On Trump and Trudeau: A Recap of Trudeau's Recent Scandals

I know it’s hard to give a shit about Canadian politics when American politics are in such a divisive place but hey, we’re neighbors! Our politics are always closely tied and Canadian politics are also reaching a very divisive and scandalous place. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s approval rating has gone lower than Trump’s. As a whole, these past few months have been rough for Trudeau’s administration.  

Trudeau’s general politics may be very different from Trump’s, but their rises to power had some key similarities. Trudeau was an experienced politician (though on the younger side, which conservatives loved pointing out with their slogan, “Justin Trudeau: He’s just not ready”) when he ran for Prime Minister. But at the same time, he was a celebrity. The Canadian public watched Trudeau grow up, from his childhood when his father Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was in office, to when he was an 18-year-old freshman in college debating Quebec sovereignty.

Justin and Pierre Trudeau at the 1987 Montreal Expos Game, taken by Paul Chiasson for the Canadian Press

His celebrity was a large part of how we got to know him. He was on local programs doing stuff like this party trick where he can do a dramatic stunt fall down a flight of stairs (yes this is real, yes there is video of it). Because he’s younger and experienced with celebrity, Trudeau used social media to interact with people. He became known for stopping for selfies. The coverage around Trudeau also reflected his celebrity, like his glamorous photoshoot with Vogue and article about him being the new young face of Canadian politics. This is all to say that, like Trump, Trudeau’s campaign and relationship with the public was unconventional and differed from most other politicians.

Trudeau posing for a selfie at a rally in Ottawa back in 2015

Again, like with Trump, Trudeau getting elected meant a big shift in power between the Liberals and Conservatives, though it was in the opposite direction. Before Trudeau, we had conservative Stephen Harper in office from 2006 to 2015. This new Liberal shift, the diverse group of politicians Trudeau was bringing in with him, was exciting. We had, as Canadian treasure Rick Mercer called it, a “honeymoon” phase with Trudeau.

The biggest glaring similarity between Trump and Trudeau? Their inability to follow through with campaign promises. According to the National Post, Trudeau and the Liberal party made around 325 promises in their bid to get elected as the majority power. The honeymoon phase let Trudeau get away with a lot. One of the biggest broken promises was his promise for electoral reform. And now years past the honeymoon phase, and people getting sick of it. That electoral reform promise was a large part of why he was elected. Specifically, it was the reason that many young voters went for him. It was supposed to be a priority.

Trudeau has seen his fair share of scandals over the years, but it’s gone to new heights recently. Going against the glossy progressive image he’s cultivated, Trudeau allegedly pressured former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to drop corruption charges against Quebec engineering company SNC-Lavalin. There have been the usual defenses whenever something like this comes up like Trudeau was only trying to protect Canadian jobs, insisting that the choice was always Raybould’s. And just this past week, Trudeau had to apologize for making a snide remark in response to and indigenous activist’s concerns at an event. When the activist interrupted Trudeau’s speech to say, “Prime Minister Trudeau, people in Grassy Narrows are suffering from mercury poisoning, you committed to addressing this crisis.” Trudeau replied, “Thank you very much for your donation tonight. I really appreciate it.” The crowd cheered and laughed.

This is all awful for many reasons, would be awful for any Prime Minister to do. But it’s especially disappointing coming from Trudeau. During that honeymoon phase, Jody Wilson-Raybould was one of the diverse faces Trudeau was giving more power to. She was one of the very few aboriginal women in such a position of power as attorney-general. It was figures like her that helped Trudeau gain that glossy progressive image. Canada has a very long, discriminatory, abusive, and devastating history against its aboriginal people. It still treats its aboriginal people and the systematic oppression against them as less than and a non-priority. It’s a relationship Trudeau had said he was setting out to mend, but it’s clear now that there are limits and conditions to what Trudeau is willing to do and how much he is willing to listen.

The moment Trudeau told Raybould she would be attorney general back when he first took office, taken by Adam Scotti

Going back to 2016 for a minute, Trudeau was also a prominent figure in that infamous U.S. election. There were segments from programs like The Daily Show, interviews with outlets like Vox, and that viral clip of guys jokingly begging him to run for the U.S. presidency. All these people joking around with him about how much of a better place Canada seemed to be in, how much better he was than Clinton or Trump. And, I get it. Trudeau looks so good next to Trump. He’s young. He’s handsome. He’s “progressive” (I guess he really is next to Trump, but that’s a very low bar). He was saying all the right things. His appeal brought this rare worldwide attention onto Canada. But for too long, Trudeau has gotten away with so much because of how he looks next to Trump. As Rick Mercer (again, a Canadian Treasure whose weekly reports I deeply miss) said, “thanks to Donald Trump, the Prime Minister can now get away with anything! He’s off the radar.”

That honeymoon phase we had with Trudeau, it was worldwide. The progressive image he cultivated, all those jokey segments, they reinforced the stereotype that Canada is this nice place full of nice polite people. The stereotype that in Canada, there are no real problems. But the truth is, like with every country, Canada has countless problems. There are deeply ingrained systematic oppression and harmful partisanship. So, please, I beg you, give a shit about Canadian politics. Because we’re neighbors, our politics are connected, and it’s relevant to how we view what’s going on right here. It’s hard not to put hope in someone like Trudeau, but it’s important not to and hold him accountable.