On October 21, Canadians will go to the polls in the 43rd Canadian federal election. Justin Trudeau has been prime minister since 2015 after sending Conservative Prime Minister Steven Harper into retirement and gaining 148 seats in parliament—the largest increase since Canada became a British dominion in 1867. Will the “golden boy” of former PM Pierre Trudeau still be in power come October 22? Well, things just got interesting.
Trudeau had seemingly made it through the SNC-Lavalin government corruption scandal, a trip to India that turned into a public relations nightmare, and a groping accusation dating back to 2000. However, a blackface bombshell broken by Time magazine has cast the Liberal PM’s re-election chances into some doubt.
Mussing Trudeau’s Image as a Social Justice Hero
The blackface scandal has undoubtedly chipped away at Trudeau’s personal brand. He’s spent most of his career in politics crafting an image as a compassionate, tolerant, and nearly transcendent figure. For years, the Canadian PM has been the left’s poster-boy for “diversity,” “inclusivity,” and “equality,” exemplified by a 2018 townhall exchange where Trudeau insisted a questioner use the phrase “peoplekind” instead of “mankind.”
With his tepid response to the increasing amount of blackface photos (and video as well), Trudeau’s credibility as a champion of “multicultural values” and “racialized communities” is now being questioned even by those on the left. The blackface revelations prompted the Washington Post to opine that “Canada’s left should dump Justin Trudeau.”
While some may accept Trudeau’s claim that he wasn’t aware of the problematic nature of his blackface makeup while he was in high school in the ‘90s, voters may have a harder time forgiving Trudeau for his “brownface” used for an “Arabian Nights”-themed party from 2001, when the would-be PM was 29 years old.
However, even before the blackface photos and video emerged, cracks began to emerge in Trudeau’s image. Results from a large poll conducted on September 18 showed that less than a quarter of Canadian women believe Trudeau when he proclaims he’s a feminist.
Accusations of Hypocrisy May Condemn Trudeau
Beyond the shameful blackface incidents, some of Trudeau’s opponents have honed in on his double-standard in applying the rigid, usually unforgiving standards of the “woke” left and the coinciding cancel culture movement it has spawned.
One year ago, Trudeau commented in an interview with CBC Radio that “there is no context in which someone doesn’t have responsibility for things they’ve done in the past.” During a 2018 event in Quebec, Trudeau responded to a heckler by saying her “intolerance” and “racism” indeed “has no place” at one of his gatherings. This past July, Trudeau publicly castigated President Donald Trump for what Trudeau thought were “racist” comments. Yet in the face of the latest ignominy, Trudeau is refusing to apply the same standard to himself, rebuffing any calls to resign or step down as Liberal leader.
The left’s outrage mobs caused Megyn Kelly to lose her job for merely recalling that children in the ‘70s used to darken their faces for Halloween costumes. Trudeau has worn blackface on at least three occasions and refuses to step down as Liberal Party leader. Right or wrong, by Trudeau’s own comments and the left’s modern “rules,” Trudeau shouldn’t even be running for re-election right now.
For this inconsistency, Trudeau was hit hard by comments from the Maxime Bernier, the leader of the new right-wing Peoples Party of Canada. Bernier wrote on Twitter, “I’m not going to accuse Justin Trudeau of being a racist. But he’s the master of identity politics and the Libs just spent months accusing everyone of being white supremacists. He definitely is the biggest hypocrite in the country.”
Trudeau’s Responses Have Not Put an End to the Scandal
As part of his damage-control, Trudeau wouldn’t definitively answer how many videos or photos exist of him in brownface or blackface, though on the first day of the scandal he only mentioned one additional instance.
Conservative leader Andrew Scheer said Canadians may have been able to accept Trudeau’s initial apology “had he not lied about it,” but may now have trouble with Trudeau’s words since Scheer says it’s clear now his apology “was based on a lie.” Even more glaringly, Trudeau refused to answer if he hasn’t worn blackface since 2001.
In a 30-minute press conference a day after the blackface scandal broke, Trudeau claimed he didn’t know how offensive and hurtful his actions were because since he was born into a “place of privilege,” his own “lived reality” had become a “massive blindspot.” Trudeau used some of his speaking time to tell Canadians there was still much work to be done to eliminate the “systemic racism” that he claims still exists.
This response, as weak as it may be, is not entirely surprising. Even when at the helm of a disgrace, it’s very Trudeauian to pivot to how all of Canada can learn from such “teachable moments” with national soul-searching and introspection. It remains to be seen if a majority of Canadians have grown tired of such rejoinders.
How Canadian Politics Differs From The United States’s
There are a few important facts for Americans to bear in mind with regards to Canada, and its current political situation.
1) Canada’s population is about the same as the state of California (37 million to 39 million). Aside from a few exceptions—most notably the western province of Alberta and some pockets of Ontario and B.C.—the average Canadian also shares the same politics with a Californian Democrat. What counts for the political “center-left” in Canada is far-left in the United States. What’s considered “left” in Canada, most Americans would brand as openly socialist.
Members of parliament from the Conservative Party of Canada would be on the left-most spectrum of today’s Republican Party, or even mid-1990s “Blue Dog Democrats.” MPs from the Liberal Party of Canada would line up, on average, with Elizabeth Warren. Canada’s third most popular party, the New Democratic Party, is a radical leftist group Bernie Sanders would likely relish the chance to lead.
2) As a parliamentary system, the leaders of Canada’s political parties don’t run in a separate race to control an executive branch (as candidates do running for president in the United States). Instead, each leader of the parties runs to be a member of Parliament for his or her own district. If a party elects a majority of MPs (170 or more out of 338 seats in the House of Commons), that party’s leader becomes prime minister. An American equivalent would mean Donald Trump would have to run for Congress and be elected in his district, and would then only become president if the GOP won a congressional majority (218/435 House seats).
3) The Liberal party has been called Canada’s “natural governing party,” and for good reason. During the 19th and 20th centuries, the Liberal party has only been out of power for 40 years. The party’s hold on the Canadian electorate and its successful branding as the “centrist” and “reasonable” option are well-established.
So, Where Does the Election Stand Today?
To win a majority government in the upcoming election, a Canadian political party needs 170 seats. An average of seat projections from 338 Canada, Canadian Election Watch, Calculated Politics, Too Close To Call, and the CBC predicts a minority government for Trudeau’s Liberals.
However, there are numerous caveats. First, we’ve only had one round of polls since the blackface scandal dropped. The effects of the outrage—and whether its negative influence on the Liberal numbers will stall, fade away, or fester and worsen—won’t be known for weeks.
Second, the upcoming debates can have an enormous consequence on the outcome of the election. In the 2015 Canadian federal election, mediocre debate performances from NDP leader Thomas Mulcair are one of the reasons his support plummeted and transferred to Trudeau, who had copiously preparated for the debates and memorized his arguments.
Third, support for the Liberals was waning even before the blackface scandal broke. Conservatives gained in Nanos Research’s tracking poll prior to September 18, and the momentum has carried through into September 21, according to Mainstreet Research.
Frank Graves, a well-respected longtime Canadian pollster from EKOS Research, says he’ll soon be releasing polling that shows a dramatic reversal in the all-important province of Ontario. According to Graves, the lead the Liberals once had in Ontario seems to have “evaporated almost overnight.” The Liberal majority that was once a decent bet has turned into a reality where Graves thinks “maybe the Conservatives are in majority range now.”
Lastly, analysis of the last four Canadian elections shows that movement can occur in the final month. In the last month of both the 2004 and 2008 campaigns, Conservatives gained just 2 percent. Yet the final 30 days of the 2011 election saw the Conservatives gain 2 percent while the Liberals dropped 7 percent, handing the Conservatives their largest victory since the party united Canada’s right-wing in 2003. Similarly, with one month out, Canada’s last federal election in 2015 saw a dead heat between Conservative PM Steven Harper and Trudeau turn into a comfortable victory for the Liberals on election day.
It’s not hard to envision an outcome where upon waking up on October 22, neither the Liberals nor Conservatives have a majority government. If this comes to pass, and the victorious party can’t form a functional, minority government than can govern with the support of NDP, Green Party, or Bloc Québécois allies, Canadians might be headed back to another election far sooner than they hope.