Alberta Politics
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, on the campaign trail in 2015 (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Which is more distressing, the idiocy of our PM or the hypocrisy of our Opposition leader?

Posted on September 20, 2019, 2:19 am
8 mins

Which is more distressing, the immaturity and sheer idiocy of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau or the nauseating hypocrisy of Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer?

One of them, sad to say, is still the most likely person to emerge as prime minister of Canada after Oct. 21.

Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer (Photo: Andre Forget, Flickr).

The former dressed up in blackface at an age and a moment in history when there was no longer any possible excuse for a decent adult to do that. Then he hid it from his own Liberal Party and failed to make an honest disclosure and apology at a time and place the resulting furor could have been managed.

The latter, having failed repeatedly to curb the worst tendencies of his own Conservative MPs and strategists, and after hanging around himself with Yellow Vest creeps and white nationalists, said he’ll stand by his racist and homophobic candidates as long as they say they’re sorry. But no apology is acceptable when it comes to his chief opponent.

I accept the fact that people make mistakes in the past and can own up to that and accept that,” Mr. Scheer said recently. Except when he doesn’t accept it, of course.

To give Mr. Trudeau such credit as we can, at least his apologies have sounded sincere, which is more than you can say for some of Mr. Scheer’s forgiven candidates.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

This is particularly distressing because for most progressive Canadians two other party leaders — Jagmeet Singh of the New Democratic Party and Elizabeth May of the Green Party — both look better in comparison today, but still don’t have much chance of forming government.

It’s all very well for deeply committed partisans to condemn strategic voting, but for most progressive Canadians it’s a harsh reality of Canada’s first-past-the-post system, which Mr. Trudeau promised to reform, and didn’t.

It’s even more distressing because we understand the bleak reality that for all the Liberals’ and their leader’s multitude of sins, another Conservative government would still do far more harm to the country we love.

Which brings us to the next calculation, what the impact of this uproar will be on Mr. Trudeau’s fortunes in the election on Oct. 21?

When the photo bomb dropped, Mr. Trudeau’s party and Mr. Scheer’s were neck and neck in most polls, for whatever that’s worth. The Liberals were deemed by most commentators to have the most “efficient” vote, and therefore a slight edge.

Does this upset that calculation? Or, as a family member living abroad asked me this afternoon, “is Trudeau sunk?”

Professional prognosticators employed by mainstream media seem to be tilting toward the analysis it will, and he is.

The late Jack Layton, leader of the NDP in 2011 (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

I am not so sure for the following reasons:

First, whether or not Mr. Trudeau recovers doesn’t really have much to do with the specific details of the trouble he’s got himself into.

If Canadians are sick of him, he’s sunk.

If they’re not sick of him, the crisis will be over for all intents and purposes in a couple of days, and he’s not sunk.

And it’s not yet clear, especially given the realistic alternatives, if Canadians are sick of him.

As bad as this is for the Liberals, it’s better that it happened now than in two weeks, which makes me wonder, seriously, who leaked the incriminating high school annual photo to Time Magazine?

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The Conservatives, of course, will do their best to keep this issue front and centre, even if it turns out most non-Conservative voters say pfffft. So their media narrative will be that he’s sunk.

It’s funny to say this will be hard to explain to your racist uncle who hates the Trudeaus, but he’s probably going to vote Conservative anyway, and the party, understandably, will do its best to shore up such voters.

The NDP want their missing mojo back, so their narrative will be similar to that of the Conservatives.

As for the Greens, despite Ms. May’s tweet she was “deeply shocked” at the revelation, so far their narrative is not really clear. Some political calculations are being made there, I’d guess.

Media will continue to push this too — not just because it’s a good story, although it is, but because both Postmedia and the Globe and Mail have faced recent criticism about offensive commentary in their pages and this is an excellent opportunity to, as they say, restore their virginity.

So what will Canadians decide? Nobody really knows at this instant, but the herd instinct will be clear soon enough. My hot-take guess is it will be less than the Conservatives hope or the media predicts.

Remember back in 2011 when it looked as if the NDP was on a roll and then a story appeared saying leader Jack Layton had been “found” by police in a rub-and-tug massage parlour 15 years before?

The night the news broke, I thought, “That’s it. He’s done.”

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The next day Mr. Layton’s approval ratings jumped. Maybe that was because voters thought the report was just a sleazy Conservative smear. Maybe it was because they thought it didn’t matter.

Whatever their reasons were, it made no difference. The Orange Wave reached its highest crest under Mr. Layton’s leadership and, had he not died of cancer later that year after briefly serving as Opposition leader, he might well be running for his second term as prime minister by now.

Is this situation analogous? Not exactly. But when it comes to the imponderables of political calculations, what matters is how voters react.

And as Harold Wilson, the Labour politician who was Britain’s prime minister from 1964 to 1970 and again from 1974 to 1976, famously and accurately observed: “A week is a long time in politics.”

There are four weeks and three days until election day.

17 Comments to: Which is more distressing, the idiocy of our PM or the hypocrisy of our Opposition leader?

  1. ronmac

    September 20th, 2019

    Trudeau missed an amazing opportunity to turn a negative into a positive here. He should have claimed he covered himself with tar sands crude and was demonstrating at this early age his support for Alberta’s energy sector. Oh well…

  2. Ryan Spinney

    September 20th, 2019

    That the NDP doesn’t have a shot is a self reinforcing lie, there is more then enough voters willing to vote NDP. You can just look at how people are leaning right now, the more important numbers are how big of a pool of potential voters each party has, and the NDPs pool is big enough to win this election.

  3. Farmer Brian

    September 20th, 2019

    The hypocrisy of the opposition leader? I would say that it is Justin Trudeau that is guilty of hypocrisy! The federal Liberal’s have a war room dedicated to digging up dirt on opposition candidates. They wanted 1 conservative candidate turfed for something he said in high school. But when it comes to Justin Trudeau, well he expects to get away with an apology. Look at the groping incident that happened 18 years ago in B.C. this was Justin’s response: “People experience things differently and we have to be more thoughtful.” If that was one of his MP’s that person would have been turfed. So back to the black face incident of today, if that was any other MP they would be done, if it was Andrew Scheer he would have been forced to resign in the first 24 hrs, but no it is Justin Trudeau he just apologizes and moves on. The SNC-Lavelin affair demonstrated that he has no ethical compass, this incident shows he has no morals and yet David you still prefer him as our next Prime Minister?!?! As a Canadian I will be embarrassed if he continues to represent our country on the world stage. Enjoy your day.

    • John A

      September 20th, 2019

      While I don’t disagree with the seriousness of the incident and certainly do agree it was racist behaviour, I also know that Trudeau has not been racist in his political life so far or his personal afaik. He immediately apologized and did not try to sugar coat any of it. He owned it in other words.

      Contrast that with the homophobic and discriminatory words around the LBGT+ community from Scheer who still will not apologize when asked twice recently.

      I know who I find more upfront and ethical.

  4. Simon Renouf

    September 20th, 2019

    A wag I know commented that it’s probably a cynical Liberal ploy to show Calgary voters that Justin’s a regular guy.

  5. Farmer Dave

    September 20th, 2019

    Time magazine (Time), a U.S. company, why would they be meddling and influencing the Canadian election at this time, and we are worried about Russian meddling and influencing a Canadian election. And why did Time wait until the Canadian election was called to publicize this story when it appears they could have done so long ago. I wonder how much money Time has contributed and to which Political parties and to name them. I doubt they have the intestinal fortitude to do so. What Trudeau has done in the past was totally wrong however if he had done so while seeking office or leadership for the Liberal party this story would be totally troublesome. I think there is more to this story and Time plus other Media have some explaining to do how and why they broke this story.

  6. John A

    September 20th, 2019

    I predict the Liberals will jump in the polls. Just a hunch based on several factors but the public generally are very forgiving towards those who fall and ask to be forgiven while humbly apologizing for their indiscretions.

  7. Murphy

    September 20th, 2019

    This story seems to serve as the current daily affirmation that we are doomed. Given the contexts of Trudeau’s shennanigans, there is essentially no evidence that his behaviour was a manifestation of racism. We are living in an era when racists are feeling confident enough to publicly espouse their infantile and illogical viewpoints in very clear statements, frequently with little or no political consequences. Secularism and the belief in human equality are being squeezed out of the minds of folks in the industrialized nations via the machinations of the nexus of greed and superstition that holds together the forces of neoliberalism and imperialism. I find it sadly amusing that the leader of NDP, once nominal heirs to the mantle of CCF, wears a magic hat and three thousand dollars worth of clothing when he addresses the public. As a secular humanist, I long ago rejected the trappings of my ancestral superstitions, what with all the molesting, repression and such, and I can’t “get behind” a leader in 2019 who is an adherent to this atavism:
    “In 1699 at the first Amrit Sanchar (ceremony), Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Sikh Guru, bestowed the honor for Sikhs to wear the five articles of faith at all times with a promise that by following the teachings of the Guru and keeping ourselves distinct we would have his undying power and support.”

    H.L. Mencken, an actual racist, was nevertheless entirely accurate in his characterization of our acceptance of absurd leadership in a “democracy”:
    “It is as if a hungry man, set before a banquet prepared by master cooks and covering a table an acre in area, should turn his back upon the feast and stay his stomach by catching and eating flies.”

    • Kang

      September 21st, 2019

      Well, it could be worse. Consider the Dutch and their Christmas icon “Black Peter.” In their very popular mythology Black Peter is a Spanish Moor who helps St. Nicholas by going down the chimneys to deliver the presents. The BBC reports that Black Peter is still so popular that the Dutch right wing occasionally resorts to violence against those suggesting the icon is obsolete.

      So dressing up as a cartoon character hardly seems in the same league as the collection of book burning bigots supporting the UCP/Cons, most of whom I’ll wager dressed up as gun toting cowboys.

      • Political Ranger

        September 23rd, 2019

        Yeah, good call Kang!
        The last time I played dress-up and it meant something, more than a half-century ago, it was as a cowboy out to (pretend) kill the Indians.

        To see the middle-aged bozo’s wandering around in their brand new store bought cowboy gear just gives me the willies. How much more obvious do they have to be to show their racism?

        And I think Murphy has nailed it!
        The caught (in the head-lights) and captured (and trussed up like a pig in a poke) MSM announcers have going on non-stop about racist “makeup” – what the hell is racist makeup? What kinda nonsense is this?
        Wearing some clothing or some jewelry or other accoutrements is offensive to some people. So what else is new? Is there a list of official and sanctified clothing and symbols? How about official and sanctified greetings? or comments about leadership? C’mon down George Orwell and Eugène Ionesco!

        A liberal democratic society IS tolerant of other’s tastes, preference, thoughts and ways of life. Not just ‘should be’ but is!
        If we are not living in and supporting a liberal democratic society, then what are we promoting?

  8. Richard Kidd

    September 20th, 2019

    “The NDP want their missing mojo back, so their narrative will be similar to that of the Conservatives.” I hope you’re wrong about this, David. This blackface controversy is quite simply a gift to the NDP, if they have the smarts to take proper advantage of it, which they likely won’t. Personally, I don’t believe Trudeau is a racist; he’s just not as sensitive to discrimination issues as he should be, thanks to his elitist upbringing. In today’s rabble, Karl Nerenberg observes that “the current Liberal government opened the door to Syrian refugees; restored health care for all refugee claimants; ended the Harper government’s restrictive measures on family reunification for refugees and immigrants; and even tacitly encouraged refugees from all over the world, who are fearful of their reception in Trump’s U.S., to enter Canada through the back door, as it were, thus getting around the safe third-country agreement Canada has with the U.S.” All positive accomplishments, which Jagmeet should commend while at the same time emphasizing that they don’t go far enough, and that an NDP government would take discrimination seriously and move to end it (especially with respect to our Indigenous peoples). He should take the high road, act dignified, and restrain himself from criticizing Trudeau personally as Scheer has done and will continue to do. Maybe even the media would then start to take him seriously.

  9. Dave

    September 20th, 2019

    Lets see, we have the UK which is in a terrible Brexit mess, which each of the last 3 PM’s there have contributed, a US President who seems to do or say something offensive to many, at least once a week over the last several years and a Premier in Alberta who may or may not be under investigation for financial and voting irregularities in his party’s leadership race and we are supposed to be outraged about pictures of Mr. Trudeau from around a couple decades or so. Sorry, but I think my outrage meter is broken and has been for some time, there has already been far too much crap. I suspect for the most part those that support Mr. Trudeau will continue to do so, perhaps with further reservations, the honeymoon is obviously over and has been for some time, and those that do not support Mr. Trudeau will just add this to their list of reasons for why they do not.

    Conservatives have been reminding us for years that before Mr. Trudeau got into politics he was a drama teacher, I think the implication being that they do not think being a teacher, particularly a drama teacher is a worthy profession or serious enough to qualify one to be a political leader. I suppose, when you combine a love of the dramatic or theater, combine it with an enthusiasm for costumes and ready access to makeup, it can be come a potential political weapon of self destruction, as it has in this case. At least in one case, I don’t think Mr. Trudeau’s intent was to mock people of colour, but an overzealous desire to make a costume as authentic as possible.

    It is not surprising this picture appeared in a US publication. Canada does not have the history of blackface that the US does, in fact as a country we have different and better history of race, relations, although not perfect. Canada never had slavery as a country, although it did exist in the British colonial period for some time. We also do not have the history of British colonial relations that the UK does with all its baggage. So when people for instance in the US or the UK see this picture, they view it through the lens of their own race relations and react accordingly. Of course, US attitudes also seep into Canada and most of us have seen pictures from the US in recent times of politicians in places like Virginia who had blackface in a different place and situation.

    I suspect the picture was leaked to the US publication by Conservatives who were getting tired of having things they said in the past being dug up to imply they were racists or homophobes and who couldn’t respond adequately to those charges. The tactic is somewhat familiar to one used by some US conservatives in their last presidential election. If you can’t make yourself look good, bring your opponent down to your level.

    It may be successful or perhaps not. Canada is different politically than the US. For instance, it does not have the same type of two party system that the US does, so the choice for disenchanted Liberals is not to hold your nose and vote for them or stay home. Also, a number of Conservative candidates have apologized for things they have done or said in the past, meeting Mr. Scheer’s publicly announced threshold for forgiveness, as now has Mr. Trudeau whose apologies seem sincere and contrite. After we finish castigating Mr. Trudeau, we might notice that the only one still around who hasn’t apologized for his past offensive comments so far, seems to be Mr. Scheer himself.

  10. Jim

    September 20th, 2019

    It certainly reinforces the claim Trudeau is phoney and a don’t do what I do do what I tell you to do politician. Looks like the Liberal war room strategy of digging up dirt on opponents really turned around and bit them on this one. You have to wonder how long Canadian MSM sat on this story though? Certainly every aspect of Trudeau’s life must have been looked at and this was just in a yearbook not some secret document to be leaked.
    We apparently live in a world where one tweet, email, or social media post can end your career. Perhaps some will take this incident as an opportunity to reflect on this and think twice when the next me too allegation comes out. In terms of what happens to Trudeau likely nothing, those who oppose PC and cancel culture should take the high road and some have. The shoot first and ask questions later crowd will continue to support virtue signalling politicians and take Trudeau’s I’m sorry I got caught apology as genuine.

  11. Bob Raynard

    September 21st, 2019

    I am uncomfortable whenever a past event is judged with current values. Imagine a successful politician emerges who ends all of his messages with ‘Enjoy your day’. If he becomes universally reviled, is it fair to chastise Farmer Brian because he used to use the same phrase, but quit when he didn’t want to be associated with the politician? Posting a photo of yourself with Faith Goldy before she came out as a white supremacist shouldn’t be a big deal, unless you leave the photo up. When I taught school I used to really enjoy teasing my students and they certainly enjoyed it as well. What if new research shows such teasing is detrimental, and hence a form of child abuse?

    Looking at an event through 2019 lens should only be relevant if the person involved does nothing to denounce the earlier version of him/herself. Otherwise, what really matters is how the event was seen at the time.

    At issue with regards to Mr. Trudeau’s brown face photo, then, is how appropriate or inappropriate it was in 2001, when the photo was taken. The photo was taken at an Arabian Nights party sanctioned by the private school Trudeau taught at. Thus, the entire event was culturally appropriated. Was cultural appropriation even a thing in 2001? When I taught in rural Alberta in the 80’s and 90’s. I didn’t hesitate to call out a student for using a racial slur, but I certainly don’t recall anyone complaining when someone dressed up as a native warrior for Halloween. Brown face paint was certainly available then (I suspect the warrior costume came with it). Can it still be found today?

    • Farmer Brian

      September 22nd, 2019

      Apparently Bob you are going to give Justin Trudeau a pass on the brown face photos. So how are you rationalizing the SNC-Lavelin affair, that happened this year not in the past?! And Bob enjoy your day!

  12. Athabascan

    September 21st, 2019

    Did the 4 RCMP investigations on Kenny’s leadership campaign hurt his election? Did the fact that Doug Ford was a grade 10 drop out who sold drugs sink him?

    I have a longer list, but why go on? I think I’ve made my point.

  13. Jerrymacgp

    September 21st, 2019

    Interestingly, National Post columnist Andrew Coyne — normally a reliably conservative columnist — had a take on this situation similar to my own: it wasn’t really about the racism of the acts themselves, but about the hypocrisy of Mr Trudeau’s sanctimonious hectoring on equality & diversity while he had this dark skeleton in his closet. If he was going to make this a central theme of his campaign, his own hands should have been squeaky clean on this issue, and they certainly aren’t.
    I was also struck by this comment in Mr Coyne’s column: “Certainly the Conservatives, with their record of having exploited fears of Muslims, or asylum-seekers, or God help us, the Global Migration Compact, are in no position to point fingers.”. Just when you think he’s just another Postmedia Conservative apologist, he goes ahead and says something like this — makes it hard to ignore him, really.
    I also think you can’t help but be impressed by the humanness and dignity with which Jagmeet Singh has responded to this whole affair. There are a lot of ways he could have responded to this, an issue that undoubtedly hits him very close to home as the first “person of colour” to lead a major national political party in this country; he chose to respond from his heart.


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