OTTAWA, (Reuters) – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, under fire for getting involved in an unprecedented physical fracas in Parliament, said yesterday that he was only human and in a high pressure job but promised there would be no repeat of his actions.
Trudeau, impatient at what he saw as stalling tactics by the opposition ahead of a vote on Wednesday evening, crossed the floor in the House of Commons to grab one legislator and drag him to his seat, accidentally elbowing another in the chest.
He has apologized three times already and said he would accept any punishment meted out by a special committee of legislators examining the incident.
“I think people understand that there is a tremendous amount of pressures that come with this job and I am human,” Trudeau said in his Parliament Hill office, which was dotted with pictures of Trudeau, his family, and his former prime minister father as well as a Lego canoe with four miniature figures in it.
“But I think at the same time, a big part of recognizing strengths and weaknesses is when you make a mistake you admit it, you make amends, you ask for forgiveness and you make sure it never happens again.”
The affair was a rare public loss of control for Trudeau, 44, who led his Liberals to power last October with a promise of “sunny ways”, and dented his image. Telegenic and tattooed, Trudeau has gained a rock star level of celebrity thanks partly to an avowed feminist stance and he is often swarmed by fans seeking selfies.
“Quite frankly a lot of people said: ‘Don’t worry about it, everyone has bad days’. But the people who know me said ‘OK, Justin, is there something bugging you? Is the atmosphere in the House getting particularly toxic?’” he said.
Trudeau said his response was that “you can’t separate one from the other” but that he should have refrained from getting involved in the incident, which was gleefully dissected on Twitter with the hashtag #elbowgate and splashed on newspaper front pages across the country.
“I made a poor judgment call in wanting to step in on a situation that I should have just let evolve without the prime minister thrusting himself into the middle of it,” he said.
Trudeau is in no immediate political danger since the next election is not due until October 2019 and opinion polls put him far ahead of his rivals.
The special committee of legislators could find him in contempt of Parliament, thereby potentially triggering a vote of confidence which he would easily win given the Liberals’ majority in Parliament.
The incident, while mild compared to the brawls between legislators in Taiwan, Japan and Ukraine, was rare in Canadian politics.
“We started this parliament with the promise of ‘sunny ways,’ but what we’ve seen in particular in the last few weeks is the furthest thing from that,” Rona Ambrose, leader of the official opposition Conservative Party told the chamber.
Tensions are rising as opposition members complain about what they see as Liberal attempts to pre-empt discussion on a bill that would allow assisted death.