada’s greenhouse gas reduction framework is the one Stephen Harper put in place. So, is Trudeau’s selfie stick taking him too far away from the real issues, or does he feel so much better criticizing others and skirting the issue, shaking his hands and saying, “It wasn’t me!” He certainly wanted the UN to know about it badly enough to miss the opportunity to secure the non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council and address the issues on UN Peacekeeping efforts of Canada and climate change initiatives.
Listening to him made me think what kind of speech writer he has, and why, of all fora, did the writer choose to deal with the dirty laundry at the UN. The poor writer had his own agenda in mind, and because Trudeau wasn’t thinking because he was fixing his coiffure, he didn’t think to go over the speech before he gave it. That lost Canada plenty of precious UN time that some of us cannot fathom he would waste. Trudeau’s UN speech was a reflection of what he truly thinks of Canada – him and the country at the end of a selfie stick, isolated, and one that couldn’t care less.