Jen Gerson is a freelance journalist based in Calgary. She is a contributing editor at Maclean’s, journalist-in-residence at the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Law and co-host of the Canadian politics podcast OPPO.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has a problem.
According to an unsigned editorial, he allegedly “inappropriately” handled a young woman while attending a boozy music festival in 2000.
The woman was on assignment from the Creston Valley Advance and another national newspaper at the time; she purportedly wrote an unsigned editorial that appeared in the Advance shortly after the incident.
Trudeau said, according to the editorial: “If I had known you were reporting for a national paper, I never would have been so forward.”
The specific details of the situation have not been made public. Nor has the woman chosen to come forward, although she told her editors at the Advance at the time, and they backed up her account when the National Post recently came knocking.
On Sunday, Trudeau offered a politic response to the affair. “I remember that day in Creston well,” he said, according to the CBC. “I had a good day that day; I don’t remember any negative interactions that day at all.”
There is an artful bit of wiggle room in this statement.
In short, although the details remain unknown, the report is a credible one.
In an older, less enlightened era, it would have been difficult for most Canadians to get terribly worked up about this scandal. These are 18-year-old allegations of a totally unspecified nature from a woman who has declined to be named.
Trudeau, then 28 years old, was a freewheeling bachelor at the time. He was a teacher who happened to be the son of a prime minister, and he held no position of power beyond that which was granted by his famous patronym.
A photo from the festival shows him as a young man, with terrible facial hair, holding a giant beer.
Yet the whole incident touches on the most biting criticisms often leveled against him: that Trudeau had few accomplishments to speak of before he became prime minister; that he was little more than an ex-frat boy who sauntered into power on his fame, a whim and a congealed distaste for the outgoing Conservatives.
The feminist credentials that he parades about the world were applied ex machina, artfully airbrushed onto the Trudeau brand in an attempt to create Canada’s answer to Barack Obama. Ignore the son-of-the-scion and look, instead, at his commitment to gender parity in cabinet! “Because it’s 2015,” he explained, to cheers, after he took office.
He is raising his own sons as feminists. He has lambasted “bro culture”.
The problem, here, is that in his bid to craft these woker-than-thou progressive credentials, Trudeau has raised the bar beyond the level that he could meet. And lest anyone think these positions were limited to showy statements, Trudeau has taken firm positions against members of Parliament accused of behaving badly.
In 2014, Trudeau suspended two Liberal MPs, Scott Andrews and Massimo Pacetti, over allegations of “personal misconduct.” In the latter case, Pacetti was removed from caucus after an New Democratic Party lawmaker accused him of “sex without explicit consent.” That was a disciplinary charge that remains controversial in Ottawa to this day.
More recently, there was the case of cabinet minister Kent Hehr, who was subject to an leave of absence and an investigation after a former Alberta legislature staffer accused Hehr on Twitter of calling her “yummy” in an elevator almost a decade ago. Hehr was also accused of groping a woman at an Ottawa event. Under Trudeau, he was permitted to stay in the Liberal caucus but was removed from the cabinet.
From the beginning of his ascent to power, Trudeau has been a polarizing figure in Canada, predictably along partisan lines. His fans see him as youthful, optimistic and hopeful. A handsome standard-bearer of progressive politics both domestically and abroad.
Among his detractors, Trudeau is a grating figure. All of the acts of progressive politics are just that. It’s all performative, symbolic and hollow. Much of it feels, frankly, cheesy.
One of the most damning pieces of praise about Trudeau was leveled by former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff in 2015: “He’s an actor, a professional politician who fully inhabits the role with a confidence that comes from having always known this was the role he was born to play.”
This music festival groping scandal would be a minor thing, had it not so neatly punctured the political brand.
It’s not implausible that Trudeau genuinely doesn’t remember doing anything wrong while quaffing beer at a B.C. music festival almost two decades ago. It is difficult to make an argument that he should be hounded out of office for this offense.
That said, being woke requires progressive adherents to accept all sins and to agree to the penance of doing better.