The Two Faces of Justin Trudeau

Justin Trudeau is in hot water for not one, not two, but three racist incidents where he has covered himself in black and brownface for costume parties, school musical performances, and just because he can. 

This bombshell revelation about a world leader engaging in racist tropes has dominated world headlines for most of the last 24 hours and exposed the two faces of Canada, and the two faced-ness of Justin Trudeau. 

In some respects, it’s a fitting allegory, our leader being in black/brownface. 

I was excited and hopeful when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was elected. He was youthful, exuberant, and promised a departure from the ways of Stephen Harper – the corruption scandals, the media aversion, the climate change obfuscation, and the divisive social stances like a niqab ban and a barbaric cultural practices tip line. Trudeau promised sunny ways, transparency, ethics, fairness, and all the sort. 

Now don’t get me wrong, the Prime Minister has some very impressive policy achievements.

He negotiated a minimally damaging new free trade agreement with an unstable and unpredictable United States. 

He reinvested in Veteran’s Affairs offices, coast guard stations, research, and environmental standards.

He’s worked diligently to address clean drinking water on reserves.  His changes to Canada’s Child Benefit have helped to drastically reduce child poverty in a very short period of time by actually making it meaningful to low-income families.

Canada currently has the best national employment figures it has recorded since record keeping began. 

There are two Trudeaus that I’ve seen in the past four years, though. One that is heavy on virtue signaling (something I don’t see to be a problem when action matches rhetoric), and one that lives by a much different standard than that which he holds others to. 

My first alarm bell rang when then third place opposition party leader Trudeau extolled how he didn’t need the resources of the government to take care of his children, how he wouldn’t be relying on taxpayers to fund his childcare. This was in the context of affordable childcare being available for low-income families. A truly noble statement. 

One of the first acts of the new Prime Minister Trudeau, was to put his former nannies for the family onto the public payroll

Granted, this was a reallocation of funds to the established leader’s residence budget – so it didn’t cost anything additional – it was still a case of the rhetoric not matching the action. (For the record, I don’t begrudge a world leader and his spouse having childcare. I think it’s important for someone expected to work as hard as we expect our PM to. It’s the hypocrisy I find triggering.)

Then we have the candidate Trudeau who promised a departure from the ethical lapses of Stephen Harper and his merry band of election law-breaking and gerrymandering men. 

Contrast that with the Prime Minister Trudeau who was found to be in violation of Canada’s Conflict of Interest Act for accepting a holiday on a private island belonging to the Aga Khan.  

Trudeau had cleared some details of the trip with then Conflict of Interest Commissioner Mary Dawson, but some of the details that would have put him in conflict were left out. When Conservatives and media caught wind of it, a tempest ensued and Commissioner Dawson investigated, levying the first findings against a sitting Prime Minister of breaching the Conflict of Interest Act and the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of Parliament. 

There’s Prime Minister Trudeau who made sure there was a gender-balanced cabinet, “because it’s 2015,” an ardent feminist who worked hard to promote gender equality in and out of government.

Juxtapose that with the young man who apologized for inappropriate handling of a young woman who he would later find out was a national reporter, that he would “never have been so forward with” had he known her position.

And let’s not even dig into the whole handling of the SNC Lavalin affair, which depending on who you talk to is either one of the greatest lapses of ethical and legal judgment, or a Prime Minister relentlessly focused on protecting jobs and our economy. 

There’s a strong chance we will never know the full story of SNC Lavalin. The fact the Prime Minister, who promised a more open and transparent government, has refused to waive cabinet privilege to allow a proper investigation, which by inadvertent or politically calculated admissions has at least been explored by the RCMP, and had to lie about his ability to waive such privilege, leads one to believe that where there is smoke there is fire. 

Jody Wilson Raybould and Jane Philpott have both said there’s more to the story, resigned from cabinet, and have made clear that not all that is relevant to the issue at hand can be communicated. Coupled with the findings of another Conflict of Interest Commissioner, this time Mario Dion, that the ethical Prime Minister had breached the Conflict of Interest Act, again, it’s hard not to draw the worst of conclusions, that things are in fact much worse than we are privy to. 

Were it my ethical reputation on the line, I’d be eager to clear my good name with a full and thorough investigation that would redeem my reputation, but I digress. 

The past 24 hours have shown a Prime Minister and a man whose actions are either detached from the image he has styled for himself, or a man who has genuinely learned from mistakes he made in his younger years. 

I for one do not expect perfection from our politicians. I myself have made youthful indiscretions, worn questionable costumes, said things that I wish I could take back, and that have offended people. I have learned from those circumstances and their impacts on people, and make a conscientious effort to be a better human. 

Mr. Trudeau was given an opportunity during his scrum to account for other incidents that he would be less than proud of. He offered up that he had not only worn brownface as a 29-year-old private school teacher but that as a high school student had worn blackface and sang “Day-O.” He seemed to vaguely indicate that there were many, but only accounted for those two incidents in his comments. 

Going to bed, likely hoping for a new day and a new narrative, Mr. Trudeau woke up to the discovery of Global News reporting another incident, this time of a younger Trudeau on video, in blackface, making faces and dancing – harkening back to the minstrel shows that offensively portrayed black people for entertainment purposes. 

At some point, one has to wonder whether these incidents are merely youthful indiscretions or intrinsic reflections of the person who is. 

I am a believer that when these mistakes happen, that one can be redeemed. A thoughtful apology, that doesn’t attempt to justify, acknowledges the harm and the wrongness, and then focuses on ways to move forward, can help set an example for others and show why the actions are wrong. I am also a believer that a mistake repeated numerous times becomes a choice. 

While mere rhetoric is less meaningful than policy action, on which Trudeau’s record has been stronger, at some point when there is a disconnect, the question of hypocrisy comes into play. 

In this situation, it is hard to discern the two faces of Trudeau from one another. Which one is the real man, and how closely related to the carefully curated persona is that real man? 

Will voters even care to take the time to find out when they walk into the polls in October? 

This post contains no satire.

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