Saturday 25 January 2020

Leo's trip to Canada may have given keen Budget watchers a most illuminating clue

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar smiles during a Bloomberg TV interview in Ontario, Canada.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar smiles during a Bloomberg TV interview in Ontario, Canada.
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

In a hot and stuffy room on the 19th floor of one of Toronto's fanciest hotels, a self-conscious few were attempting a sweaty type of nonchalance as they gathered at the fringes of a reception given by the Irish Ambassador to Canada. Their mission - a selfie with the new Taoiseach.

Just as eager as any of them was Kal Penn - a Hollywood actor of some note, who plays White House press secretary Seth Wright in the hit Netflix political drama, 'Designated Survivor' - and the son of Indian immigrant parents.

Just two days before, Penn had resigned from Trump's committee on the Arts and Humanities in protest over the US president's response to the alt-right Charlottesville protests, later describing the president as a "tiny fingered vulgarian who loves to tweet crazy things as his way of getting policy done".

This time, it was the actor's turn to be star-struck, however, as he posed for a picture alongside Leo Varadkar, tweeting that it had been good to meet him and correctly spelling 'Taoiseach' - albeit with a four-leaf clover emoji.

For Varadkar, the invitation from Canadian premier Justin Trudeau had happened to chime with a holiday in Chicago with his partner Matt Barrett and he requested a tour of the 'soft' border between Canada and the US.

By any measure, it was a successful trip on the ground - with a positive reception everywhere from the Montreal Pride parade to a stiff business breakfast organised by the Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Enterprise Ireland in Toronto.

Mr Varadkar with actor Kal Penn
Mr Varadkar with actor Kal Penn

"The trip would stand on its own merit," said a spokesperson afterwards.

Key had been the meeting with Toronto Dominion bank - which had been about to announce its plans to move its post-Brexit EU hub to Ireland anyway, she conceded - but she said "facetime with the prime minister was hugely beneficial".

Back home, however, Varadkar's exploits were not without controversy, with broadcaster George Hook accusing him of "swanning around Canada" thanks to the photographs of the Montreal Pride parade - and pro-life supporters furious at reports that he had discussed the issue of abortion with the leader of a country with one of the most liberal regimes in the world.

It was interesting to note that Varadkar probably looked least comfortable at both of these junctures than he did at any other point of his official tour - being more aware than anyone of the potential pitfalls therein.

His visit to the border post near Niagara Falls was politically astute given that he will stand almost alone in asserting the interests of the island of Ireland in the Brexit negotiations. Two border guards gave him the full tour and he watched a sniffer dog locate a planted stash of hash - patting him on the head for his efforts.

But it was to the international press that Varadkar clarified his remarks about being a Taoiseach for those who "get up early".

"It's a metaphor," he told the 'Canadian Globe and Mail'. "It refers to people who get up early, work hard, pay their taxes and obey the law. They've taken a hit in the last few years.

"They pay too much in taxes. Too much."

For keen Budget watchers, the trip to Canada may have been worth it for this illuminating sentence alone.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss