For many Canadians, this time of year can bring moments of discombobulation.
Just back from a vacation to escape our northerly nation’s wintry climes, we’ve done all the laundry and put away the luggage, but there’s still an unease, perhaps even some minor confusion, that creeps into our restart of the daily at-home-and-work routine.
That’s certainly the kind of week it has been for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose return from what can only be described as a calamitous journey to India has been followed by days wasted defending the trip’s negligible diplomatic outcomes, while at the same time scrambling to evade a bizarre scandal that threatens to turn the entire South Asian exercise from a disaster into a full-fledged disgrace.
The Trudeau family’s Indian foray — and there’s great temptation here to call it a winter vacation, given the absence of measurable work-related accomplishment between awkwardly costumed photo-ops — began badly, proceeded poorly and ended on a note so sour, thanks to the presence of a convicted would-be assassin at an official event, that it risks doing long-term damage to Indo-Canadian relations.
The actual goals of the trip were unclear, despite the PM’s inaccurate after-the-fact pronouncement — in an effort to deflect questions about the guest-list imbroglio — that India will be investing $1 billion in Canada (the actual amount is more like $250 million).
But whatever feel-good outcomes Mr. Trudeau hoped to trumpet back on Canadian soil were lost in the cacophony of questions about the presence at a formal reception of Jaspal Atwal, who was convicted in 1986 of attempting to kill an Indian cabinet minister visiting Vancouver Island. Mr. Atwal, who was also charged (but not convicted) in connection with a 1985 attack on Ujjal Dosanjh (who later became B.C.’s premier), was on the guest list for a second event until his presence at the first was noted.
The bungled guest-list screening would likely have been a problem for a news cycle or two if Mr. Trudeau and his colleagues had been able to get their stories straight. But contradictory explanations of who invited whom to what, and why, pushed the Atwal-invitation intrigue beyond the confines of question period and into the broader realm of international diplomacy.
At the same time backbench MP Randeep Sarai was taking responsibility for the ill-considered invitations and resigning as chair of the Liberals’ B.C. caucus, Mr. Trudeau was clinging steadfastly to a claim, credited to a senior government official, that factions within the Indian government were responsible for Mr. Atwal’s invitations, as part of a conspiracy by Indian intelligence agencies to sabotage the diplomatic mission because of Canada’s perceived support of Sikh separatists.
Not surprisingly, the latter assertion drew the ire of the Indian government, whose external-affairs ministry called the conspiracy theory "baseless and unacceptable."
For Andrew Scheer and the Conservatives, it set the stage for a week of question period theatrics that is the stuff of Opposition dreams: Mr. Scheer and his colleagues hammering the government with pointed, direct questions about the Indian fiasco, and the PM and his beleaguered benchmates yammering non-answers that made them look even more incompetent than the events on which the queries were based.
Despite its largely subtropical climate, India turned out to be anything but a sunny winter getaway.
For Mr. Trudeau’s next break from the workaday routine, perhaps something more along the lines of a "staycation" is in order.
Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.