It was the gaffe heard around the world.
At the Edmonton stop of his cross-country town hall series, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau interrupted one of his inquisitors who used the word ‘mankind’ in passing, suggesting that she use the “more inclusive” ‘peoplekind,’ which isn’t a word.
Trudeau has since said that it was a “dumb joke” blown out of proportion, which I find highly plausible but, still, the damage was done.
For conservatives, this was further proof that the prime minister is an intellectual lightweight that is out of him element, while critics on the left pointed out the irony of a self-identified feminist condescendingly “mansplaining” how a woman should speak.
The exchange made international headlines, getting coverage from the BBC, New York Times, Fox News, the Guardian, ABC News and many others.
I’m not averse to criticizing the prime minister in the slightest, but there are far better grounds for criticism than making a silly attempt at a joke.
Let’s take a look at what he does, rather than what he says unfiltered.
As Molly Roberts observed in the Washington Post, the same day of the town hall, news broke that Canada is selling $233 million in helicopters to the Philippines, whose President Rodrigo Duterte is under investigation by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity due to his violent crackdown on drug use, which has killed thousands of Filipinos in the past two years.
Or, particularly troubling for a self-described feminist, is the Canadian government’s $15-billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, a country where women have only recently earned the right to drive and is currently undergoing a vicious assault on neighbouring Yemen, which has created arguably the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
And at home, Trudeau’s promise to implement all 94 recommendations of the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission rings increasingly hollow.
Of course, it will take many generations to repair the damage done to Canada’s aboriginal population by the residential school system, but Trudeau hasn’t taken any meaningful steps that I can recall to redress this massive historical injustice.
The point is that we should look at the gap between Trudeau’s rhetoric and his actions, but the controversy over his ‘peoplekind’ remark serves more to obscure than clarify.