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Michael Higgins: There’s a lesson for Trudeau in the pause heard around the world

Delhi News-Record 2020-06-03 21:46:19

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau remains silent for 20 seconds after a reporter asks him for comment on Trump's deployment of military to quell protests in the U.S. Muhammad Lila/Twitter

Justin Trudeau has answered a lot of difficult questions as prime minister. True, it has often been with a non-answer than an informative explanation, but that is too often the nature of politics.

But for 21 excruciating seconds on Tuesday, the prime minister was left dumbstruck; deers caught in headlights have never looked so vulnerable.

Asked a tricky question by CBC’s Tom Parry it should not have been beyond the capabilities of Trudeau to give a boilerplate response. He has certainly given enough of them in his time. That he was unable to do so speaks volumes of just how much the prime minister is going out of his way not to criticize President Donald Trump.

Parry began by asking, “You have been reluctant to comment on the words and actions of the U.S. president. But we do now have Donald Trump calling for military action against protesters. We saw protesters tear-gassed yesterday to make way for a presidential photo op.”

I'd like to ask you what you think about that and if you don't want to comment what message do you think you are sending?


But it was the actual question that followed that gave Trudeau pause for 21 seconds of thought.

“I’d like to ask you what you think about that and if you don’t want to comment what message do you think you are sending?” asked Parry.

Trudeau cast his eyes down and looked uncomfortable.

Four seconds later and the translator dropped her hands and crossed them in front of her.

Five seconds in and Trudeau opened his mouth to speak. But didn’t.

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After a very long ten seconds, he opened his mouth again. Still no words. He licked his lips. He shuffled. The translator still had her hands crossed.

At 14 seconds the jaws clenched a little (Trudeau’s, not the translator’s.)

At 17 seconds the prime minister uttered a sound. He said, “Errrrr.” Then silence again. Shortly afterwards, the translator dropped her hands. Tired of waiting, perhaps?

After 21 seconds Trudeau finally got his act together. He didn’t answer the question, he was never going to answer the question, but he at least spoke.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pauses as he responds to a question on racism during a news conference outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on June 2, 2020. Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

It has been suggested that this was theatre. If so it was poorly timed and awkward, the matter called for a thoughtful prime minister speaking at a tense moment in history, not a ham drama teacher looking like he was acting at a Christmas concert.

It has also been suggested that this epic pause was Trudeau displaying just how important he viewed the matter, that he wished to portray: I am a serious prime minister; this is a serious matter, it is deserving of a serious answer. To which I say: Seriously? A shifty look, a shrug, and a long silence portrays seriousness?

Certainly the pause impressed some. It has been called powerful and classy on social media (as well as fake and legendary).

And for the global media attention it has generated it has also been called the pause heard round the world. There is a lesson in this for Trudeau. It’s not when he speaks that the world listens, but when he is silent.