Originally Published in the December 2019 Journal, Breaking the Silence, Pg. 16
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Canada’s recent election exposed deep divisions within a historically harmonious country. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, head of the Liberal Party, won a narrow victory in the national election on October 21st to assume his second term. While Trudeau won the election, the Conservatives took more of the popular vote, leaving him to govern with a minority in Parliament. The Conservative Party, led by Andrew Scheer, was heavily supported by Canada’s Western Prairie Provinces. Trudeau carried the vote in the Eastern provinces, highlighting the regional divide within the country.
Canadian voters challenged Trudeau’s progressive agenda by subjecting him to a divisive and arduous campaign. After riding a wave of international support during his first leadership bid, Trudeau faced backlash during this election for buying an oil pipeline, bullying his female attorney general, and dressing in black and brown face, among other transgressions.
Trudeau made many mistakes both as a young man and as prime minister. Some transgressions have stemmed from hypocritical policy decisions, and others from his questionable character. The recent election revealed the deep divisions within Canada and signaled a deeper reckoning on what it means to be a truly worthy, moral, and in this case liberal, leader.
While many believe Trudeau is preferable to his Conservative Party rival, he is pushing a conflicting agenda. He claims to champion indigenous rights, women’s issues and climate-change measures, but some of his actions have shown that he is not fully dedicated to his stated priorities. Trudeau has gone from a global icon of liberal values to a good-enough candidate struggling to hold on to power.
Countries around the world are reckoning with the question: Have we stopped trying to pick the perfect leader, and instead aim to pick the least-problematic one?
Trudeau’s policy missteps reflect the hypocrisy in aspects of his liberal agenda. One example is his work on climate change. Trudeau has painted himself as a champion of combating climate change, promising Canada would reach net-zero emissions by 2050 and that two billion trees would be planted during the next decade.
However, in 2018, his government bought the Trans Mountain Pipeline for $3.40 billion, which would carry crude and refined oil from Alberta to the coast of British Columbia, Canada. This purchase was soon blocked by the courts, because the government failed to consult indigenous people residing near the pipeline. The government restarted the project with fresh approval in June, but six new legal challenges by First Nation groups are slowing the process once again. Canada is the world’s fourth largest producer and exporter of oil, but environmentalist and indigenous opposition has been a significant impediment to pipeline construction. Trudeau’s desire to be seen as a climate activist is at odds with his promotion of the pipeline. He is, however, facing a conflicted public. According to an Angus Reid Institute poll, approximately 69 percent of Canadians say climate change should be a top priority for the government. But 58 percent said oil and gas development should also be a priority, along with climate action. Canadians in oil-producing Alberta largely favor the pipeline, while those in Québec are generally against the 710-mile conduit that would expand capacity from 300,000 barrels a day to about 890,000 a day.
Trudeau should stop pursuing a mediocre plan that violates indigenous rights and support a more environmentally-friendly agenda that invests in green industries and jobs. He is desperately trying to please everyone, but instead is disappointing and angering both sides.
Trudeau also has been accused of pressuring his former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to cut a deal with SNC-Lavalin, an engineering and construction company facing corruption charges. She said Trudeau allegedly made “veiled threats” to her in an effort to stop the prosecution of the company. Trudeau supporters say there was no political pressure, and that the prime minister was only concerned about how the prosecution would affect local economies. However, in August, the independent federal ethics commissioner said Trudeau violated the conflict of interest act. This scandal led to the resignation of two high-level cabinet ministers, his top personal aide, and the leader of the federal bureaucracy. Trudeau insisted his actions were only intended to save jobs and protect the economy. While his goal may have been to protect Canadians, blocking a federal corruption and fraud investigation is unethical and illegal. His actions sent a message that any corporation, as long as they contribute something of value to the community, can be excused for their transgressions.
Moreover, the 47-year-old prime minister’s character has been assailed over photos showing him wearing black and brown face at parties in the early 1990s and early 2000s. He was certainly old enough to know that was inappropriate, and many are calling for his resignation over this scandal. Jagmeet Singh, leader of the New Democratic party and the first non-white leader of a major federal party, released an emotional video describing the racism he and so many others experienced growing up in Canada. Trudeau sported black and brown face many times, and despite his public apology, it is hard to ignore that he continued to think this was acceptable. He comes from a place of privilege (his father Pierre Trudeau was the 15th prime minister of Canada), so the excuse, “I didn’t know better,” is a painful and all too common defense for the wealthy and privileged.
While Trudeau’s apology appears heartfelt, Canadians are still asking: What makes someone morally fit to lead? The Conservatives, led by Scheer, have their own moral challenges. Scheer is anti-choice, opposed to gay marriage and wary of immigration. He has blasted Trudeau for being morally unfit to lead, however many view Scheer’s positions as immoral. The public backlash to Trudeau’s racist actions have forced many Canadians to choose between two candidates who have exhibited immoral behavior.
Trudeau is in a corner, desperately trying to defend his character and policies. He is lauded for being a progressive icon, but he continues to pursue two-faced objectives. Canada is an example of a nation electing a good-enough candidate, because the choices were unsatisfactory to many. Trudeau enters his second term carrying baggage that will test his political endurance. He must adjust his agenda to actually support progressive causes and work to unite Canadians on both coasts. Trudeau may be a relatively decent and liberal prime minister, but Canada should re-examine the candidates they put forward so voters are not forced to choose the good-enough candidate.